The Dark Side of Virtual Reality: Sexual Harassment and the Lack of Body Agency


Girl utilizing a Samsung VR headset at South by Southwest in Austin in 2015. (Nan Palmero / Flickr)

Folks typically give attention to the positives of digital actuality (VR): It will probably present extra immersive experiences. Gamers can go to outer house or a overseas nation with out ever leaving their couches. They’ll work together with different avid gamers in these digital worlds. However VR fans typically overlook, or by no means find out about, VR’s darker sides: specifically, the chance of undesirable interactions, which falls disproportionately on girls and folks of colour.

Concern across the metaverse buzzed lately after a female beta tester said a stranger groped her whereas interacting on Digital Horizons, a metaverse platform operated by Meta, Fb’s umbrella firm. Meta’s inside assessment indicated the girl ought to have used the built-in “Secure Zone” safety features.

In one other case, researchers examined 11.5 hours of footage from VR chat, an utility utilized in Fb’s metaverse. Researchers recognized 100 possible violations of the corporate’s VR insurance policies in that span. They included bullying and sexual harassment, in addition to the grooming of minors. The crew concluded these incidents occurred about each seven minutes.

However whereas the metaverse is a brand new horizon for many on-line avid gamers, digital sexual harassment just isn’t a brand new challenge. In a single firsthand account of VR harassment from 2016, a lady reported that whereas she navigated a digital world, one other participant groped her chest and crotch, and chased her across the sport, even after she advised him to cease.

One other lady who examined the metaverse for Fb mentioned that while she did not get harassed, she felt uncomfortable within the digital world. She additionally believed it’d be tough to reasonable what occurred in it. As an alternative of solely screening textual content or photos, moderators must have a look at elements like in-game gestures and the way individuals’s avatars moved.

In a recent poll, 65 p.c of on-line avid gamers skilled extreme on-line harassment. The quantity rose to 74 p.c for individuals participating in multiplayer video games. Of these, greater than half obtained focused harassment, together with associated to their gender or identification—stressing the significance specifically to create secure areas for trans girls who play VR, particularly since digital environments can have advantages for trans individuals. Many discover it empowering as a result of they can make avatars that reflect their true selves, even earlier than popping out. Nonetheless, bullying would outweigh any uplifting experiences.

A technique to make sure girls’s security within the metaverse is to encourage girls to enter the tech subject, serving to shut the gender hole. Dr. Tarika Barrett is the CEO of Girls Who Code, which has served greater than 450,000 college students worldwide. “We wish to empower ladies to shift the established order,” mentioned Barrett, “to pursue careers in tech and wield them as a drive for good on the planet, whereas additionally proudly constructing an thrilling future for themselves.”

VR Headsets Extra Prone to Trigger Nausea in Girls

Girls could even be at an obstacle in VR as a result of required headsets. A casual survey discovered feminine VR gamers more likely to expertise nausea than their male counterparts: Whereas 22.6 percent of women felt nauseated often whereas enjoying VR, solely 7.2 p.c of males reported the identical. An academic paper confirmed many VR headsets don’t supply sufficient changes for the gap between a gamers’ eyes, generally known as interpupillary distance (IPD). VR headsets permit individuals to change the IPD by altering the gap between every VR lens they give the impression of being by way of whereas enjoying. The writer steered the headsets could not accommodate feminine face constructions, inflicting illness whereas enjoying.

Working for Optimistic Change

Regardless of the darkish sides of VR, many individuals are working to make digital actuality more gender-balanced and safer for everybody. Maria Korolov is the founder and president of Women in Virtual Reality (WiVR), a networking and business useful resource centered on females within the sector.

Jenn Duong is one other enduring supporter of improved range in VR. She was a co-founder for SH//FT, a company that helps equality and inclusion in future applied sciences. Whereas discussing VR creativity and inspiration, Duong said, ”Don’t be afraid to experiment, and don’t be afraid to fail. If we don’t do initiatives as a result of we’re apprehensive in regards to the know-how not being there or that what we’re making isn’t good, we failed mechanically as a result of we didn’t even attempt. There’s a lesson to be realized in each effort in VR. So when you have one thing you wish to make, simply do it. ”

There’s additionally Equal Actuality, a company that uses VR simulations to run range inclusion coaching periods and encourage extra empathy in contributors.

Consciousness Is the First Step

There’s actually spectacular progress in making VR extra supportive of and accessible for ladies. Nonetheless, individuals should proceed to boost consciousness of the darker issues and put stress on those that have the ability to enact change. Solely then can we make sustained enhancements that change the tech and the world for good.

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