Sexually assaulted in VR

“Excuse me, sir. Please stop grabbing my <insert part>.” Sexual harassment or virtual groping can easily turn an innocent online game into an uncomfortable experience.

Space violation in VR

Virtual harassment goes back to the beginnings of online multiplayer role-playing games. Virtual reality is so immersive that people can feel just like they’ve been physically violated.

A gamer named Jordan Belamire was brave enough to write a post about her experience. She was playing a virtual multiplayer game called QuiVr. A fellow player, after figuring out she was female, used his character to virtually rub her character’s chest and genital area. Despite her efforts to persuade him to stop, this player continued to follow her around the gaming space until, finally, she gave up and rage quitted.

When playing video games we are no longer sitting passively and watching characters acting out a story before us. We are active participants of that story. The characters are virtual but they’re nothing without the person controlling them.

Video game characters have become more like an outlet for us to convey emotions and ideas in reaction to events unfolding. When something bad happens to them, we have to do something about it and it becomes personal. That’s what makes games so engaging and fun.

Create a virtual safe space

In response to Belamire, QuiVr’s developers started allowing players to put a virtual shield around their character, which makes both the target and the harasser invisible to one another. This “personal bubble” is a promising passive, non-violent approach. A more active response might be a self-defense move that creates a forcefield and magically waves away the harasser causing him some form of discomfort.

People tend to become hateful and attacking when they can be anonymous online so this is a serious point of discussion seeing that virtual reality is becoming mainstream. The question shouldn’t be if sexual harassment is possible in VR or video games, but what to do about it.

But we have to admit that most people want games because they are NOT safe spaces for the characters they are playing. They want danger and excitement, not a padded room filled with teddy bears and playdough.