Two Virtual Reality Designers Discuss Techniques and Strategies for Implementing Safer Social VR (Including an Example from the Forthcoming Facebook Horizon Platform)

Photo by Mihai Surdu on Unsplash

Back at the start of November, two VR designers, Michelle Cortese and Andrea Zeller, wrote an article for Immerse on aspects of designing safer social VR spaces. That article was recently reprinted on The Next Web news site, titled How to protect users from harassment in social VR spaces, and it’s an excellent read on the subject, which I highly recommend.

In particular, female-identifying users of social VR platforms are often the victims of sexual harassment, research conducted by Jessica Outlaw and others has shown. Michelle Cortese writes:

As female designers working in VR, my co-worker Andrea Zeller and I decided to join forces on our own time and write a comprehensive paper. We wrote about the potential threat of virtual harassment, instructing readers on how to use body sovereignty and consent ideology to design safer virtual spaces from the ground up. The text will soon become a chapter in the upcoming book: Ethics in Design and Communication: New Critical Perspectives (Bloomsbury Visual Arts: London).

After years of flagging potentially-triggering social VR interactions to male co-workers in critiques, it seemed prime time to solidify this design practice into documented research. This article is the product of our journey.

The well-known immersive aspect of virtual reality—the VR hardware and software tricking your brain into believing what it is seeing is “real”—means that when someone threatens or violates your personal space, or your virtual body, it feels real.

This is particularly worrisome as harassment on the internet is a long-running issue; from trolling in chat rooms in the ’90s to cyber-bullying on various social media platforms today. When there’s no accountability on new platforms, abuse has often followed — and the innate physicality of VR gives harassers troubling new ways to attack. The visceral quality of VR abuse can be especially triggering for survivors of violent physical assault.

Cortese and Zeller stress that safety needs to be built into our social VR environments: “Safety and inclusion need to be virtual status quo.”

The article goes into a discussion of proxemics, which I will not attempt to summarize here; I would instead strongly urge you to go to the source and read it all for yourself, as it is very clearly laid out. A lot of research has already been done in this area, which can now be applied as we build new platforms.

And one of those new social VR platforms just happens to be Facebook Horizon, a project on which both Michelle Cortese and Andrea Zeller have been working!

What I did find interesting in this report was an example the authors provided, of how this user safety research is being put to use in the Facebook Horizon social VR platform, which will be launching in closed beta early this year. Apparently, there will be a button you can press to immediately remove yourself from a situation where you do not feel comfortable:

We designed the upcoming Facebook Horizon with easy-to-access shortcuts for moments when people would need quick-action remediation in tough situations. A one-touch button can quickly remove you from a situation. You simply touch the button and you land in a space where you can take a break and access your controls to adjust your experience.

Once safely away from the harasser, you can optionally choose to mute, block, or report them to the admins while in your “safe space”:

Handy features such as these, plus Facebook’s insistence on linking your personally-identifying account on the Facebook social network to your Facebook Horizon account (thus making it very difficult to be anonymous), will probably go a long way towards making women (and other minorities such as LGBTQ folks) feel safer in Facebook Horizon.

Of course, griefers, harassers and trolls will always try to find ways around the safeguards put in place, such as setting up dummy alternative accounts (Second Life and other virtual worlds have had to deal with such problems for years). We can also expect “swatting”-type attacks, where innocent people are falsely painted as troublemakers using the legitimate reporting tools provided (something we’ve unfortunately already seen happen in a few instances in Sansar).

Some rather bitter lessons on what does and doesn’t work have been learned in the “wild, wild west” of earlier-generation virtual worlds and social VR platforms, such as the never-ending free-for-all of Second Life (and of course, the cheerful anarchy of VRChat, especially in the days before they were forced to implement their nuanced Trust and Safety System due to a tidal wave of harassment, trolling and griefing).

