Lucas Rizzotto, who is the founder and CEO of the VR experience Where Thoughts Go (available on Steam and the Oculus Store), has posted a thread of tweets on Twitter, suggesting that the “power users” of social VR are those who suffer from a mental or physical illness that prevents them from participating fully in real-life society:
I don’t know if people know this, but the power users of social VR right now are kids and people who suffer from a mental/physical illness that stops them from socializing normally in their day-to-day life. Social VR is what gives them control over their social life.
By “power users”, I mean the people that spend the most amount of hours in-app, which are the users that are theoretically gaining the most from a product. Exceptions may apply, but it still doesn’t change the overwhelming majority.
This tells us something REALLY important: people use social VR to fill GAPS missing from their real-life interactions, not to REPLACE them. The more similar social VR interactions are to the real-world the less use they have to the general population. It fills less gaps!
And it makes sense! Social VR fills very important gaps for those 2 groups. Kids have a social life heavily constrained by their families & educational institutions, while people who suffer from certain illnesses may be stuck at home or too anxious to engage normally with others.
What this means is that the idea that the everyday men and women will simply stop hanging out in real life and just do it in VR instead is delusional. There are so many hidden nuances about in-person interactions that people won’t give up, even if they cannot verbalize them.
So the question becomes: when are people willing to give those things up?
1) When it’s overwhelmingly economically advantageous to meet in VR (i.e. you don’t have to fly somewhere)
2) When the social gathering is more about acquiring information than connecting at a human level
So if you’re a designing a social XR product, ask yourself: are you filling a gap in people’s social lives or are you just giving them another way to do what they do today? And if that’s so, are the economic benefits enough to justify them giving up the nuances of meeting in real life?
Now, the idea that social VR/virtual worlds are a haven of sorts for those with disabilities or illnesses is not exactly a new concept. In fact, Brenhard Drax (a.k.a. Second Life and Sansar videomaker Draxtor Despres) has made an award-winning documentary about this topic, called Our Digital Selves: My Avatar is Me, which you can watch below:
Lucas Rizzottos’ premise is rather intriguing. But I don’t agree with Lucas’ proposal that social VR’s power users are mostly people who do have a disability or illness of some sort. While I agree that the overall percentage of the disabled or physically/mentally ill participating in social VR/virtual worlds is certainly higher than what you would find in real-life society, it is still a clear minority of social VR users.
Most of the people who use social VR are mentally and physically healthy, non-disabled people who choose to spend a certain portion of the day inside a VR headset! They do so for a variety of reasons, not necessarily that they don’t have real-life options.
That is not to say that the differently abled, and those who have a mental or physical illness, aren’t attracted to social VR and virtual worlds. I can think of numerous examples of people I have met in Sansar, such as Shyla the Super Gecko (who is profiled in Drax’s documentary above), who successfully use Sansar as a social outlet. And I myself have shared on this blog about my struggles with severe clinical depression, so even I would fit into Lucas’ thesis. I admit that there have been days in the past, when I was depressed, when I would rather slip on my Oculus Rift headset and be social in a virtual world than go outside in the real one. And I found that the mood lift I would get from being social in VR was similar to the one I would get in real life, too.
What do you think? Do you agree with Lucas Rizzotto that social VR’s power users are those with mental or physical illnesses, or not? Please feel free to leave a comment below, or even better, join us on the RyanSchultz.com Discord server and tell us what you think there! We’d love to have you.
“Collectively, the world is more stressed, worried, sad and in pain today than we’ve ever seen it,” Gallup’s managing editor, Mohamed S. Younis, said in a letter in the report.
“Globally there’s upheaval,” Molitor says. There’s migration crises (“and a lot of suffering involved in that,” she says), instability in government (with Brexit happening in Europe, infighting in the U.S., unrest in Turkey, crises in Yemen, and many other places), and dire climate warnings.
There’s a lot of uncertainty, which drives stress, worry, and all of the emotions that go along with that, she says. “And whether you’re politically aware of it or not, it’s kind of in the zeitgeist.”
Molitor says her patients (who are notably in most part middle and upper middle class individuals) are feeling very anxious, overwhelmed and helpless. “They are feeling under siege,” she says.
I’m not surprised. Frankly, I have been feeling a lot more stressed out, afraid, and angry than usual lately, and I know many of you feel the same. Is it just me, or is the world getting even crazier? It’s gotten to the point where I don’t even want to check the news anymore. And don’t even get me started about Donald Trump…
Here are a few suggestions on how to cope in crazy, stressful times from the article:
Get involved: Find a cause related to what’s driving your stress and unease and give back.
Get educated: Particularly when it comes to the divisiveness that’s becoming synonymous with politics in the U.S. and elsewhere, be curious about others’ opinions rather than judging them immediately.
Be grateful: Have gratitude for what you do have in your life and the things that you can count on — like the people you love and those who love you.
Focus on what you can do: You’re certainly not going to be able to change everything that bothers you, but you likely can change some of it. Ask yourself what things can you do to feel more hopeful every day, and do them. (That doesn’t mean you get to completely ignore the negative things that happen in life, but you don’t need to dwell on them all the time.)
