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publicly vowed to make safety a top antecedence after VR game designer, Katie Chironis, shared a clear recording of sexual aggravation in one of their chat rooms. After that, a 2018 study conducted by Jessica Outlaw for VR advice account Pluto, appear that nearly half of the female-identifying VR participants have had at least one instance of basic sexual harassment. And while these cases are unique in the broader aggravation landscape, they are a notable facet of an arising market.


As female designers alive in VR, my accessory Andrea Zeller and I absitively to join forces on our own time and write a absolute paper. We wrote about the abeyant threat of basic harassment, instructing readers on how to use body ascendancy and accord credo to design safer basic spaces from the ground up. The text will soon become a affiliate in the attainable book: Ethics in Design and Communication: New Analytical Perspectives (Bloomsbury Visual Arts: London).

After years of abatement potentially-triggering social VR interactions to male co-workers in critiques, it seemed prime time to coalesce this design convenance into accurate research. This commodity is the artefact of our journey.


The apparent basic self

So why did we feel like we needed to take action on social VR harassment? Because when you’re in VR, interactions can feel real. During an early social VR demo, we apparent a bug that caused avatar hands to stick calm when two users were in a basic room. Two participants who didn’t know each other in real-life found themselves captivation hands in VR, and when they took off their headsets blushing, as if they really held hands.

This awareness of experiencing a basic body as your own is called “virtual embodiment.” Take the “virtual hand illusion,” for archetype — a VR alternative of the “rubber hand illusion,” conducted by VR researcher Mel Slater. When a arresting rubber hand (or, in this case, a around arresting rubber hand) is put in front of a test subject, they tend to action abeyant sensations and threats inflicted on the fake hand as real experiences. This is an archetype of how the brain can form a affiliation to a adopted body.


When this happens in basic space, and addition threatens or violates your basic body, it can feel very real. This is decidedly awkward as aggravation on the internet is a long-running issue; from trolling in chat rooms in the ’90s to cyber-bullying on assorted social media platforms today. When there’s no accountability on new platforms, abuse has often followed — and the innate animality of VR gives harassers adverse new ways to attack. The belly affection of VR abuse can be abnormally triggering for survivors of agitated concrete assault.

According to Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, activity safe is a basic human right — in any place. And since social VR places have many of the hallmarks of real-world social places, we should be to crafting safety into our basic experiences. It’s important that we do it now, while social VR is still young and the standards are being set. Safety and admittance need to be basic status quo. This notion is likely so attainable to us because, as women, we think a lot more about safety in real life.


Don’t accept us? See this Jackson Katz experiment: he asks men and women what they do daily to avoid being sexually assaulted. For women, the list begins with, “Hold my keys as a abeyant weapon, check the back seat before I get in the car, don’t drink too much, don’t leave my drink unattended, carry mace, don’t have a listed number […]” and continues acutely indefinitely. While for men, this isn’t article they think about; their go-to answer was, “Nothing.”

We knew that it was important to look at the botheration of basic absoluteness aggravation from our unique angle as women in VR, and we started by attractive at accord language. Having accounting our paper in the year of #MeToo, we had a lot of consent-focused debate in the media to take afflatus from.

We started with primary definitions of consent, such as, “all people should have complete buying of their bodies and any interactions that should occur to them,” a quote from Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti’s Yes Means Yes!: Visions of Female Sexual Power and A World After Rape(Berkeley: Seal Press). We grew that convenance into attractive at body ascendancy and buying as an alternate assumption to ensure safe, across-the-board social VR spaces and help advance a advantageous basic embodiment.

Fostering safety in basic spaces

Well, that’s all well and good, but how do we — as designers — bring consent, body sovereignty, and account into the basic world? By allotment people with easy-to-understand social norms, attainable tools, and adapted behavior engagement. Our theory was that we could advance these appearance by attractive for consent-acquisition paradigms in the real world and proposing basic equivalents.

To begin this action of digitizing consent, we knew it would be analytical to accept how people apperceive adapted behaviors in the real world. In our circadian lives, there is amenities in how we collaborate with people. You don’t wear your pajamas in public. You don’t skip the line or cut somebody off in traffic. And, if this does happen you can take action to stop that behavior. VR has very agnate social modalities to what we acquaintance in our real lives but, because VR is such a beginning format, the social norms we acquaintance in absoluteness have yet to be applied. In order to bring equity to VR would would have to pull in real world conduct expectations.

