Harassment in VR stops when avatars get “human emotional reactions", says Tim Sweeney

Tim Sweeney

If you’ve ever been online at any point ever, you have probably been called a nasty name by someone. On Twitter, it was probably an egg or someone with an anime avatar. On Facebook, it was probably your mum. On MySpace, you were probably alright because nobody actually spoke on MySpace. In VR, as in other online games where headsets are involved, the problem comes from angry dudes who take videogames far too seriously.

Related: why not play our list of the best VR games

According to Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney, this harassment issue - in VR, at least - could be solved by giving players avatars capable of displaying emotion. So, in Sweeney’s vision of the future, you call me a pleb (quite rightly) and my virtual avatar will get a sad face. After seeing my sad mug, you will then feel bad about calling me a pleb and head off to reflect on your life choices, never to harass anyone again. 

“Both multiplayer games and online forums have this property of virtual anonymity,” explains Sweeney in a Verge interview. “Other people can’t really see you, they don’t really know who you are. And so the sort of social moderating mechanisms in real life, and your desire not to offend people around you, don’t really adjust. I think that’s the root of the toxic behaviour.

“Once your VR avatar really looks like you, and people can see you, and you can see them and their faces and emotions, I think all of the normal restraining mechanisms will kick in. If you insult somebody and you see that they have a sad look on their face, then you’re going to feel really, really bad about that. And you’re probably not going to do it again.”

Sweeney thinks the key is in humanising people when they’re online, leaving human empathy to pick up the slack. Personally, I prefer the solution offered by director of Crows Crows Crows, William Pugh:

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monkeyfritz avatarBelimawr avatarQDP2 avatarDustyGerkin avatar
monkeyfritz Avatar
107
10 Months ago

"If you harass somebody in VR you get banned from playing for a extended periods of time."

How about you get sent to a virtual room for a timeout?

1
Belimawr Avatar
1240
10 Months ago

bring on the VR naughty step, but then you would need a massive set of stairs.

2
QDP2 Avatar
862
10 Months ago

"If you harass somebody in VR you get banned from playing for a extended periods of time."

I'd make an extremely long staircase that they have to concentrate on climbing to return to your game. The sort of staircase that takes 10 minutes to climb, and swerves so if you tried just walking straight you would fall off and need to start from the beginning.

That would enforce the concentration for a period of reflection, inescapable without the user paying there penance.

1
DustyGerkin Avatar
190
10 Months ago

"If you insult somebody and you see that they have a sad look on their face, then you’re going to feel really, really bad about that. And you’re probably not going to do it again"

What world does he live in? This would only make things worse. Some people need to think before engaging their brain (or have less of the xmas spirits).

Lets make it so that you can see that your hurtful ways are working. That's going to stop it isn't it.

1