Trolling, Griefing, and Harassment in Virtual Worlds: What the Newer Social VR Platforms Are Doing to Combat It

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How do you deal with a troll? (image by Anaterate on Pixabay)

There was a particularly irritating troll at Alfy’s Voices of Sansar competition this past Saturday. Trying to find and mute her (currently the only tool available to us in Sansar) was an exercise in frustration, hovering my cursor over each avatar in the crowd watching the show until I found her. Gindipple has released some software that might help us the next time we get hit by a troll at an event:

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We’ve been pretty lucky in Sansar so far; we haven’t seen anything like the levels of trolling and harassment that occur in the more popular social VR spaces like VRChat and AltspaceVR. (VRChat, in particular, is infamous for its griefing.) But we Sansarians all know the onslaught of trolls is coming, and every social VR platform is going to have to come up with its own technical solutions to the problem of trolls.

So, how are the other social VR platforms dealing with this issue?

 

Sinespace

Sinespace has pretty limited options as well. You can basically report and ignore other avatars around you:

Sinespace Ignore and Report 3 14 May 2018.png

 

VRChat

VRChat is taking the most controversial step of banning new users from uploading avatars or worlds until certain (unspecified) conditions are met, and taking away such privileges from older users who misbehave:

Hello, VRChat! We’ve been working on some new “Trust” systems to help make VRChat a friendlier place. These systems will be used to help gate various features until users have proven themselves to be a friendly member of the community. One of the first parts of the Trust system is called “Content Gating”. This system is designed to reduce abusive or annoying behavior involving avatars or other content.

Here’s generally how it works. When a user first creates a new VRChat account, they will be unable to upload custom content like worlds or avatars. After spending some time in the app and having positive interactions with other users, they will eventually receive in-app and email notifications that their account has access to world and avatar creation capability. This time may vary from user to user depending on various factors.

If the new user chooses to spend time in VRChat behaving badly or maliciously against other users, they may lose the capability to upload content. They will receive a notification in-app and via email that they have lost access to content uploading. If they spend more time in the app and follow the Community Guidelines, then they will eventually regain access to these systems. Again, this time may vary depending on various factors.

The CEO of at least one other competing metaverse corporation has said that he doubts this step will actually work as intended. In addition to these new sanctions, VRChat also has the ability to mute (so you can’t hear) and block (so you can’t see) other avatars in its pop-up user interface, and a “safe mode”, which is a sort of “nuclear option” where you can mute and block all avatars which are not on your friends list.

VRChat is also temp-banning people who troll, but sometimes other people get accidentally caught in the cross-fire. I seem to remember that there is also a feature where you can ask avatars who share your world to vote “yes” or “no” on ejecting a misbehaving user from that instance.

So all in all, VRChat has developed the most evolved and developed tools for dealing with trolling. But then again, they’ve been forced to.

 

AltspaceVR

Back in 2016, AltspaceVR introduced a “space bubble” to keep other avatars from invading your personal space. I do know that you can also mute other avatars who are annoying you. You don’t have an option to block offensive avatars in AltspaceVR, but then again, you don’t really have any choice in your avatar, they’re so very limited!

I would load and run AltspaceVR to check all these features out, but the latest version of the client software (where you get to choose your new “home” location) has completely locked up my high-end PC THREE. TIMES. tonight and I am not going to risk trying it again! AltspaceVR seems to be experiencing some major growing pains. Seriously not impressed.

 

High Fidelity

High Fidelity has a Bubble icon on its tablet user interface that works similarly to the AltspaceVR space bubble:

High Fidelity Bubble 14 May 2018.png

You can also mute nearby avatars, or set them to “ignore” so they can’t messsage you in-world. Pretty much the same features as the other social VR spaces have. All the tools in all the newer social VR spaces are pretty limited.

 

General Issues in Dealing with Trolling and Griefing

So, let’s move from specific technical solutions to a more general discussion on how to handle griefing in general. What’s the best way to go about dealing with griefing, trolling, and harassment in online communities?

Dr. Mark Dombeck, in an article on the website MentalHealth.net, neatly outlines some of the issues in community and game design that affect trolling:

In my experience, manipulating perpetrator anonymity is an important factor in controlling griefer’s/troll’s antisocial behavior. The more easily identifiable and able to be held accountable for their actions community members are, the fewer instances of bad behavior you tend to see.

