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:

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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:

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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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Which Social VR Spaces Will Benefit From the Oculus Go?

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Image from https://www.oculus.com/go/

Mashable reviewer Raymond Wong has given the new Oculus Go headset a rave review:

Oculus Go is the VR headset we’ve all been waiting for: fully self-contained. It’s super clichéd to say a product is the “iPhone of [product category],” but the Oculus Go really is.

It’s the only VR headset that provides a good VR experience without the complexities of configuring a smartphone or PC. It’s not the most cutting-edge VR headset— that’ll always be reserved for PC VR headsets — but it’s the most frictionless way to dive into the virtual world. Oculus Go is the first VR headset you can casually pick up and use without needing to set time aside for setup.

Standalone VR headsets are the future. They’re the “sweet spot” as Zuckerberg also said at Oculus Connect. Oculus Go is an important stepping stone towards more powerful standalone VR headsets, like Facebook’s own Santa Cruz VR headset, that’ll inch us closer towards a Holodeck.

The Oculus Go is the VR headset that’ll help mainstream VR. It may still be another few more years, but this is the one that changes everything.

The Oculus Go features over 1,000 VR games, social apps, and 360° experiences at launch, including the social VR spaces vTime and AltspaceVR. (Surprisingly, Facebook Spaces is not among them.) It makes sense that social VR apps that lock you into one place (like vTime) or which have very basic avatars (like AltspaceVR) would be usable in Oculus Go. If Oculus Go becomes very popular, as it might, these social VR platforms may indeed have an advantage over those which require a full-blown VR headset and a higher-end computer, such as Sansar or High Fidelity.

One social VR platform on the Oculus Go that most impressed Raymond was Oculus Rooms:

My favorite VR experience for the Go is Oculus Rooms 2.0. First launched on Rift and Gear VR, the updated Rooms is like virtual hangout for you and your friends to chill in.

There are three main sections of Rooms: A “Media Area” with a giant screen where you can watch videos and view media content, a “Games Table” where you can play various games like matching cards and Reversi (more games like Boggle, Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit are coming from Hasbro later), and “Your Room” where you can decorate your space by customizing things like your furniture textures, the photos on your walls, and the scene out the virtual window.

 The Rooms experience isn’t photo-realistic by any means, but it’s the best showcase of social VR. Here, inside of this virtual room, you can invite your friends from anywhere in the world to come and watch a video with you. Or watch a video, while playing mini games. Or just hang out and have a conversation.

I thought it would be stupid at first, but it’s one of the most natural things I’ve ever done in VR. And even though it’s nowhere near as full-featured as Facebook Spaces for the Oculus Rift, it’s still pretty damn fun to chill in even if you’re not doing anything but kicking back and watching a video.

Rooms is the first thing I showed people when I handed them Oculus Go, and it never failed to blow them away. Even friends who were extremely skeptical of VR or had written it off as a fad were impressed. Rooms is to Oculus Go the way Wii Sports was to the Wii — it’ll hook you instantly.

Polygon, in its article on Oculus Go, also notes the appeal of Oculus Rooms:

The headset’s Oculus Rooms feature allows me to create my own social space for my family and friends in virtual reality. I can sit and chat with them, via pretty little avatars. We can share home movies and photos by linking our phones to the headset. We can watch movies together. We can play basic parlor games. It feels like a natural and useful implementation of virtual reality, and it’s powered by a $200 stand-alone headset. This is an actual place where I want to spend time.

And the Polygon writer, Colin Campbell, adds this interesting note about why Oculus Rooms is not available for the Oculus Rift headset:

One irritating aspect of Oculus Go’s launch is that core social function Oculus Rooms won’t be available for Rift. We asked a spokesperson why Rift owners are being left out, and received the following statement.

“Rift users can use Facebook Spaces to make their VR experience a more social one. Facebook Spaces is designed to take full advantage of PC VR platforms to power social experiences, while Oculus Rooms is designed to help people connect with friends and family on lower-compute mobile VR devices. It’s great to have different kinds of social experiences on different platforms because it’s still early days for VR, and it helps us learn while giving people a variety of ways to interact.”

As a Rift owner who doesn’t use Facebook, I find this disappointing. But if Go is a commercial success, maybe the company will find a way to allow Rooms and Facebook Spaces to live together across its portfolio of devices.


One of the problems in getting many existing social VR software clients to run on the Oculus Go is that their programs need to be made to run in as little storage as possible. (For example, the Sansar client uses tens of gigabytes of memory storage for caching experiences you visit, so they will load more quickly the next time you come back.)  There’s only 32GB (or 64GB if you buy the upgraded version) of total program storage on the Oculus Go:

Oculus was generous enough to give me pre-release access to the Oculus Store, so I went kind of crazy downloading and installing as many different apps as my 32GB headset could hold.

