As hot or cool virtual reality may be right now, it is still primarily a solitary experience, especially considering how it visually and physically isolates your from everyone and everything else. Of course, there are attempts at making VR a more social experience, but, as the Internet has proven time again, adding more, sometimes anonymous, humans in a virtual space can spell trouble. That’s why Google’s VR-focused Daydream Labs has taken upon itself to delve into the virtual social problems of virtual reality, and suffice it to say, the answers are far from clear yet.
Some have (rather mistakenly) considered the freedom, remoteness, and anonymity of the Internet as a blanket license to do whatever they will with nary a care for others’ well-being. Given how novel and fun virtual reality is right now, that’s almost an added incentive to experiment and be a bit naughty even.
Take for example a simple VR shopping situation, where you can put almost any item on another VR user, just as you physically could in real life. The problem is that, unlike in real life, movement and controls in VR are significantly limited. Putting a hat over another user’s “eyes” for example, could prevent them from removing it, forcing them to remove their headgear instead “reset” the settings, ending their VR session.
There’s also the matter stealing in VR. In most video games (with few exceptions), looting from NPCs’ houses and persons is almost a common thing. VR users might feel emboldened to do that in the virtual world as well, given their distance from other users and anonymity. Of course, those are real people behind the avatars in VR’s case, and actions have consequences, even if not directly physical.
Daydream Labs have thought up of a few solutions, though for specific cases more than a general blanket fix. In the case of stealing for a game like poker, for example, players are practically prevented from doing any action if they leave their seats, which is enforced visually by turning everything into something like a silent movie.
A more generic paradigm that Daydream is suggesting is one of rewarding, even encouraging, positive behavior rather than simply punishing bad ones. This means that rather than simply trying to scare off ill behavior with punishment or limitations, a VR world or game could, instead, making it more interesting to do good ones, like giving high fives.
It is encouraging that those pushing VR technology are now asking the hard questions rather than getting bogged down by technical concerns or profits. We still don’t have the answers yet, but it’s a good start. Luckily, VR hasn’t yet reached a point where anyone and everyone is living in the virtual world and anyone can just waltz in and steal from your virtual cupboard.