My first social VR experience was interesting to say the least. I decided to try out VTime because they claimed to have a great experience with lots of features. In VTime, you can request to meet with strangers or strangers can request to join you in whatever VTime world you’re in.
I was in the arctic when I received a request. I accepted because I wanted to see what the experience was all about. The avatar was light skinned, bald, and wearing a black VTime shirt. He told me he was from France and that his English wasn’t too good. I told him I was from the USA. He asked me what I did (work in virtual reality), he did something with taxes. I told him goodbye (my curiosity quickly turned to discomfort). That’s when he asked me, “So, how old are you?”
I desperately looked for a way to escape the arctic but with no luck, so I tore my headset off and quit the game from my laptop. I felt so creeped out, I Tweeted about it. I had to tell someone what happened to me.
Now, maybe he meant nothing by the question. But in my experience, no good ever comes from a strange man asking how old you are. His intentions could have been completely innocent but, the fact remains that I am still creeped out by it writing this blog post. The only other time I had to take my headset off was when I played Raw Data. I would still take being attacked by robots on all sides rather than go back to social VR with strangers.
I work at a VR company. I use our software every day. Why have I never felt this way before?
Our software, rumii, is designed specifically for business professionals. To get in you must be invited to a specific team or create your own team. If you create your own team, you have control over who joins.
Social VR is like the early days of the internet. People met in chat rooms and talked to strangers, just like in VTime. There were no online rules of etiquette. People were surprised when they learned they were talking to someone of a much different age or different gender. Now we know that can happen. We know people can lie and deceive behind the body of a VR avatar. Because we know this, we can protect ourselves.
The rules and etiquette for social VR are in the infant stages. Using social VR doesn’t give you the right to be a complete noob though. Be polite, don’t say something to someone you wouldn’t in real life. And understand that because we’re all represented as avatars something said or done in real life can come across extra creepy in VR.
I’ve met strangers in rumii before. They were other professionals invited in by one of my co-workers. I think why I have always felt safe in rumii is that we are professionals. We give each other space and we keep the conversations focused on work or business.
We don’t push social boundaries in rumii because the tone is set specifically for work. The majority of the time I work with people who I have met in real life or talked to on other mediums besides VR. I know that random strangers can’t pop into our meeting space.
Virtual Reality is in the early stages of adoption but people are using it and seeing value in it. We, as an industry, are still figuring out what experiences work and what ones don’t. We are fortunate enough to have all been using computers and the internet for many, many years. We know how to protect ourselves online. We know as individuals what are good or bad scenarios. Hopefully, that knowledge will make social VR fun and safe for everyone sooner than 1990’s chatroom.