September 13, 2019

VR harassment: Government urged to publish guidelines to protect users

By Lucy Ingham

The UK government should introduce guidelines to protect virtual reality (VR) users from VR-based harassment, according to a report published by the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee.

The Immersive and Addictive Technologies report includes a host of recommendations related to the gaming industry, including suggested actions related to the issue of sexual harassment in VR.

According to Dr Sarah Jones, a contributor to the report and head of the School of Media at Birmingham City University, 49% of female VR users have suffered sexual harassment.

What’s more, because of the immersive nature of the technology, the experience felt the same as real-world harassment.

“It is the same as harassment that you would feel in everyday life,” said Jones.

“If you are reading a book, you have this barrier. If you are watching a film, you have a barrier. When you are talking about an immersive experience, when you are talking about virtual reality, you are talking about jumping into that frame, you are actually part of the environment.

“You might not have active agency so much in the world, but you are really part of it. That means that the whole experience is intensified massively.”

Creating guidelines to tackle VR harassment

Writing in the report, Jones urges the government to establish guidelines for acceptable behaviour in VR, arguing that there is currently little information regarding VR behaviour or data to draw recommendations from.

“As far as I’m aware, there are currently no guidelines associated with VR to help people understand the intensity of the experience, how it can impact them and what kind of length the experience should be,” she said.

“So it is little surprise we see reports of people experiencing harassment or bullying, and it is important that we see the introduction of some guidelines or legal parameters in order to stamp this out.”

Jones, who is one of numerous experts invited to contribute to the report, has previously spent 48 hours living in virtual reality as part of her research.

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