Allied with the idea of altering perpetrator anonymity is the idea of altering expectation of punishment. Accountability enables easier punishment. There are several ways that punishment can take place however. Punishment can be very informal, where community members heap scorn on other members who violate the social contract or simply ignore them (by using filters within the community to literally make their presence invisible). This sort of informal punishment is what makes accountability effective all by itself. Accountability can also enable more formal varieties of punishment such as entry bans. In my experience bans are the most useful way to discourage the really hardcore antisocial behavior that happens on communities. Punishment can never hope to eradicate all griefer/troll behavior however, because the really hardcore griefers will thrive on punishment, seeing attempts by the management to eject them as high praise for their work.

Here are a few other elements of the community or game that can be manipulated and which might have an impact on reducing griefing/trolling behavior.

Setting up Initiation Barriers probably would affect griefing behavior. The easier it is to get into a community, the more likely that community is to become a target for griefers. In part this has to do with helping people to identify with and value the community and not take it for granted. When you have to do a lot of work to get into a community you are more likely to care for that community and not want to harm it. The problem here is that the same barriers that might keep out griefers also keep out legitimate members. It is difficult to set a barrier high enough to keep out one group without also keeping out the other group.

I’d expect that the more opportunity there is to act out griefer behaviors with a group of other griefers, the more often the behavior would happen. People tend to take less responsibility for individual actions when they are acting as part of a group or mob. This social psychological principle goes by several names including the bystander effect, and diffusion of responsibility. The solution here would be to limit people’s ability to socialize, but as that utterly defeats the purpose of the community it isn’t really much of a solution.

I would expect that manipulating the frame of the community or game can increase or decrease the chance that griefer behavior will occur. The frame of a game or community has to do with its identity – how members think of what they are doing when engaged in the game or community. If an interaction is thought of as a game and therefore not something that is real or important it is easier to self-justify doing mayhem. If an interaction is thought of as a more serious behavior such as part of a support group interaction, the urge to do mayhem is maybe less strong (for some at least). The Wired article talks about this issue somewhat indirectly, noting that Second Life members don’t think of what they do in Second Life as being part of a game but rather view it as a more serious community. The “non-game” frame of Second Life participants makes such participants more likely to view griefing behavior taking place within Second Life in non-game ways, such as considering it to be actual theft or terrorism.

Second Life has often been an arena for trolling because it’s very easy to create a free, throwaway account to be offensive. If one gets banned, the griefer can go ahead and create another free account. All the newer social VR spaces have this problem, since they don’t want to discourage people from signing up and (hopefully) staying and generating income for the company.

There are no easy answers here. The best we can do is try various solutions and see if they prove effective or not. In these early days of the metaverse, we’re all still learning the best ways to design our communities to chain the trolls.

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UPDATED: Seven Things That High Fidelity Does Better Than Sansar

It’s only natural to want to compare two of the newer, VR-capable social virtual worlds: High Fidelity (founded in 2013 by Philip Rosedale), and Sansar by Linden Lab (the company founded in 1999, also by Philip Rosedale, before he left to start HiFi; the current CEO is Ebbe Altberg). With similar roots, the two virtual worlds have a lot in common, but there are still some significant differences between them. Earlier this year, I recently posted an infographic comparing the two platforms (which I probably need to update).

Now, my preferred virtual world happens to be Sansar, but there are some areas where High Fidelity still has an edge over Sansar, at least right now:

Making friends: You can “shake hands” with another avatar and they are automatically added to your friends list in HiFi. Very natural and very cool.

Paying an avatar: You can pay or “tip” an avatar directly from the tablet UI in High Fidelity, something you can’t do in Sansar.

Spectator Cam: This is a very useful and fun tool. The Spectator Camera is a camera you can use, along with recording software such as Open Broadcaster Software (OBS), to record or livestream what you and your friends do in High Fidelity. They even had a film festival in HiFi consisting entirely of videos recorded using this device! I went to the premiere, it was great fun!

Blockchain: High Fidelity stores currency, object information, and identity on the blockchain. It’s a new, relatively untested technology which some feel is problematic, but Philip Rosedale has embraced it boldly. Sansar has decided to go in a different direction with a commerce system very similar to its flagship product, Second Life.

In-World Building Tools: High Fidelity does offer you the option of building items in-world, in a way very similar to the “prim building” in Second Life. It’s still a crude tool, but it works. There’s no such ability in Sansar, nor is one planned as far as I know. Most content creators in HiFi and Sansar do decide to use external tools such as Blender or Maya (or even Windows Paint 3D!) to create content, then import it.

