I just realized today that there is one fairly popular social VR/virtual world platform I haven’t covered in this blog yet, and that is Rec Room by the company Against Gravity, which was first released in 2016.
Here’s the description of the social VR app from its Oculus Home description:
Welcome to Rec Room, the virtual reality social club where you play active games with friends from all around the world. Customize your appearance, then party up to play multiplayer games like Paintball, 3D Charades, Disc Golf, and even four player co-op adventures! Or just hang out in The Lounge (free membership required). Plus new activities and fun stuff added frequently.
The first thing I noticed about Rec Room was the avatars, which are blocky and cartoony, basically a head, torso and hands, without arms, legs or a neck.
Now, those of you who read this blog regularly know that I have a pet peeve about cartoony avatars (hello, Facebook Spaces!). However, in the case of Rec Room, there is more of an emphasis on an all-ages, children-friendly environment, so I’m more willing to accept cartoon avatars. (Kind of like those Saturday morning cartoons I used to spend all Saturday morning watching as a kid. Is that still a thing?)
The emphasis in Rec Room is on fun and games. The main room is a gymnasium, which is usually full of other avatars running around and yelling (mostly children). There are about a dozen doors leading to separate game-playing areas: everything from disc golf to paintball to laser tag, even charades! You can earn in-world currency by completing activities and completing daily challenges, which you can then spend on exclusive merchandise (like a red fireman’s hat) that you can wear.
If you’re looking for something different and fun, Rec Room might just be up your alley. It’s available as a free app for the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and the PlayStation VR headset. (Note that there is no desktop-only version of this app; you do need to have one of the three VR headsets to play.)
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.