Most VR apps are around 500-700MB, and 3D games usually clocked in at no more than 5GB. Just something to keep in mind if you’re deciding between the 32GB and 64GB Oculus Go. If you’re planning on playing a lot of 3D games, I recommend going with the higher storage model because there’s no adding more later.

The bigger problem is that high-quality social VR requires a very high rate of data transfer (that cord tethering your Oculus Rift to your PC is there for a reason!). It’s highly doubtful that you would be able to achieve that same high data transfer rate on the Oculus Go. The Oculus Rift and HTC Vive rely on higher-end gaming machines with powerful integrated graphics cards to be able to deliver the necessary 90 frames per second performance so you don’t get sick in VR.

That being said, and ignorant as I am of the other technical challenges that face those who want to port existing social VR platforms to the Oculus Go, I’d love to hear what others have to say. What do you think are the major obstacles in bringing programs like Sansar, High Fidelity, Sinespace or VRChat to the Oculus Go and similar all-in-one VR headsets?

Comparing Events Listings in the Various Virtual Worlds

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Picture by webandi on Pixabay

How do you find out what’s going on in the various social VR spaces/virtual worlds? Often the best way is to consult their upcoming events listings. In this blogpost I am going to link to all the various event schedules that I have been able to locate for each of the major metaverse platfrorms.

 

First, let’s start off with Second Life. The Events listing in the Second Life client (under Search in the Firestorm client) can be a bit overwhelming due to the sheer magnitude of events listed (there’s also a lot of store advertising spam mixed in). You can use the handy drop-down menu in the upper right-hand corner of the Search window (under the General, Moderate, and Adult checkboxes) to limit your searching to, say, live music events. There’s also an events page on the Second Life website, which doesn’t appear to have as many events listed as you can find using the client. There’s also a Featured Events listing in the Destination Guide, which can direct you the major events happening around the grid.

 

Sansar has an upcoming events calendar within the client software, displayed prominently on the right-hand side of the screen when you first log in. There’s also a Rolodex icon labelled Events in the upper right-hand corner of the screen, which you can click at any time to see the events listings:

Sansar Create Event 3 21 Mar 2018

Sansar also has a dedicated Featured Events page on their website, as well as an Upcoming Events section on the Sansar Atlas page.

 

High Fidelity has an upcoming events page in pinboard, agenda, or calendar month views. Unfortunately, there’s no events listing within their client, on their tablet user interface, so you’ll have to rely on the website to get your information before you go in-world.

(Update: I just discovered that there is an in-world display board of upcoming events in High Fidelity’s Start domain, which you can search for on your tablet UI under the “Go To” icon:

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Sinespace has an Events section on their official blog, but it’s not updated very often. You’re better off loading the Sinespace client software and getting information from the Upcoming Events section on the left-hand side of the log in screen:

Sinespace Login Screen 14 APr 2018

There’s also an upcoming events board located near the spawn point at the Sinespace Welcome Centre:

What's On In Sinespace 14 Apr 2018

 

VRChat actually has a VRChat Events website with links to their Discord server and to an online calendar of events. This is a separate Discord server from the very busy main VRChat Discord server, with different channels for each of the regularly scheduled events happening in VRChat, including the popular Endgame talk show. There’s simply no better way to stay abreast of everything that’s happening in VRChat! There’s also an official events calendar on the VRChat website. (Surprisingly, there is no upcoming events listing within the VRChat client, a glaring omission.)

 

AltspaceVR has a Featured Events listing on their website, as well as a listing of upcoming events in their client software.

 

I think that about covers it! Now you know where to get up-to-date information on what’s happening in the various virtual worlds. See you in-world!

My Predictions For The Next Two Years

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Photo by Wyron A on Unsplash

I’ve been hanging around virtual worlds of one kind or another for over a decade now. I’ve seen them come and go. Some were spectacular failures that provided lessons for other companies. Others just kind of meander along, not attracting very many users or ever becoming very big (like the multitude of OpenSim-based grids).

What usually happens in today’s hyper-competitive computer applications marketplace, is that one or two players in a particular market segment get big (e.g. Microsoft, MySpace, Facebook, and yes, in its own way, Second Life), and then continue to grow like a juggernaut, based on the network effect, while the smaller players in the marketplace fight each other over the leftovers. The ones who get big are usually, but not always, the early entrants into the field (Second Life is a prime example of that, although there were notable virtual worlds which were founded before it, like ActiveWorlds).

