The first thing I want to do when I meet someone in VR is try and interact with them. Not the nice kind of interaction that I would do if I met someone in real life. Sometimes I poke them in the face or I shove them or throw a chair or anything I can find at them.
I don’t put much thought behind it, rather I let curiosity take over me and wonder ‘what will happen if...’
It’s human nature to be tactile. Touch is so incremental to brain development as children that as we continue to grow into adults we maintain touch as a way of communicating and expressing ourselves.
What makes VR is not just 360 immersion. Headsets with hand controls invite you to touch and interact with the world around you, encouraging you to navigate and play through your environments. While not being exclusively limited to gameplay, virtual reality is about play, exploration, freedom of control and experiencing something that’s purely yours.
It’s understandable then, to a point how people have been reacting in virtual social worlds, like Altspace VR.
When I had my first experience in Altspace VR, I didn’t feel the need so much to reach out and touch other people, but the curiosity lay in me as it always does when I meet a simulated human or character in VR to see how far I could go, what the boundaries were and how much of people in VR were like real people.
How would they react if I touched them? Would they react like normal people?
Still, that didn’t stop other people teleporting into me or veering past my personal space boundaries. But I started to understand why Altspace VR was becoming more known for harassment than entertainment. None of us looked like people. We all looked like characters in a game world, cartoonish avatars that took the form of female or male robots, with the only detection of an actual human behind it being the voice that came through an un-muted microphone. But even then, what we see and hear are two very different things.
I’m not discounting that some people have ulterior motives and are out to make other people, especially women feel uncomfortable, but it makes me wonder: what makes them behave the way they do in this environment? What is it that allows them to feel that they can do this?
What if we weren’t anonymous or simulated characters? What if we could see each other for who we really are?
Is the fact that we don’t see ourselves as human yet in VR in part to blame for the way some people behave?
Maybe virtual social worlds are not developed enough for us to take the people and the situations in it seriously. What we perceive in our minds may just be that the cartoon like features of humans doesn’t equate to real people.
But then if VR is built upon exploration, play and touch, how do we draw the line between what is acceptable to play with, and what you can and can’t touch?
Until we see human faces with human features and reactions to our interactions, people are going to continue to treat people as they see them, cartoon characters or avatar robots, in the game-like realm.
How can social VR start to replicate reality?
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Experience Director, ACME Virtual