- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Developers of the virtual reality game QuiVr are mulling a universal “safe space” feature after a female gamer’s story about being “virtually groped” went viral.

The woman, who writes under the pseudonym Jordan Belamire, wrote in a Medium blog post that she was shooting zombies in QuiVr on her brother-in-law’s HTC Vive VR system when another player virtually groped her chest and crotch.

“Of course, you’re not physically being touched, just like you’re not actually one hundred feet off the ground, but it’s still scary as hell,” she wrote.

Her post on Oct. 20 made international news headlines this week.

“Our first response was, ‘Let’s make sure this never happens again,’” QuiVr developer Aaron Stanton told CNNMoney.

He and QuiVr creator Jonathan Schenker responded to Ms. Belamire’s story in a joint op-ed in Upload VR Tuesday afternoon.

“As someone deeply involved in the growth of VR, this was extremely unsettling for me,” Mr. Stanton wrote. “This had happened in our game; this had been on our watch.

He said the article caused them to extend the game’s “Personal Bubble” feature beyond just the face, so that when the setting is turned on, other players fade out when they reach for another gamer, no matter what part of the body they’re reaching for.

They decided, however, that that change wasn’t empowering enough to the individual gamer, so they changed how the “Personal Bubble” was activated so that it acts as a sort of superpower.

“You can still turn it on via the settings, but you can also activate it by what we’re calling a ‘power gesture’ — putting your hands together, pulling both triggers, and pulling them apart as if you are creating a force field,” Mr. Stanton wrote. “No matter how you activate it, the effect is instantaneous and obvious — a ripple of force expands from you, dissolving any nearby player from view, at least from your perspective, and giving you a safety zone of personal space.”

He said the developers are going to contribute their code for the “Personal Bubble” to the open source framework, VR Toolkit, in hopes that other VR games will adopt it.

“Perhaps ‘power gesture enabled’ can be a concept that’s part of the VR development language — the 911 gesture of protection and safe space, be it against sexual harassment, bullying, or any other form of unwanted confrontation,” Mr. Stanton wrote. “So when things don’t go well, when something happens that we as developers can’t predict and shield our players from, there’s always a safe place to be found — hopefully not just in QuiVr — but in VR in general.”

Ms. Belamire responded in the comments section of developers’ post, expressing gratitude that her voice was heard.

“Aaron, Jonathan, I can’t tell you how moved I am by your response to my article,” she wrote. “Thank you so much for taking the issue of space violation in VR so seriously and treating my experience so respectfully. Your idea of creating a power gesture and reversing the victim dynamic is brilliant.”

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