After a woman wrote about her harassment in VR, the game’s devs stepped up to try and stop it from happening again by adding in-game superpowers.
Last week, you may have read an article on Medium by author Jordan Belamire about her experience with a VR game on the HTC Vive, a title called QuiVR. In QuiVR, you fight off waves of enemies with other online players using your trusty bow and arrow. Both you and other players appear in-game merely as a floating head, a quiver, and two hands holding a bow. But those visual limitations don’t stop some people from being absolutely awful.
Belamire wrote about being harassed by one of the players in her multiplayer game after voice chat revealed her as a woman daring to play a video game online. Her harasser used his virtual reality persona to grope her’s repeatedly, even after being asked to stop. The fact that her body was technically invisible doesn’t matter–the experience felt terrifyingly real with that headset on, in a world that’s meant to make you feel as if everything happening is actually, physically happening.
While there’s a lot to talk about regarding harassment in Virtual Reality and how it’s really freaking terrifying even to consider the implications of stepping into a virtual space where the physical feels real, today’s story has a bright spot. Kotaku reports that the developers of QuiVR were horrified to see that their game had been a medium for harassment, and started brainstorming ideas that could help users stop or completely get rid of harassers. They came up with something that sounds pretty great.
In QuiVR, other peoples’ hands disappeared before if they neared your character’s head. The developers added a “personal bubble” that extends that space to each player’s chest and pelvic region. Then, they took it one step further. They added an ability that allows any player to make another character disappear from your game, and they from your’s.
While we don’t have any feedback from people actually playing the game as to whether it works well or not, in theory, this sounds like an amazing response. While devs certainly can’t magically wave a wand and make harassment go away, one word stuck out to me from the Kotaku piece. It’s in this quote from the devs (bolding mine):
When harassment does happen—and I see no way to prevent it entirely so long as multiplayer experiences exists—we need to also offer the tools to re-empower the player as it happens. For example, what if a player had tools on hand to change the outcome of the encounter before it ended in a negative way . . . Would the author’s experience have been any different if she could have reached out with a finger, and with a little flick, sent that player flying off the screen like an ant?
Their approach was to put the power and control back in the hands of the person being harassed–the person who has had their power and control taken away from them by this person who won’t leave them alone. It’s a wonderful statement to hear from game makers, and one that I hope we hear more often as virtual reality grows and becomes more and more real.
I want to look forward to virtual reality experiences, not avoid them because of what might happen. I don’t want to fear unwanted virtual groping every time I have to put on a headset. Other developers of online, multiplayer worlds, especially in VR, would do well to note QuiVR’s example. They can ensure that tools are in these multiplayer experiences to re-empower those who have their experience encroached upon in such a way.