After author Jordan Belamire wrote a reflection on Medium about experiencing sexual harassment in online virtual reality game QuiVr, developers Jonathan Schenker and Aaron Stanton responded by enhancing the “personal bubble” gameplay mechanic to act more like a protective superpower against any unwanted advances. The “personal bubble” originally was created to be a reactive setting restricted to players’ faces to combat other players trying to block their vision, but upon enhancement it has become more proactive to “re-empower the player”. Specifically, QuiVr players can use a “power gesture” in-game to activate the new “personal bubble” and create “a ripple of force [that dissolves] any nearby player from view…giving [the user] a safety zone of personal space”.
While this is the first major mention of sexual harassment in the virtual reality community, it is unfortunately not a new issue for video games in general. Female gamers in particular still face adversity in online games to the point where they feel it is necessary to have thick skin to even participate. Though Schenker and Stanton are taking a stand in their game, many in the industry do not take action despite documentaries like GTFO that outline the issue and women in eSports like Morgan Romine and Emmalee Garrido advocating for more inclusive gaming communities. And while industries offer more solutions to general harassment with reporting and blocking systems, an Ohio State University study showed that sexual harassment, not general harassment, led to “rumination and subsequent withdrawal [from a game]” in female gamers.
When I played League of Legends, I always felt like I had to keep my gender to myself because of experiencing sexually harassing comments firsthand. I eventually left the MOBA altogether and still reflect on those experiences whenever I consider going back to MOBAs. Lots of women play video games, yet it feels we must be vigilant when we reveal our gender because we will be treated differently. I’m ecstatic that Schenker and Stanton responded in such a positive way for their own game and would like to see solutions from other online games that do not use virtual reality. I only hope it doesn’t take a drastic event for major companies to finally wake up and combat something that can deny a whole identity of gamers the joy of such an accessible medium.