Why Women Don’t Like Social VR: Interview with Jessica Outlaw

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Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

Enrico Speranza in my RyanSchultz.com Facebook group alerted me to a very interesting podcast put out by ResearchVR, who describe themselves as follows:

We are three Cognitive Scientists discussing Virtual Reality and Cognitive Research, Industry News, and Design Implications! We actively research different aspects of the field, and are involved in various companies related to the topic of VR. With this podcast, we hope to use our commentary to bridge the gap between news and established science. We break down complex topics, discuss the current trends and their economical impacts, and broadcast our views on VR.

The podcast episode in question was an in-depth, 1 hour 15 minute interview with Jessica Outlaw:

Behavioral Scientist Jessica Outlaw is an outspoken Social Scientist in the field of VR User Experience Design. She recently published an Inductive Qualitative study with Beth Duckles, PhD about the experiences of “Millennial, tech-savvy women” in Social VR applications (Altspace, High Fidelity, Facebook Spaces, etc).

In this episode, we talk embodied cognition, implicit biases, gender differences in social behavior and navigation in an unfamiliar environment, as well as the questions the paper raises up about inclusivity and approachability in design.

This is a long, wide-ranging interview touching on a lot of topics. Of particular note is what Jessica has to say about her research on women’s experiences in social VR applications. She wanted to know what tech-savvy younger women, new to social VR, had to say about their experiences.

Most of them found the social dynamics to be very disconcerting. The women had no idea what the social norms and expectations were in the social VR experiences they visited over a thirty-minute period (Rec Room, AltspaceVR, Facebook Spaces). Many women felt unsafe; some women felt that their personal spaces were invaded by other avatars. Talking to another person in social VR wasn’t seen as an attractive alternative to other forms of communication.

One of the four recommendations Jessica makes in her research report is that privacy must be the default in social VR applications, for women to feel safe. Another recommendation was to make social VR enticing and fun to do, and let the community form around their interests, as this leads to better behaviour overall.

Near the end of the podcast, Jessica and the ResearchVR co-hosts discuss a recent news story where a woman was harassed in a VR application called QuiVR.

I was also interested to hear that Jessica also did some work on a project for High Fidelity last year, around the question of what makes people feel welcome in an online community, and what’s appealing to people.

Here’s a link to the ResearchVR podcast. And here’s a link to a card series on Medium that outlines Jessica’s research findings, with quotes from the women interviewed. You can also request that Jessica’s full research report be emailed to you at her website.

Jessica also talked about her follow-up study, a user survey where she got over 600 responses. I’ll be very interested to read what she learns from her ongoing social VR research.

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8 thoughts on “Why Women Don’t Like Social VR: Interview with Jessica Outlaw”

  1. I’m not surprised. Every time I meet a woman in Echo Arena I am surprised at the bullshit they put up with from male players. Our community is better than most but it becomes almost necessity to stream/record and report poor behavior. For mass adoption we really need to empower women and have better community policing and tools to end harassment.

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  2. …about the same as they’d feel if they walked into a sports locker room dressed like a hooker.

    Might be worth retrying the experiment with them wearing male avatars (and having male names). They’d go from being mobbed to being ignored…

    Like

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