But social VR and virtual worlds are not a zero-sum game. Many consumers are frequent visitors to a number of different metaverse platforms, and many creators build and sell products in various virtual worlds. Right now, success in one VR-capable virtual world (e.g. VRChat) generates interest in other social VR spaces. As they say, “A rising tide lifts all boats”.

It’s still not clear where all this is going, but I’m willing to polish my crystal ball and make a few predictions of what will happen over the next two year period, from now until April 2020.

What I predict will happen, over the next two years, is that one of the Big Five computer companies:

  • Alphabet/Google
  • Amazon
  • Apple
  • Facebook/Oculus*
  • Microsoft

Is either going to launch their own social VR/virtual world/metaverse product, OR is going to buy one of the Big Four metaverse-building companies:

  • High Fidelity
  • Linden Lab (Second Life and Sansar)
  • Sine Wave Entertainment (Sinespace)
  • VRChat

(We’ve already seen this happen with Microsoft’s purchase of AltspaceVR.) We could also see a company buy out a virtual world, just to grab the programming talent, and then shut the world down completely (as Yahoo! did with the promising Cloud Party).

Now, there’s no guarantee that any of the Big Four companies WANT to be bought out by the Big Five. Perhaps instead of a buyout, a strategic partnership deal will be inked. But I bet you anything that it’s tempting for the bigger companies to buy their way into the evolving metaverse marketplace, rather than design something from scratch.

I also predict that a LOT of the new virtual world/social VR startups we see popping up are going to fail over the next two years. There’s a lot of virtual-reality-related (and especially blockchain-related) hype taking place, and some people are investing in startups that are risky. Some smaller companies have jumped into grand virtual world-building projects without realizing the sheer magnitude of the work involved in creating a fully-featured, viable metaverse. I’m afraid that some investors are going to get burned.

I also predict that Sinespace and VRChat are going to pull ahead in terms of features, simply because they decided to build on top of the popular Unity game engine, and they can use all the cool Unity development tools that are popping up. By comparison, feature development on Sansar will be slower as they continue work in-house on their own engine.

And finally, I expect that Second Life’s 15th anniversary celebrations will entice some former users to dust off their old accounts and revisit the platform to see what’s new. It may well herald a renaissance for SL! At the very least, it will help stave off a slow decline in SL’s user concurrency figures.

*Sorry, but as I have said before, Facebook Spaces is not a palatable social VR/virtual world product. It can’t even come close to competing against what High Fidelity, Second Life, Sinespace and VRChat are currently doing. But I bet you anything that Facebook has other plans up their sleeve. They can still try to leverage off their 2-billion-plus Facebook network (not to mention 800 million Instagram users) to become a potential major disruptor in the evolving metaverse marketplace. I’m not counting them out yet!

Which Virtual World Boasts the Highest Avatar Capacity?

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Photo of Pamplona’s annual Running of the Bulls by Ethan Weil on Unsplash

Avatar capacity limits are the bane of all virtual worlds. They impact how many avatars can attend and participate in events, such as concerts and conferences. Everybody has experienced the frustration of trying to get into an overcrowded region, and how laggy an experience can be when it is packed to capacity.

Second Life sim limits are pretty straightforward:

  • Full regions:  100 avatars maximum
  • Homesteads: 20 avatars
  • Open spaces: 10 avatars

Of course, event planners in Second Life use such tricks as creating “in the round” stages at the intersection of four adjoining sims in order to increase potential crowd capacity.

Last year, Second Life rolled out a perk to Premium users which allows them to enter already-full sims which are at the posted limits, within reason (for example, up to 10 Premium avatars can theoretically get into a packed Full region sim). I have used this feature myself when trying to get into popular events like the annual Skin Fair!

So, I wondered, what are the avatar capacity limits of the newer virtual worlds? How many avatars can you pack onto a Sansar experience, a High Fidelity domain, or a Sinespace region? Are there limits in place for AltspaceVR and VRChat? So I went out to ask some questions of the various companies.

I posted my question on the official Sansar Discord channel, the official Sinespace Skype group, the High Fidelity user forums, and the official VRChat Discord server. (AltspaceVR has an unofficial Discord server I also posted to. I’m actually rather surprised that they don’t have any sort of official user forum.)

Galen tells me the limit for Sansar is 30+ avatars, but that they can always fit a few extra Lindens in. That would fit well with my own personal experience, where we’ve had almost 35 avatars in some experiences for Atlas Hopping.

