By Aryaman Bhatia, Science and Tech Editor, The Pawprint
Meta has revealed a new feature that would allow people’s avatars in virtual-reality worlds to have more personal space.
The metaverse is still in its early stages, but the most recent initiatives to construct virtual worlds are already encountering an age-old issue: harassment.
Parmy Olson, a technology writer for Bloomberg, spoke to the BBC’s Tech Tent about her own “weird” encounters.
And one lady compared her own horrible VR experience to sexual molestation.
The company called it a “strong demonstration of how VR has the potential to help people engage easily,” but admitted it needed more development.
“There were certainly awkward times for me as a woman,” Ms Olson said of her virtual reality engagements (VR).
She was on her way to Meta’s Horizon Worlds, a virtual-reality platform where anybody over the age of 18 may create an avatar and hang out.
Users will require one of Meta’s VR headsets to do so, and the environment will allow them to play games and interact with other avatars, none of whom have legs.
“I could see right away that I was the only woman, the only female avatar, and I had these males gather around me and silently look at me,” Ms Olson told Tech Tent.
“Then people started photographing me and gave them to me, and I had a moment when a guy zoomed up to me and shouted something.”
“In virtual reality, if someone is near to you, the voice sounds as though they are physically speaking into your ear.” And that took me by surprise.”
She felt the same way on Microsoft’s social VR platform.
“I was talking to another lady when a guy came along and started speaking to us and following us around saying inappropriate things, and we had to block him,” she explained.
“Since then, I’ve heard about other ladies who have had similar situations.”
She stated that, while she would not call it harassment.
Dr. Beth Singler, a Cambridge University anthropologist who has researched the ethics of virtual worlds, stated: “Facebook has already been unable to learn about what is going on in online places. Yes, they have adjusted some of their policies, but there is still content that should not be available.”
She believes there is more to learn from gaming, where virtual worlds such as Second Life and World of Warcraft have been available for years, controlling who avatars can chat to and the identities they may pick for themselves.
Meta believes that her decision to utilize legless avatars was purposeful – most likely due to a lack of sensors for legs, but it might also be a means to prevent “below the belt” concerns that would emerge from having a completely corporeal presence.
Having rigid limitations about what avatars might look like, on the other hand, may cause challenges for individuals “trying to express a specific identity,” she warned.