Does this surprise anyone?
When developer Aaron Stanton first heard that a woman had been groped while playing his virtual reality game, his heart sank.
The woman, Jordan Belamire, was shooting zombies alongside strangers in QuiVr when another player virtually rubbed her chest and shoved his “hand” toward her virtual crotch.
“Our first response was, ‘Let’s make sure this never happens again,'” Stanton told CNNMoney.
Stanton reached out to me after I wrote about Belamire’s experience on Monday.
I received many angry emails in response to my story. I was told I was a feminist who knew nothing about QuiVr; that it was impossible to assault someone in that particular game, or more generally, in the virtual world. I was more than curious to hear what Stanton had to say.
Stanton, whose day job is in software development, told me those attacks were “absolutely incorrect.” What happened to Belamire (a pseudonym) was possible in QuiVr and in other virtual reality games too. It’s up to developers to create controls to make players feel safe inside the world that they’ve brought to life, he said.
On Tuesday afternoon, Stanton and QuiVr creator Jonathan Schenker published an op-ed in Upload VR.
In it, they suggest that developers band together to create a universal “power gesture” to combat harassment in virtual reality, essentially a “safe word” in the form of a motion that would give the player special powers to protect themselves. “We need to offer tools that give players better controls, not simply better ways to hide.”
Kudos to the developers for taking this seriously, and may I suggest that the “special powers” include the ability to pluck the virtual groper’s virtual twig and two berries off and display them as a trophy?
I’m not a gamer; I’ve played a few zombie apocalypse games to placate the teens. I’ve wowed my old grandma by convincing her to experience virtual reality via Google Cardboard. I probably won’t live long enough to see consumer VR resemble the Holodeck on Star Trek TNG.
But if it does, one of the highest and best uses of it would be to give us all an opportunity to walk around in each other’s shoes — to serve as the “ultimate empathy device,” as Sheryl Sandberg said in the linked article. That might be more valuable than building robots that make Mrs. Glenn Reynolds redundant.