Take care of you: Doing things like sleeping well, eating well, moving (it doesn’t have to be going to the gym), laughing and doing your laundry — taking care of your basic needs — these acts go a long way in helping you feel more in control and better able to deal with whatever challenges land on your plate.
Make time for the people you care about: Social support is one of the number one ways to boost resiliency. Scores of research show being lonely worsens stress and worsens health outcomes, while being with and relating to others boosts positive emotions.
Pay attention to what’s pushing your buttons: A big part of not letting those negative emotions getting the best of us is knowing what’s causing those negative feelings to begin with. If Twitter wars put you on edge, limit how much of that you take in, when you read it or whose rants you read.
Personally, I think it’s time I took an extended Trump news break…for my own sanity.
On a somewhat funnier note, my newly-created Donald Trump avatar has already been banned from his first sim in Second Life: the hellfire and eternal torment experience run by the Demon’s Forest group. It would appear that even Hell doesn’t want Donald hanging around!
Social media stars are the new superstar celebrities of our age. Their antics attract massive audiences, and companies sometimes use them to shill for their products and services (for a fee, of course, and often a hefty one).
The Atlantic magazine has just published an article that takes a critical look at how some YouTube livestreamers are using their celebrity to profit off their viewers’ vulnerability and depression, by collecting a per-person “finder’s fee” to refer them to a site called BetterHelp.com. (This service has also been advertising heavily on Reddit, among several other places on the internet.)
Some of YouTube’s biggest stars have found themselves embroiled in controversy over videos that critics say allow them to profit off fans struggling with depression.
Over the past year, mental health and burnout have become big topics in the YouTube community. Stars like Philip DeFranco and Shane Dawson have posted heartfelt videos about their struggles with depression, encouraging fans to get help with their own issues. At the end of each video, they promote an online counseling service called BetterHelp, and include a referral link that earns them money every time a fan clicks the link and signs up.
…For a starting fee of $35 a week, BetterHelp will match you with an online counselor who you can then speak to via text, phone, or video, theoretically making it easy for tech-savvy and time-strapped teens to get mental-health care. But some people who downloaded the app after being prompted to by their favorite YouTubers have claimed that it has far from helped them.
Eighty-six users have filed complaints about the app with the Better Business Bureau, a nonprofit aimed at holding businesses accountable for bad practices. In a Reddit thread, several users describe being charged excessive fees (likely due to the fact that they didn’t realize the plan they had purchased charged the full annual fee up front), and claim the counselors on the app were unresponsive, unhelpful, or refused them treatment.
As Polygon points out, BetterHelp’s terms of service state that the company can’t guarantee a qualified professional. “We do not control the quality of the Counselor Services and we do not determine whether any Counselor is qualified to provide any specific service as well as whether a Counselor is categorized correctly or matched correctly to you,” the terms of service read. “The Counselor Services are not a complete substitute for a face-to-face examination and/or session by a licensed qualified professional.”
It’s a growing firestorm of controversy, and some YouTubers who have promoted BetterHelp.com are beginning to feel the backlash:
YouTubers, sensitive to the growing backlash from their fans, have nearly all put their partnership with BetterHelp on hold after others on YouTube began calling them out. In one of her videos, the YouTuber Deschroma, who had never endorsed the app previously, said she “couldn’t in good conscience” recommend the app to others. The YouTube channel Memeology 101 produced a nine-part series on the scandal, calling it “one of the biggest cons pulled by YouTubers in 2018.” PewDiePie, one of the biggest YouTubers on the platform, has denounced the app and the YouTubers promoting it, saying in his own video, “BetterHelp turns out to be … even worse than what I thought.”
On Monday, the YouTuber Boogie2988 posted a 12-minute mea culpa video, apologizing to his 4.5 million subscribers. “Here’s where I really screwed up: I didn’t read the terms of service for myself. I trusted the other YouTubers that were advertising it. And maybe that’s not something I should do moving forward,” he said. He also announced that he’d be donating all the profits he had made through the partnership to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
But YouTubers rely on trust and authenticity to grow their audience, and even an implication that they might be trying to sell a subpar product or service can damage the relationship they have with their fans. “I really wish big youtubers would stop pushing BetterHelp, its a scam and the fact they’re (youtubers) making money off of exploiting mental illness makes me sick,” one fan tweeted. “fyi the therapy service ‘betterhelp’ that youtubers like shane & h3h3 are advertising is a scam & they’re paying these youtubers loads & they’re capitalising ur depression,” another said.
“Why do youtubers shove shit in our face like #betterhelp #freeiphones and stuff without trying it first or doing research?” a fan said today. “I’ve lost respect for some due to this better help crap. We’re not dollar signs. We are supporters.”
