For the current series, Code wordWe are exploring if, and how, technology can protect people against sexual assault and harassment, and how it can help and support survivors.
Imagine that it is the first time that you have entered into a virtual virtual reality experience. Quickly set up an avatar, choosing female characteristics because you identify yourself as a woman. You choose an outfit that seems appropriate, and when you finish, you engender in a space. You have no idea where you are or who is around you. As he gets his sea legs in this new environment, all the other avatars look at him and notice that he is different. Strange avatars quickly approach you and ask you inappropriate questions about your real-life body; Touch you and kiss you without your consent. Try blocking them, but don't know how. He takes off his headphones for fear of not belonging to this community.
New worlds, old problems.
The previous role play is based on several avatar harassment accounts in social virtual reality applications, reported by women in recent years. In 2016, Taylor Lorenz, a staff technology writer currently at The Atlantic, attracted the attention of several new virtual reality companies by sharing her experience in a virtual reality chat room. In an essay for Mic, she describes receiving her with unsolicited "virtual kisses" and asking about her real-life body from multiple users, noting that she felt ripped out of the virtual world and transported back to high school .
Shortly after VRChat She pledged publicly to make security a top priority after virtual reality game designer Katie Chironis shared a graphic recording of sexual harassment in one of her chat rooms. After that, a 2018 study conducted by Jessica Outlaw for the Pluto virtual reality communication service reported that almost half of the virtual reality participants who identified women have had at least one instance of virtual sexual harassment. And while these cases are unique in the wider harassment landscape, they are a notable facet of an emerging market.
As female designers working in virtual reality, my co-worker Andrea Zeller and I decided to join forces in our time and write a full article. We write about the potential threat of virtual harassment, instructing readers on how to use the sovereignty of the body and the ideology of consent to design safer virtual spaces from scratch. The text will soon become a chapter in the next book: Ethics in design and communication: new critical perspectives (Bloomsbury visual arts: London).
After years of pointing out potentially triggered virtual reality social interactions to male coworkers in the reviews, it seemed the best time to solidify this design practice in a documented investigation. This article is the product of our trip.
The illusory virtual self
So why do we feel that we necessary take action on social harassment of virtual reality? Because when you're in virtual reality, the interactions can feel real. During a first social demonstration of virtual reality, we discovered an error that caused avatar hands to join when two users were in a virtual room. Two participants who did not know each other in real life found themselves holding hands in virtual reality, and when they removed their blushing headphones, as if they really did.
This feeling of experiencing a virtual body as its own is called "virtual incarnation." Take the "virtual hand illusion", for example, a virtual reality variant of the "rubber hand illusion", performed by virtual reality researcher Mel Slater. When a visible rubber hand (or, in this case, a practically visible rubber hand) is placed in front of a test subject, they tend to process possible sensations and threats inflicted on the false hand as real experiences. This is an example of how the brain can form a connection with a foreign body.
When this happens in virtual space, and someone threatens or violates your virtual body, it can feel very real. This is particularly worrisome since Internet harassment is a long-standing problem; from trolling in chat rooms in the 90s to cyberbullying on various social media platforms today. When there is no responsibility in the new platforms, abuse has often followed, and the innate physicality of virtual reality gives stalkers new ways to attack. The visceral quality of VR abuse can be especially triggering for survivors of violent physical assault.
According to Abraham Maslow Hierarchy of NeedsFeeling safe is a basic human right, anywhere. And since social virtual reality places have many of the distinctive features of real-world social places, we should devote ourselves to security in our virtual experiences. It is important that we do it now, while social virtual reality is still young and standards are being set. Security and inclusion must be a virtual status quo. This notion is likely to be so obvious to us because, as women, we think much more about security in real life.
Don't you believe us Watch this Jackson Katz experiment: ask men and women what they do daily to avoid being sexually assaulted. For women, the list begins with: “Hold my keys as a potential weapon, check the back seat before getting in the car, don't drink too much, don't leave my drink unattended, load mace, don't have a number listed (… ) "and continues seemingly indefinitely. While for men, this is not something they think about; their response was:"Nothing. "
We knew it was important to analyze the problem of virtual reality harassment from our unique perspective as women in virtual reality, and we started looking at the language of consent. Having written our article in the year of #MeToo, we had many discussions focusing on the consent in the media to inspire us.
We begin with main definitions of consent, such as "all people must have full ownership of their bodies and any interaction that may occur to them," a quote from Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti Yes, it means yes! Visions of female sexual power and a world without rape(Berkeley: Seal Press). We develop that practice to consider the sovereignty and ownership of the body as an interactive principle to ensure safe and inclusive spaces of virtual reality and help maintain a healthy virtual incarnation.
Promotion of security in virtual spaces.
Well, that's fine, but how do we, as designers, bring consent, bodily sovereignty and respect to the virtual world? By empowering people with easy to understand social norms, accessible tools and appropriate behavior. Our theory was that we could develop these characteristics by looking for consent acquisition paradigms in the real world and proposing virtual equivalents.
