Here's a really thought-provoking post from Polygon about a simulated harassment test some developers recently ran in a VR-based MMO, and I hope it's something people developing Sansar, High Fidlity, and other VR-connected worlds read:
It turns out that, according to Harris, harassment is "way, way, way worse" in VR. "It is intense, it is visceral [and] it triggers your fight or flight response," he warned, his tone becoming more grave... As part of his experiment to figure out the depths of VR harassment, the designer played his MMO prototype with an unsuspecting woman. Their gameplay session was shown to the audience with a short video that left the room in stunned, dismayed silence...
Afterward, Harris apologized profusely for the way he acted during the game session — he was so stricken by how real the experience felt, he said, that he immediately felt an overwhelming sense of guilt. Even worse, according to the woman he played against — and harassed in the name of research — it was "a damaging experience."
Reading this, MMO expert Scott "Lum the Mad" Jennings points out that these are addressable problems -- but also costly ones that companies typically don't want to invest in solving:
Of course developers can change online harassment. It's actually work, mind you, but it's work that has been done in online and offline communities. It isn't rocket science: you isolate and remove the people who do the harassing, and you give users the tools to assist with that.
But it costs time. Time costs money. That's not "disruptive", or "agile", or whatever other buzzword is trending upward. This is why Twitter, just to use an example, is a cesspit of harassment and abuse; because Twitter doesn't want to invest in standards and enforcement. The fact that it's been proven that not dealing with harassment issues actually cost communities more money than they lose in enforcing standards is a sign that we value short-term thinking over long-term thinking.
The question really isn't "can devs change that." The question is "will companies pay for it."
The implicit answer being No Fucking Way. Instead, companies will hope they can impose mechanical solutions that curb down harassment just enough -- for instance, imposing a one meter, user-controlled "safe zone" around avatars. But restrictions like that will only get you so far, and will just be seen as challenges for trolling griefers to overcome. And if virtual harassment is as damaging in a VR experience as this demo suggests, maybe VR MMOs aren't actually feasible.
Image credit: "Adam harassing Eve", scene from the SL-based movie Paradise Lost
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