Most VRChat worlds are limited to 30 avatars in a single instance. I’ve been told on the official VRChat Discord server that “the hard cap is twice the number they put”. A member of the VRChat Events Discord server named Gallium says:

I’ve been in instances with 40+ users. As for limits, theoretical max, not sure. I’m sure VRChat has a max possible users per instance but I don’t know what that is. When you make a world and upload it you set the max users, last I heard this is a soft cap. Say 32. Once it hits that nobody can join from the Worlds menu, but they can join friends who are in there via the social tab. Eventually the hard cap, which is double the soft cap, will hit and then I think it diverts people to the next instance.

In AltspaceVR, they have boasted about getting a crowd of more than 1,200 people at a Reggie Watts show, but this involved broadcasting across multiple instances. It’s not clear how many avatars you can pack into a single AltspaceVR area, but given the relative simplicity of the avatars, I would expect it to be a fairly high number. I’ve been told by someone on the unofficial AltspaceVR Discord server that the limit at the central Campfire is 40, which corresponds to my own experience. But someone else added the caveat, “except that those limits can be pushed by joining through friends or getting invited”.

The limits of Facebook Spaces and vTime are hard-coded: a maximum of four avatars can be in one space together. But then they’re meant more for intimate chat than hosting events.

But the clear winners here seem to be High Fidelity and Sinespace. High Fidelity blogged about getting 90 avatars together in one domain way back in February 2017. And XaosPrincess, a user on their forums, states, “In last year’s stress tests, up to 160 avatars (all in HMD) were hosted in Zaru”. That’s pretty impressive.

But Sinespace seems to have topped even 160. Digvijay from the Sinespace Skype group told me, “Theoretically about 200 [in Sinespace]; but 100 should be a safe number without any lag, etc.”. Adam Frisby himself says:

Officially 100; tests indicate we can do 200 safely. We have regions like Struktura with 700+ avatars using our NPC system that perform well. We’re thinking of doing another load test done to try [and] hit 200.

Over 700?!?? I’m not sure how Sinespace NPCs differ from real avatars in terms of server load, so I’ll accept the 200 figure. So Sinespace seems to be the current winner in this particular “Space Race”, with High Fidelity not too far behind! It will be interesting to watch how the various social VR spaces and virtual worlds will handle increased avatar capacity, especially as they may experience the kind of surge in popularity that VRChat recently experienced.

UPDATE 8:54 a.m.: Naticus from VRChat tells me in a comment, “The current soft cap max at VRChat is 40 and the hard cap is twice that at 80.” Thanks Naticus!

AltspaceVR: A Brief Introduction

Nobody was more surprised than I was when Microsoft stepped in at the last minute to save AltspaceVR. Most people assumed the virtual world was doomed when they announced last July that they had run out of money. But obviously, Microsoft felt that the product was worth saving, as their potential foot in the door in the increasingly crowded room of social VR apps. God knows they have enough money to do something interesting with it. God knows AltspaceVR needs someone to pour money into it.

AltspaceVR is a California-based company which was founded in 2013, and which launched its social VR application in May 2015. So they’ve been around for a while now.

My biggest problem with AltspaceVR is the platform’s avatars. They are dreadfully cartoony. I can only assume that they made this deliberate design decision so the avatars are very quick and easy to render on a platform that supports not only the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive headsets, but also Google Daydream, Samsung Gear VR, and the numerous Windows Mixed Reality headsets, plus Windows computer desktop users. But I find them to be butt-ugly, and terribly unappealing. Let’s hope Microsoft has plans to upgrade them.

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I personally found it extremely funny that Microsoft felt they had to tart up the default AltspaceVR avatars in the following promotional video titled “Ushering in the era of Windows Mixed Reality”, issued in October 2017, shortly after they bought AltspaceVR.

If you click on the following YouTube video, it should start around the 15:40 minute mark, which is where the AltspaceVR segment occurs. I can assure you that the avatars used in this Microsoft promotional video were ones with completely redesigned and customized heads, which are NOT available to current AltspaceVR users! User avatar customization options in AltspaceVR are very limited, still. Truth in advertising, hmmm…

There are a few interesting regular events happening in AltspaceVR, notably VR Church, an initiative launched by Pastor D.J. Soto (WIRED article), which I wrote about in an earlier blogpost on religion, spirituality and virtual reality. (SacredVR also holds weekly guided meditation events in AltspaceVR.) Of course, religious events are hardly new to virtual worlds; Second Life has had churches operating almost from the very beginning.

AltspaceVR is worth keeping an eye on, if for no other reason than to see what Microsoft plans to do with their acquisition.

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.