Earlier this month, The Verge reported that a beta tester for Facebook's Metaverse reported that her avatar had been sexually harassed by a stranger.
"Sexual harassment is no joke on the regular internet, but being in VR adds another layer that makes the event more intense," she wrote. "Not only was I groped last night, but there were other people there who supported this behavior which made me feel isolated in the Plaza."
Sharma calls the incident "absolutely unfortunate" and says that after Meta reviewed the incident, the company determined that the beta tester didn't utilize the safety features built into Horizon Worlds, including the ability to block someone from interacting with you. (When you're in Horizon, a rolling buffer of what you see is saved locally on your Oculus headset and then sent to Meta for human review if an incident is reported.) "That's good feedback still for us because I want to make [the blocking feature] trivially easy and findable," he says.
As the MIT Technology Review note, however, virtual sexual harassment and assault is sadly nothing new:
When Aaron Stanton heard about the incident at Meta, he was transported to October 2016. That was when a gamer, Jordan Belamire, penned an open letter on Medium describing being groped in Quivr, a game Stanton co-designed in which players, equipped with bow and arrows, shoot zombies.
In the letter, Belamire described entering a multiplayer mode, where all characters were exactly the same save for their voices. "In between a wave of zombies and demons to shoot down, I was hanging out next to BigBro442, waiting for our next attack. Suddenly, BigBro442's disembodied helmet faced me dead-on. His floating hand approached my body, and he started to virtually rub my chest. 'Stop!' I cried … This goaded him on, and even when I turned away from him, he chased me around, making grabbing and pinching motions near my chest. Emboldened, he even shoved his hand toward my virtual crotch and began rubbing.
"There I was, being virtually groped in a snowy fortress with my brother-in-law and husband watching."
The Tech Review article is a particularly worthwhile read, as it looks into the current existing "safe zones" designed to prevent this sort of harassment … and also why they fail.
All of this is sadly unsurprising. But just because it's in virtual reality, doesn't mean it's not a traumatic violation of someone's body and being.
Meta opens up access to its VR social platform Horizon Worlds [Alex Heath / The Verge]
The metaverse has a groping problem already [Tanya Basu]
Image: Public Domain via Pixabay