But I am extremely glad to see that Facebook has hired VR designers like Michelle Cortese and Andrea Zeller, and that the company is treating user safety in social VR as a non-negotiable tenet from the earliest design stages of the Horizon project, instead of scrambling to address it as an after-thought as VRChat did. More social VR platforms need to do this.

I’m quite looking forward to seeing how this all plays out in 2020! I and many other observers will be watching Facebook Horizon carefully to see how well all these new security and safety features roll out and are embraced by users.

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Second Life Steals, Deals, and Freebies: Free Kim Female Full-Body Avatar by Altamura!

Once again, Altamura has come out with a great deal on a full-body mesh avatar (both head and body in one package). This is a female mesh avatar called Kim, and you can pick one up for absolutely free at the UniHispana Crea Gateway Community sim (here’s the SLURL):

Altamura Kim freebie 2 21 Oct2018

Simply pay the vendor a Linden dollar and the Kim body is yours (your Linden dollar will be automatically refunded; you do not need to be a member of the Altamura group to take advantage of this deal).

Here’s what Kim looks like:

Kim Altamura 2 21 Oct 2018

Unfortunately, this is another one of the Altamura freebies which does not allow you to remove the head (in order to replace it with another mesh head). However, the included head really is quite lovely, don’t you think?

Kim Altamura 21 Oct 2018

Kim is a fully-adjustable Bento body which comes with a HUD which allows you a complete set of alpha selections to make just about any clothing fit well. I have found that clothing designed for the Maitreya Lara mesh avatar body tends to fit the Altamura female bodies very well, with a minimum of fuss (and more and more designers are now creating clothing specifically designed for Altamura mesh bodies).

Also, the Altamura female mesh bodies have Slink-compatible feet, so any shoe designed for Slink feet should work well (the female mesh body gift comes in three foot heights, selectable via the HUD: flat, medium, and high). The bodies have Bento hands, and (in a nice added touch) Altamura has included a hand AO which cycles through natural hand positions, which you can use with your regular (non-Bento) AO. There’s also a facial AO.

This avatar is wearing:

Mesh Head and Body: Kim by Altamura

Hair: The hairstyle is actually a freebie from your inventory, located in the folder Accessories/Hair Design Options (Colors & Styles)/Tapered Bob)

Eyes: Dream eyes in brown (a freebie from YS&YS at a recent shopping event)

Top and Skirt: Eleni tee and Caitlyn skirt, from the freebie capsule wardrobe by Baby Monkey available at The Free*Style store (for more information, please see this blogpost)

Flats: White flats by Garbaggio (part of the free sample pack for Slink feet; available on the SL Marketplace). The package includes flats, mid-height pumps, and full-height pumps, each with a HUD that lets you pick one of four different colours.

TOTAL COST FOR THIS AVATAR: FREE!

The Altamura Kim vendor is part of a special fund-raising event to fight cancer, which runs until November 1st, so you have until at least then to pick up this freebie. There are dozens of other vendors, some selling exclusive items. You can also make a donation (perhaps the Linden dollars you would have spent on a full-price mesh avatar head and body?) to the AECC: Asociación Española Contra el Cáncer.

AECC_logotipo

Second Life Steals, Deals, and Freebies: A Fifteen-Minute Elf Angel Makeover for FREE!

OK, here’s another one of my fifteen-minute avatar makeovers. I started off with one of my old alts, named Peace Dove, who is essentially the avatar embodiment of peace. Here’s the “before” shot, taken back in 2012:

Peace Dove 27 Sept 2018

And here are the “after” shots, all taken in the gorgeous fantasy sim called Lost Unicorn. Everything I am wearing I picked up for FREE!

Peace Dove 9 Oct 2018

Peace Dove 4 9 Oct 2018.png

Peace Dove 2 9 Oct 2018.png

Peace Dove 5 9 Oct 2018

Here are all the details on what I am wearing and where/when I got it:

Bento mesh head with animated elf ears and mesh eyes: Jessy 3 head by Safybelle, who you can get for free by earning 30,000 points on her in-store roulette wheel game or piggie sploder (scroll down to the very end of this blogpost to get more information). Seriously, this beautiful head is one of best-kept freebie secrets in Second Life!

