Sexual Harassment 'Trolls' Persist Even In The World Of Virtual Reality : All Tech Considered As gamers wade into virtual reality technology, recent allegations of in-game sexual harassment have surfaced some thorny questions: What does it look like in a virtual world, and how do you stop it?
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Even In A Virtual World, The Harsh Reality Of Sexual Harassment Persists

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Even In A Virtual World, The Harsh Reality Of Sexual Harassment Persists

Even In A Virtual World, The Harsh Reality Of Sexual Harassment Persists

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Playing in virtual reality is supposed to be escapist. When you put on those goggles and immerse yourself in VR, as it's known, it's supposed to take you out of the hard stuff of everyday life into an interesting experience. But what happens when that experience turns unexpectedly dark? Recently, a female player wrote an article describing how she was groped and chased virtually while playing an archery game called QuiVr.

We reached the developer of that game, Jonathan Schenker, to talk more about this, and he joins me now. Jonathan, thanks so much for being with us.

JONATHAN SCHENKER: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: So what happened in this particular case with this player who was inappropriately grabbed in virtual reality by another player?

SCHENKER: So players can move around in their actual, physical environment, which moves them around in their virtual environment. So people can kind of move into each other's spaces. And that, to a much more serious degree than just invading personal space, is what happened.

MARTIN: So what did you - what could you do? How could you program a solution to this?

SCHENKER: There was already a system that existed called the Personal Bubble - it's a setting that players can turn on - which was aimed at reducing kind of annoyances. So it stopped people from putting their hands in other people's faces. And if someone was repeatedly shooting arrows at another player, the arrows would kind of disappear if you had that setting on.

So I thought that the fastest and simplest solution to the problem, to get it fixed immediately, would be to extend that Personal Bubble system to include kind of a full-body protection where - before, only hands faded out if they were close to another person's face. And now it's a - within a meter-or-so distance, someone who kind of walks into your personal space simply fades out of existence.

MARTIN: Whoa, Jonathan, you're blowing my mind. So the person who is the aggressor still thinks they are carrying out that behavior. They still think they're reaching out and grabbing someone. It's just the person who's the, quote, "victim" in this situation wouldn't feel it, wouldn't see or feel that aggressive behavior?

SCHENKER: Well, the aggressive behavior is never felt. There's no physical feeling in virtual reality. It's all visual. The original fix was only for the player who was being affected to not see the action. However, we have also changed it so that the aggressor, when they reach their hand out, the other person's body disappears as well.

MARTIN: It's complicated, this whole thing - like, trying to create these virtual worlds, but making them safe spaces that don't incorporate some of the bad behaviors of real life into virtual life.

SCHENKER: Exactly. The bottom line is that these games are supposed to be fun. I've taken hours and hours placing every single rock in these virtual environments. And if players are taking the experience away from other people that I've worked so hard to create, it upsets me. And so I really want to ensure that everybody has the same type of experience that I'm trying to provide.

MARTIN: Jonathan Schenker. He and his business partner, Aaron Stanton, developed the virtual reality game QuiVr. Thank you so much for talking with us about this, Jonathan.

SCHENKER: I'm happy to do so.

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