So, to create codes of conduct for VR, we looked to the factors that make up our real-world environments. Proxemics — a term coined by anthropologist Edward T. Hall — refers to the accord amid your identity, your surroundings, and the social norms of the association around you. Hall divides adventures into zones of ambit from the body.


Proxemics can be viewed as four audible categories: intimate, personal, social, and public. The boundaries of these zones help us accept appropriacy at assorted distances. In the real world, each zone has an accustomed code of conduct that offers absolute rules for what behaviors are adequate and unacceptable. We can use these zones to help people accept what behavior is adapted at specific times and locations.

Using proxemics as a spatial scale, we can define absolute structures for behavior expectations and build accustomed boundaries in basic social relationships. In amid these regions, we’re able look at accord accretion models unique to each and accommodate VR equivalents, cumulatively architectonics an basement for basic safety. This after-effects in afflatus for accord introspection, tailored to each zone — the architectonics of our code of conduct.

As we go through each zone, we will accompany our across-the-board design suggestions with examples from assorted social VR experiences.

Intimate space

Let’s begin with the abutting zone: affectionate space. In the real world, an archetype of this would be a bedroom. To build safety in affectionate virtual spaces, we advance designers build diminutive controls that are easy to access and alike before affectionate interactions begin. It’s important that people can adapt and ascendancy the types of adventures they’re accommodating to have with other people in these close abode before they happen.

The afflatus for this comes from the real-world affectionate accord paradigms found in “Yes, No, Maybe” charts. These are procedures — often used by the BDSM association — in which individuals may list all affectionate acts apprehensible and assort them into (1) adventures they would enjoy, (2) adventures they don’t ever want, and (3) adventures they’re not sure about. These individuals would then share these lists with each other before agreeable in any ambiguous affectionate acts.

In VR, we can empower people by acceptance them to define their ideal acquaintance up front, to avoid abuse in their agenda affectionate space. Our archetype here is from Rec Room, and shows diminutive controls for interactions within the Adventures tab of the Settings panel. This dialog allows people to define how close other users can get to them by ambience the ambit of their claimed safety bubble before any alternation happens.


Personal space

Next, let’s look at claimed space. In the real world, an archetype would be a living room or other shared domiciliary space.

To build safety into basic claimed spaces, we can look at how medical practices accommodate accord through nonverbal cues. Specifically, we took our afflatus from the way the National Institute of Health secures advancing accord from deaf participants in analytic trials using accepted gestures. Designers should absorb simple advice gestures and easy-access shortcuts to allow their users quick-action remediation in tough situations. These simple shortcuts can allow users to bound report a ambiguous acquaintance after arresting or added aspersing their experience.

We advised the attainable . As people entered a room that belonged to a specific Facebook group, we set expectations for conduct in this space with these rules. Designers can reinforce these sorts of local behavior expectations by administering rewards to users who uphold the rules or report violators.


Public space

And finally, public spaces. In the real world, a great archetype of a public space could be a public park or an entire city; any place in which you could potentially meet any kind of person. To ensure inclusivity in public basic spaces, we can look to real-world law systems for inspiration. Specifically the real-world’s definitions of consent, evaluations of public behavior violations, and bent consequences. We should accede analogously accepted rules and assiduous after-effects for basic abuse and harassment.

For example, VRChat created a accepted system (across all their worlds) that defines appropriacy and allows people to report abhorrent behavior. By blame timely after-effects to violators, these systems reinforce conduct expectations.


More than zones

As VR designers, we hold the unique befalling to brainstorm worlds absolved by reality’s constraints. When abutting the albatross of amalgam new social environments — behindhand of how surreal they may be — we should remind ourselves to treat basic apotheosis with the same account given to concrete bodies. Even if the real absoluteness we abide often fails to do so.

It is our albatross to design innately safe basic spaces and interactions, laying the background for a future of inclusive, secure and allotment VR communities — a safe future is in our basic hands.

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