By: Talia Cabrera
TRIGGER WARNING CONTAINS STORIES REGARDING SEXUAL ASSAULT
The concept of video games offering an alternative life is not a new idea. As technology advances, games like a Second Life, Sims, and even Club Penguin have adapted to new interfaces to allow players to continue to create a supplemental life that differs from the one they live off-screen. The Metaverse is now expanding this alternate universe through virtual reality (VR) by creating an immersive platform where you can do anything you can imagine.
Immersive technology, like VR, allows users to see a panoramic view of the image in front of them on their devices. Headsets and handheld controls enhance the simulation by making it more natural and vivid. It can feel like you are in these experiences without physically being there. Metaverse’s social networking app, Horizon Worlds, is a digital environment built around people and how they hope to interact with each other in the virtual world. A user can create an avatar, teleport around with a click of a button, and feel the presence of other users. Your avatar, a 3D impression of what you represent, can outwardly show facial expressions and body language when interacting with one another. Meanwhile, you are physically waiving your arms in your living room with a blocky Oculus system over your eyes while your avatar travels around the world. The immersive technology of VR makes the line between your physical and virtual worlds blurry. However, the violent interactions in Metaverse feel too much like the physical world.
Harmful behavior thrives in a largely unregulated space. The Metaverse’s failure to moderate content in Horizon Worlds has caused high rates of users being harassed, virtually groped, and gang rape. Online abusers are attacking female appearing avatars immediately after they are logging onto the platform. Researchers from SumOfUs, a nonprofit dedicated to researching Horizon Worlds, have all separately experienced male-appearing avatars making suggestive and lewd remarks. In one case, a researcher’s avatar was led into a private room where she was told to turn around so he could “do it from behind” while other users in the room could watch. Several other people have reported racial and homophobic slurs being used in the metaverse highlighting the rapid growth of harassment in a dangerous world.
Are the abuses to our virtual bodies causing the same amount of harm to our physical bodies to be criminalized? It’s hard to have an affirmative answer, but with recent allegations surfacing from the Metaverse, action needs to be taken.
The studies around Metaverse users point out the difficulty of prosecuting harassment in this virtual world. Its difficult to punish virtual sexual assault of avatar through law, but the harm it causes to the user may be as dangerous to the actions in the real world. Surely, Meta needs to restrict abusive behavior, sexual violence, and hate speech through policies on their platform to reduce the amount of harassment, but other solutions need to catch up to technology. These seriously immoral acts done in the Metaverse may call for the user to get banned from the game, but is that enough? With Meta’s goal to reach a billion people in the next decade, concerns about integrating the law, privacy, and protection for users across state lines and around the world will continue to be a point of concern until regulators hold Meta accountable today.
Sexual harassment, verbal abuse, and racial slurs are not isolated to the Metaverse. Online harassment through social media continues to be a place where violent interactions occur through a screen. However, Metaverse is created to be more than interaction through a screen. This immersive technology is uncharted territory that enables users to create a toxic environment with no rules. Metaverse may be advertised as an alternative world, but it is simply a mirror to the gender, class, and racial hegemonic society we live in today.