Even if you can overlook the expense, the current lack of games, the potential for nausea, and the annoyance of wearing a clamshell on your sweaty face, virtual reality has a looming problem: trolls.
Turns out that the same internet jerks who ruin online spaces and games via text and avatar show up to do the same in virtual reality too.
As MIT Technology Review wrote yesterday, part of the point of socializing in virtual worlds is to feel the “presence” of other people — but the very benefit that makes “virtual reality so compelling also makes awkward or hostile interactions with other people much more jarring,” such as when people invade your private space or try to touch your avatar without permission.
The publication highlights AltSpaceVR, a startup building tools to help people deal with trolls. The company has some of the basics already — like a way to make obnoxious people invisible with a block — but it’s also working on a “personal space bubble” to stop people from groping your virtual self without permission, which they would otherwise do because people are gross and have no shame.
Where it gets interesting is how even the companies building these anti-griefer tools are pretty sure griefing will fade away as virtual reality becomes the norm.
“If you give people a lot of creative freedom, then people get along better,” said the CEO of VR company High Fidelity, who has clearly never played a sandbox MMORPG.
So… here to speak for people who’ve played sandbox MMORPGs is veteran MMORPG designer Raph Koster (Ultima Online, Star Wars Galaxies, Crowfall), plainly quoted in the article to point out how adorably innocent and naive the VR devs are about human nature online in virtual worlds. He says that his games proved that when more people show up in a virtual environment, the resulting spike in anonymity increases the trolling rather than dampens it.
“If anything, the behavior now is better than it will ever be,” he says. You can almost hear him shaking his head I told you so. “When you get strangers bumping up against one another they behave more poorly. Peer pressure is one of the things that keeps people behaving well.”
People who think "anonymity" is "more authentic" forget that we are social creatures; we are less human when masked and isolate.
— Raph Koster (@raphkoster) March 14, 2017
Koster expounded on his virtual worlds arguments at his GDC presentation, if you’re curious to hear more!