Harassment in virtual reality, a reflection of real world problems


The three musketeers — a perceptive designer, an eager developer and a curious content strategist, attempt to explore the very ‘real’ problem of harassment in the ‘virtual’ world.

Mindful Realities Makeathon: Team Jackalope
You can find us: @michaelhazani Michael Hazani, Staci Jaime, @aparnadas

  • Staci is a UX designer who wants to help people stay connected and is excited about the possibilities of social VR.
  • Michael is a VR/AR developer and educator who’s passionate about the non-gaming, real world applications of these exciting new mediums. He attended the makeathon to be part of a conversation about VR ethics, inclusivity and the various obstacles facing social VR at its fledgling current state.
  • As a former TV journalist turned storyteller, I wanted to explore how content strategy can elevate user experience in social VR.

What’s the problem we are trying to solve?

After brainstorming on a range of issues — from broad topics like how to make VR more inclusive beyond cultures and differently abled users; to being more granular on how to better create a stronger reporting system to reduce abuse in social VR; the Jackalope team decided to explore how to incentivize or reward good behavior to deter trolling and harassment.

We feel that creating a positive culture can and should be considered early in order to build a helpful and welcoming social VR experience.

Who are we designing for?

The target users include:

1: A passive user — who does not intentionally abuse others and also follows a social club’s Code of Culture. This user gets rewarded by the platform itself.

2: A user who proactively earns a “Level of Awesomeness” (LOA) by helping new comers or users facing abuse. This “leader” get rewarded by fellow players.

Rewards would be instant so that others can learn from the ‘good behavior’.

Types of rewards could include the following and many others:

  • Having a rare or special item ‘unlockable content’
  • Reducing subscription fees, getting free downloadable content
  • Real life gifts, though this option is logistically challenging
  • Mystery areas only they can unlock

Flash of inspiration

The inspiration for this solution truly came from ‘Buster’, a new member of my family who has responded very well to the style of positive reinforcement originally defined by behavioral psychologist B. F. Skinner.

Our design is looking to help all users in that social VR environment. From a novice who needs a helping hand to get familiar with the new reality or someone from a different culture/orientation who would love to feel more welcomed.

One of the long-term and a very integral part of this solution that the team considered was to create a sense of community among all and inspire similar good behavior to truly stop abuse and bullying.

There was one open question that constantly troubled the team — who defines good behavior or the right code of conduct that works across all cultures? One way to organically mitigate this issue, could be to to have some voluntary “awesome people” get together to share their experiences regularly. The idea is to listen and increase sensitivity to different cultures so that the community leaders can come up with a common code of goodness for global VR citizens.

(Staci, immersed in her VR ethnology research about VR)

After a fulfilling day of exploring new ways of enforcing social norms in VR, I have learned that problems in the virtual community are not far from reality. Who knows, may be VR solutions can one day inspire real life conflict resolutions!