To begin this process of consent digitalization, we knew that it would be critical to understand how people perceive appropriate behaviors in the real world. In our daily lives, there is a label on how we interact with people. You don't wear pajamas in public. Do not skip the line or interrupt someone in traffic. And, if this happens, you can take steps to stop that behavior. Virtual reality has social modalities very similar to those we experience in our real lives, but because virtual reality is an incipient format, the social norms we experience in reality have not yet been applied. To bring equity to virtual reality, you would have to attract the expectations of real-world behavior.
So, to create codes of conduct for virtual reality, we look for the factors that make up our real-world environments. Proxemics – a term coined by anthropologist Edward T. Hall – refers to the relationship between his identity, his environment and the social norms of the surrounding community. Hall divides experiences into areas away from the body.
Proxemics can be seen as four distinct categories: intimate, personal, social and public. The boundaries of these areas help us understand appropriation at various distances. In the real world, each zone has an established code of conduct that offers explicit rules about what behaviors are acceptable and unacceptable. We can use these areas to help people understand what behavior is appropriate at specific times and places.
Using the pimping as a spatial scale, we can define explicit structures for behavioral expectations and build natural boundaries in virtual social relationships. By separating these regions, we can see unique consent acquisition models for each and provide virtual reality equivalents, cumulatively building an infrastructure for virtual security. This results in an inspiration for consent introspection, adapted to each zone: the architecture of our code of conduct.
As we move through each zone, we will accompany our inclusive design suggestions with examples of various social virtual reality experiences.
Let's start with the nearest area: intimate space. In the real world, an example of this would be a bedroom. To build security in privacy virtual spaces, we suggest that designers build granular controls that are easy to access and emerge before intimate interactions begin. It is important that people can customize and control the types of experiences they are willing to have with other people in these nearby places before they happen.
The inspiration for this comes from the real-world intimate consent paradigms found in the "Yes, No, Maybe" boxes. These are procedures, often used by the BDSM community, in which individuals can list all imaginable intimate acts and classify them into (1) experiences they would enjoy, (2) experiences they never want and (3) experiences that & # 39 ; I am not sure about. These people would then share these lists with each other before participating in any precarious intimate act.
In virtual reality, we can empower people by allowing them to define their ideal experience in advance, to avoid violations in their digital intimate space. Our example here is from Rec Room, and shows granular controls for interactions within the Experiences tab of the Configuration panel. This dialog allows people to define how close other users can reach them by setting the parameters of their personal security bubble before any interaction occurs.
Next, let's look at the personal space. In the real world, an example would be a living room or other shared domestic space.
To build security in virtual personal spaces, we can see how medical practices negotiate consent through nonverbal cues. Specifically, we are inspired by the way in which the National Institute of Health ensures the continued consent of deaf participants in clinical trials using universal gestures. Designers should incorporate simple communication gestures and easy access shortcuts to allow their users quick repair in difficult situations. These simple shortcuts can allow users to quickly report a problematic experience without interrupting or further degrading their experience.
We design the next Facebook Horizon with easy access shortcuts for times when people would need a quick solution in difficult situations. A one-touch button can quickly remove it from a situation. Simply touch the button and you land in a space where you can take a break and access your controls to adjust your experience.
In the real world, an example of social space could be a university campus. To make virtual social spaces safer, we can refer to agreements of tacit conduct that maintain appropriate interactions in specific environments.
We analyze the rule sets created by universities to avoid assault on campus, and how campuses should be explicit to reinforce these rules. Designers can introduce local behavior expectations into virtual reality social spaces by creating custom codes of conduct for space activities and interweaving them into the structure of the space.
Our example of local behavior codes is from the virtual reality application (now missing), Facebook spaces. When people entered a room that belonged to a specific place Facebook group, we set behavioral expectations in this space with these rules. Designers can reinforce this type of local behavior expectations by administering rewards to users who respect the rules or report offenders.
And finally, public spaces. In the real world, a great example of a public space could be a public park or an entire city; Any place where you could meet any type of person. To ensure inclusion in public virtual spaces, we can seek inspiration in real-world legal systems. Specifically, the definitions of real-world consent, assessments of violations of public behavior and criminal consequences. We should consider universally comparable rules and persistent consequences for virtual rape and harassment.
For example, VRChat created a universal system (in all its worlds) that defines ownership and allows people to report offensive behaviors. By driving timely consequences to offenders, these systems reinforce behavioral expectations.
More than zones
As virtual reality designers, we have the unique opportunity to imagine worlds free from the limitations of reality. In addressing the responsibility of building new social environments, regardless of how surreal they may be, we must remind ourselves to treat virtual incarnation with the same respect given to physical bodies. Even if the real reality we inhabit often does not.
It is our responsibility to design virtual spaces and innately safe interactions, laying the foundations for a future of inclusive, safe and empowering virtual reality communities: a secure future is in our virtual hands.
This article was originally published in Immerse by Andrea Zeller Y Michelle Cortese. Zeller is a virtual and augmented reality communication designer. He began his career as a filmmaker and now designs for Facebook. It helped increase the discipline of content strategy to write beyond the screen at the University of Washington. His work focuses on applying narrative and ethical communication patterns to participatory experiences.
Cortese is a Canadian virtual reality designer, artist and futurist. She divides her professional time between working on Facebook Horizon and teaching at NYU Steinhardt. Most of his work, both art and design, investigates the transmutation of human communication through new technologies and formats.