Here’s the PewDiePie video mentioned above (it’s quite good):
As a mental health consumer myself, who has struggled with a chronic form of clinical depression for many years, I can understand the appeal of an online chat service that offers to connect you to a trained and caring professional. But BetterHelp.com goes out their way to warn users in its Our Client Terms & Conditions that:
The Counselors and Counselor Services…
The Counselors are neither our employees nor agents nor representatives. Furthermore, we assume no responsibility for any act, omission or doing of any Counselor.
We make no representation or warranty whatsoever as to the willingness or ability of a Counselor to give advice.
We make no representation or warranty whatsoever as to whether you will find the Counselor Services relevant, useful, correct, relevant, satisfactory or suitable to your needs.
We do not control the quality of the Counselor Services and we do not determine whether any Counselor is qualified to provide any specific service as well as whether a Counselor is categorized correctly or matched correctly to you…
Use of the Platform
You agree, confirm and acknowledge that although the Counselor may provide the Counselor Services through the Platform, we cannot assess whether the use of the Counselor, the Counselor Services or the Platform is right and suitable for your needs. THE PLATFORM DOES NOT INCLUDE THE PROVISION OF MEDICAL CARE, MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES, OR OTHER PROFESSIONAL SERVICES BY US. As operators of the Platform, our role is strictly limited to facilitating the communication between you and the Counselor and to enable the provision of the Counselor Services. It is up to you to consider and decide whether these services are appropriate for you or not.
You agree, confirm and acknowledge that you are aware of the fact that the Counselor Services are not a complete substitute for a face-to-face examination and/or session by a licensed qualified professional. You should never rely on or make health or well-being decisions which are primarily based on information provided as part of the Counselor Services. Furthermore, we strongly recommend that you will consider seeking advice by having an in-person appointment with a licensed and qualified professional. Never disregard, avoid, or delay in obtaining medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare counselor, by face-to-face appointment, because of information or advice you received through the Platform.
THE PLATFORM IS NOT INTENDED FOR DIAGNOSIS, INCLUDING INFORMATION REGARDING WHICH DRUGS OR TREATMENT THAT MAY BE APPROPRIATE FOR YOU, AND YOU SHOULD DISREGARD ANY SUCH ADVICE IF DELIVERED THROUGH THE PLAFORM.
You are advised to exercise a high level of care and caution in the use of the Platform and the Counselor services.
IF YOU ARE THINKING ABOUT SUICIDE OR IF YOU ARE CONSIDERING TO TAKE ACTIONS THAT MAY CAUSE HARM TO YOU OR TO OTHERS OR IF YOU FEEL THAT OR ANY OTHER PERSON MAY BE IN ANY DANGER OR IF YOU HAVE ANY MEDICAL EMERGENCY, YOU MUST IMMEDIATELY CALL THE EMERGENCY SERVICE NUMBER (911 IN THE US) AND NOTIFY THE RELEVANT AUTHORITIES. YOU ACKNOWLEDGE, CONFIRM AND AGREE THAT THE PLATFORM IS NOT DESIGNED FOR USE IN ANY OF THE AFOREMENTIONED CASES AND THAT YOU MUST NOT USE THE PLATFORM IN ANY OF THE AFOREMENTIONED CASES.
Which is the most cover-your-ass, weaselly-legalese statement I’ve seen in quite some time. Essentially, BetterHelp.com is not taking responsibility for anything that happens to you from using their service.
So, BetterHelp.com “do[es] not control the quality of the Counselor Services and…do[es] not determine whether any Counselor is qualified to provide any specific service”, eh? That one statement is enough to put me off that service completely. They don’t even bother to vet the counsellors they connect you with? That’s just complete bullshit.
And the second lesson here? That lesson is to very carefully read the Terms of Service of any online counselling service you are considering spending any of your hard-earned money on. In my opinion, you’d be much better off getting a referral to a real-life, qualified specialist through your family doctor, local clinic, or your community services department.
If you are currently experiencing a mental health or addictions related crisis:
When you absolutely need someone to talk to online, one of the best places to try is The KindVoice subReddit and Discord channel, both of which are staffed by volunteers:
“Sometimes we need to hear a human voice on the other end of the line telling us that everything’s going to be ok. This subreddit is for people that aren’t in a suicidal crisis, but feel depressed, alone, or want someone to talk to.”
A similar service is called The Haven, another Discord channel for people who need someone to talk to. Both Kind Voice and The Haven are free, volunteer-run services.
Whatever you do, don’t give up. NEVER. Give. Up!
UPDATE Oct. 16th: I have included a professional lawyer’s opinion on BetterHelp.com. This video is by Lior Leser, who specializes in technology, internet and software law:
Here’s Lior in a longer, hour-and-a-half interview with another YouTuber, talking about all this in much more detail:
No, we’re not. First, there was the issue of the disclaimer in the Terms and Conditions about our limited liability in ensuring counselor’s licensure. Yes, it’s standard legalese, and a similar disclaimer can be found — almost word for word — in the Terms and Conditions of many similar platforms. But it’s also possible to see how this can make someone feel uncomfortable. Besides, with our rigorous vetting process, it’s simply unnecessary. Therefore, we decided to update the Terms and Conditions, and on October 4 we removed this disclaimer altogether.