Bento mesh body and hands AO: the Jenny Altamura mesh avatar head and body from the Freebie Megastore at London City (free; one skin tone; has Bento hands and head; more information here); you can remove the head and replace it with any other head, only if you got the freebie Jenny body from last year’s Women Only Hunt; however, you cannot remove the head on the version you can pick up now at the London City Freebie Megastore!

Body AO: Chubby Girl AO by [ImpEle] (free from the SL Marketplace). This is a nice, simple, calm, free AO with no crazy movements. Perfect for an angel wearing a ballgown!

Bento animated wings: angel wings by Blueberry (I picked these up for free using the discount vendor and the generous L$500 gift card offered by Blueberry at the Second Life 15th Anniversary Shopping Event)

Gown: Nadia ballgown in white from Hilly Haalan (free group gift; group is free to join)

Shoes (not shown): White flats by Garbaggio (part of the free sample pack for Slink feet; available on the SL Marketplace). Altamura mesh avatar bodies have Slink-compatible feet.

Jewelry: Daphne collar and bracelet by Beloved Jewelry (two free hunt items from the September Free Dove mini-hunt at the Beloved Jewelry mainstore). The included HUD gives a choice of 12 different metals and 33 different gemstones, so you can match any outfit!

Hair (the only thing I kept from the original avatar): Say 2 hair in white by elikatira (this was a freebie I picked up years ago, way back in the pre-mesh hair days, and I’m not sure it’s still available; I checked and it’s not on the SL Marketplace)

TOTAL COST FOR THIS AVATAR: FREE!

Second Life Steals, Deals, and Freebies: A Fifteen-Minute Vampire Makeover for Only L$150!

UPDATE Sept. 28th: For a current, up-to-date list of free or inexpensive options for mesh avatar heads and bodies for female Second Life avatars, please see this blogpost. For a current, up-to-date list of free options for free and inexpensive male mesh avatar heads and bodies, please see this blogpost

Vampire roleplay is a very popular pastime in Second Life, so today I decided to do a 15-minute makeover on a vampire avatar. Here’s the “Before” look, the now-familiar Iliana vampire avatar from SL’s Fantasy starter avatar collection:

Vampire Makeover Before Iliana 22 Sept 2018

And here’s the “After” look (please click on each picture to see it in a larger size):

This avatar is wearing:

Mesh Head, Vampire Teeth, and Facial AO: Maia Bento mesh head from Akeruka (this was a time-limited free group gift which is no longer available for free; the group join fee was L$150). More details here.

Mesh Body and Hands AO: Jenny Bento mesh body by Altamura (available for free at the Freebie Megastore at London City). I removed the included head to replace it with the Maia head. More details here.

Gown: Well of Souls gown by Silvan Moon Designs (free gift from the recent SL15B shopping event).

Shoes (Not Shown): Black flats by Garbaggio (part of the free sample pack for Slink feet; available on the SL Marketplace). Altamura mesh avatar bodies have Slink-compatible feet.

Jewelry: Daphne collar, earrings, and Bento ring by Beloved Jewelry (three free hunt items from the September Free Dove mini-hunt at the Beloved Jewelry mainstore). The included HUD gives a choice of 12 different metals and 33 different gemstones!

Body AO: Chubby Girl AO by [ImpEle] (free from the SL Marketplace). This is a nice, simple, calm AO with no crazy movements.

Hair: Que Bella in abyss black from Hairoin (a store which is unfortunately no longer in Second Life; I bought this many years ago and I forget what I paid for this)

TOTAL COST FOR THIS MAKEOVER (not including the hair): L$150 (the Akeruka group join fee)

Pictures taken in front of the blood fountain at the Necropolis Vamp Club.