When I wrote about reports of virtual harassment of women in VR last Tuesday, it garnered snarky responses from some male readers as below, eerily similar to comments which swarmed social media when the original blog post went up:
[I]t is actually ludicrous. Of course she hung around like the big attention whore she is thinking, wow I'm going to blog about this for sure!!!
Which is not a surprising reaction, because many men have been socialized to disregard a woman's perspective, especially on this subject. (See: This year's Presidential election.) Fortunately, as Kotaku's Cecilia D'Anastasio reports, the actual (and male) developers are not disregarding these reports, and adding virtual barriers to protect users from future harassment:
Schenker and Staton made an adjustment that converted their so-called “personal bubble” into a “superpower” that players can switch on and off. They’re calling it a “power gesture.” When players put their hands together, pull both Vive triggers and pull their hands apart, they can now emanate a force field that “dissolv[es] any nearby player from view, at least from your perspective.” You can’t see them and they can’t see you. It’s a pro-active approach to preventing sexual harassment in VR, which has been generating buzz among women trying out the new virtual worlds this technology has to offer. Feeling violated in an escapist space is jarring, since these worlds are intended for enjoyment and fun. When some players feel the harsher aspects of real life bleeding through, it can be damaging—both to their play experience and welfare. Belamire [the original blog writer] said she felt unsettled for a week after the incident.
That's a good first step, though as Cecilia notes, "VR developers who are working to meet the challenge of sexual harassment are, essentially, erasing the appearance of it." Appearances are important, but they structural problems beneath them don't easily go away.
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