Have I missed any other advantages to High Fidelity over Sansar? Please let me know in the comments, thanks!

UPDATE 7:32 p.m. Alezia Kurdis on the HiFi user forums reminded me of one thing that High Fidelity has that Sansar doesn’t—your avatar can fly! Thanks, Alezia!

UPDATE May 15th: Expert HiFi avatar creator Menithal comments on another feature that High Fidelity has that Sansar currently lacks—custom-rigged avatars! (Sansar has decided to go in another direction with avatar customization with its integration with Marvelous Designer, but you cannot design, create, rig and script customized avatars like you can in High Fidelity and VRChat):

You also have a lot more control over custom avatars;

  • On the fly Scripting and scripts that can run only on your client
  • CUSTOM avatars, not just customizable ones with attachments
  • In-world freedom to do things

Let me give some examples:

You can manipulate object behavior on the fly, instead of relying on things to occur: Like in this silly video where i just experimented with Attaching a camera to the end of a stick, then making it physical. I also bound my track pad to change my emotion state on the fly while in the HMD.

Avatars can also be, honestly a lot more expressive, in HiFi compared to Sansar, due to the ability to have completely custom shapes instead of attachments, which also are completely doable (my coat is an attachment I can change on the fly)

There also is quite alot of flexibility of creation of addons: like the clap script, allowing you to clap while in HMD. Scripting it self extends the possibilities to be quite large:

Or even cast a spell using gestures and vocal control, if you have the scripting know-how. This also demonstrates me switching out my attachments via a script.

Or if you have an avatar with many bones, you can create an avatar specific customizer

This ofcourse has gone even further and allowed the use of flow bones in High Fidelity, where bones are simulated as well by others touching them.

Then there is

  • Running
  • Flying

And everything can be done while in HMD, without having to jump on and off it. A lot of the features are way deeper than the surface.

Thanks, Menithal! Although I must note that you can indeed run in Sansar…but flying would be nice to have *sigh*

An Interview with High Fidelity Content Creator XaosPrincess

Andreas Troeger has interviewed High Fidelity content creator XaosPrincess in a well-produced 20-minute video. She uses Gravity Sketch and Tilt Brush to create unique avatar clothing and accessories in HiFi:

The YouTube gives a nice overview of the High Fidelity in-world shopping experience.

Here’s a link to her Blockchain line of wearables on the High Fidelity Marketplace.

UPDATED! Second Life Steals, Deals and Freebies: How to Get 218 Outfits, Shoes, and Jewelry for Only L$100!

UPDATE: Because of interest in this blogpost, I have done an updated version: get SEVEN HUNDRED AND EIGHT-NINE items for only L$101! (Yes, it’s true!)

Did you know that you can get two hundred and eighteen women’s outfits, shoes, and jewelry for your female avatar, and spend only L$100? Yes, it’s true! Today I will show you how it’s done.

First, go to the Shoenique store, join their group for free (it’s called Shoenique Designs), then go past the entrance into the middle of the store, where you will find this group gift wall with 29 gifts:

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Then go over to the Legendaire store. At the main entrance, turn left and go into the door marked Group Gifts/Outlet. There you will find 64 outfits and shoes, all free group gifts when you join the free Legendaire V.I.P. group (there’s a group join sign right at the entrance). Another four of the gifts are located just inside the main entrance of the Legendaire store. (Note: make sure you join the new Legendaire V.I.P. group, not the old Legendaire group.)

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Finally, hop on over to Scandalize, and join their group for L$100. Then walk around the wall behind the customer service desk out front, and behold no less than 75 free group gifts! That works out to 1.3 Linden dollars per outfit! It’s the best deal in women’s SL clothing outside of the freebie stores, in my opinion.

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Then turn around and pick up some nice free jewelry on the counter opposite the group gift wall. There are another eleven gifts here (note that two of the vendors are not working):

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Now I am going to show you three of the dresses I picked up. First, here’s an example of one particularly lovely group gift dress from Shoenique Designs:

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This avatar is wearing:

Mesh Head and Lipstick: Giselle Bento head by Altamura (this was an Altamura gift from last Christmas at the eBENTO event, you had to join the Altamura group for L$50 to get it)

Mesh Body: Jenny Bento body by Altamura (this was a gift last Christmas from the Women Only Hunt)

Hair: Aria by D!va (free group gift; group is free to join; the roses are included and are colour-changeable, or can be turned off)

