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QuiVR devs created new features to combat VR sexual harassment

Harassment in multiplayer video games is nothing new, but social VR games unfortunately have the potential to bring new dimensions to virtual harassment faced by gamers online. 

“ ...the strengths and weaknesses of VR are often the same. The reality of the experience, of being 'present,' makes everything more powerful than on a flat, 2-dimensional screen... If VR has the power to have lasting positive impact because of that realism, the opposite has to be taken seriously as well.”

- Aaron Stanton reflects on the responsibility VR developers feel toward creating a safe environment for players. 

After a player was chased and groped by another in their virtual reality game, QuiVR developers Aaron Stanton and Jonathan Schenker quickly built features into their game to stop future harassment and to restore power to anyone dealing with a less-than-friendly user.

Both the original Medium story chronicling a woman’s virtual encounter with sexual harassment and the post published by QuiVR’s development team detailing the changes made to their game to counteract harassment are a valuable read for anyone developing VR games.

The two stories offer an inside look at an issue that developers will have to consider as they create games for the virtual space, and offer valuable advice and tools to keep their players feeling comfortable in VR.

Stanton and Schenker reacted quickly once they realized the harassment had occurred in their game, QuiVR. They changed an existing game feature called the Personal Bubble so that other player’s avatars would fade out if they tried to touch the virtual body of another. 

But the two realized that simply preventing the harassment wasn’t enough; they needed to put power directly into the hands of players facing harassment. And so, a 'power gesture' feature was created that uses hand movements to create a forcefield around yourself while playing QuiVR that dissolves nearby players from view.

Stanton and Schenker have shared their code for the personal bubble to the open source VR Toolkit in hopes that they can help other developers tackle the issue of harassment in VR.

“…we would like to float a possible way of thinking for the VR development community to consider as we grow. It consists of two parts. One, that we should strive to prevent harassment from happening in the first place, of course,” said Stanton. “But second, when harassment does happen – and I see no way to prevent it entirely so long as multiplayer experiences exist – we need to also offer the tools to re-empower the player as it happens.”

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