Eyes: Cerulean Spice eyes by Ina Centaur (hunt gift; this store is no longer in SL)

Dress: February Group Gift 1 Dress (Maitreya version) by Shoenique Designs (free group gift; group is free to join; I have found that most clothing designed for the Maitreya Lara mesh body tends to fit the Altamura mesh avatar body very well)

Shoes: Classic white pumps by Marquesse (free at the excellent freebie store at Ajuda SL Brasil; this shoe comes in four colours; note that the Altamura mesh avatar body has Slink-compatible feet)

TOTAL COST FOR THIS ENTIRE AVATAR: L$50 (group join fee for Altamura)

And here’s another gorgeous group gift gown from Shoenique Designs:

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This avatar is wearing:

Mesh Head: Lulu Bento mesh head by Akeruka (Over the past year, Akeruka has had four different dollarbie Bento mesh heads—two female, and two male—as group gifts for members of the [AK] Heads, News & Support group; the group join fee was L$150, so that works out to 38.5 Linden dollars per head, an amazing deal! So you might want to join this group, in case they decide to offer other dollarbie deals on Bento mesh heads.)

Mesh Body: eBody Classic avatar body (L$1 at the freebie store at Ajuda SL Brasil or directly from the eBody store; note that the dollarbie version of this mesh body has only “thick” alpha sections on the HUD, not the finer alpha sections on the full-price version)

Eyes: free hazel Look Into My eyes by Exodi (store is no longer in SL)

Gown: May group gift gown by Shoenique Designs (free group gift; group is free to join)

Shoes: Classic red pumps by Marquesse (free at the freebie store at Ajuda SL Brasil; this shoe comes in four colours; note that the eBody Classic mesh avatar body has Slink-compatible feet)

Hair: free Pulled Back Bun (brown) from the Library / Accessories / Hair Design Options / Pulled Back Bun folder in your SL inventory

Crown: an old hunt gift from a store that is no longer in SL

Jewelry: the Secret of Jade ruby bracelet, earrings and necklace by J&W Jewelers (freebie at the Regency Ballroom; there is also a lovely free gown by Shoenique here to pick up as well):

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TOTAL COST FOR THIS ENTIRE AVATAR: L$152 (L$150 group join fee for Akeruka, L$1 for the Akeruka Lulu mesh head, L$1 for the eBody Classic mesh body)

And finally, here is one of the many dresses from Scandalize that you can pick up for your L$100 group join free:

Scandalize Dress 14 May 2018.png

This avatar is wearing:

Mesh Head and Lipstick: Giselle Bento head by Altamura (this was an Altamura gift from last Christmas at the eBENTO event, you had to join the Altamura group for L$50 to get it)

Mesh Body: Jenny Bento body by Altamura (this was a gift last Christmas from the Women Only Hunt)

Eyes: free green Look Into My eyes by Exodi (store is no longer in SL)

Hair: Beyoncé hair by enVOGUE (a dollarbie gift from last year’s Hair Fair)

Dress: Leire dress by Scandalize (group gift; designed for the Maitreya Lara mesh avatar body, but most clothing designed for the Maitreya Lara mesh body tends to fit the Altamura mesh avatar body very well)

Jewelry: Wild Whimsy colour-changeable bracelet and earrings by Chop Zuey (from the Free Dove freebie store; unfortunately, these are no longer available at Free Dove)

Shoes: freebie high pumps in black from Garbaggio (free from the SL Marketplace for Slink feet; the Altamura Jenny body has Slink-compatible feet)

TOTAL COST FOR THIS ENTIRE AVATAR: L$150 (L$50 group join fee for Altamura and L$100 group join fee for Scandalize)

See just how easy it is to fill up your avatar’s wardrobe?

UPDATE May 15th: A commenter on the Secondlife group on Facebook commented that the Coco Designs store also has a free group which you can join, and they have 35 outfits and shoes available as free group gifts! So that makes a grand total of 218 freebies for only L$100!

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Sansar Pick of the Day: Moon Glider

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Moon Glider is a very soothing, futuristic Sansar experience created by Vassay. It’s very simple: you are on a large spaceship,  gliding along a blue beam of light through an alien geometric landscape under a starry sky.

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The inspiration for Vassay’s creation was the Solar Sailer from the movie Tron. Vassay says:

There’s a play area, and a meditation area on board. Also, may I ask, did you try diving? If not, you might like it :wink: Also #2, did you find three small easter egg items?

Actually, I didn’t find them! Maybe you’ll have better luck.