What about harassment and bullying in the meta universe? A “Superman gesture” is solved

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In virtual reality games, many players have encountered harassment or bullying from other players and feel frustrated about it.
In the current situation, the law in the real world is not always applicable to punish the violations of virtual space.
Multiplayer online games have extensive experience in managing large communities, which may help to establish preventive norms for the metauniverse.
Tencent technology news on October 21, with the “meta universe” getting closer and closer to reality, how to deal with harassment, bullying and other problems has become more urgent. In order to build a healthier community in the meta universe, we must go beyond the passive and painless post punishment mechanism to a more proactive form of governance. In this regard, we can learn from the game field.
In 2016, Jordan bellamire was very excited when she first experienced the new fantasy virtual reality (VR) game quivr. Under the gaze of her husband and brother-in-law, bellamir put on his VR helmet and immersed himself in the beautiful snow. Bellamir’s digital avatar wears a hood, carries an arrow barrel and draws a bow in her hand. Her task is to fight the glowing monster with her weapons.
However, bellamir’s excitement soon became worse. When entering the online multiplayer mode and using voice chat, another player in the virtual world began to make indecent actions such as friction, grasping and pinching on her avatar. Despite bellamir’s protest, this behavior continued until she took off her helmet and quit the game. At present, the most common way to deal with harassment and bullying in the virtual world is passive and painless punishment.
After analyzing people’s reaction to bellamir’s description of in-game harassment, the researchers found that most people obviously lack consensus on how to deal with and deal with harmful behaviors in virtual space. Although many people expressed disgust at the above-mentioned player’s behavior, sympathized with bellamir’s experience and agreed to classify it as “illegal behavior”, other respondents did not seem to pay attention to it. They argued that there was no physical contact after all, and bellamir could choose to quit the game at any time.
In the existing social VR space and other virtual worlds, such sexual harassment incidents are not uncommon, and many other disturbing virtual behaviors (such as stealing virtual items) have become common. All these events make us uncertain where “virtual” ends and “reality” begins, challenging us how to avoid introducing real-world problems into the virtual world and how to deal with harassment or bullying when it occurs in the digital field.
Now, with Facebook’s prediction of the upcoming “metauniverse” and the proposal to transfer our work and social interaction to VR, the importance of dealing with harmful behaviors in these virtual spaces has become more urgent. Researchers and designers in the virtual world are increasingly focusing on more positive virtual processing methods, which not only deal with virtual harassment after it occurs, but also prevent such behavior from the beginning, but also encourage more positive behavior.
Real world law does not apply
The efforts of these designers do not need to start completely from scratch. Multiplayer online games have a long history in managing large communities (sometimes even toxic communities). It provides a wealth of experience and ideas, which are important to understand what it means to cultivate a responsible and booming VR space in a proactive way. By showing us how to use the power of virtual communities and implement inclusive design practices, multiplayer games can help pave the way for a better future in VR.
Real world laws (at least for now) do not solve the real mistakes in the fast-paced digital environment. Research on ethics and multiplayer games shows that players can resist “external intervention” in virtual affairs. In addition, there are some practical problems: in the highly mobile and globalized online community, it is difficult to know how to fully identify suspects and determine jurisdiction.
Of course, technology can’t solve all our problems. As researchers, designers and critics pointed out at the 2021 Game Developers Conference, combating harassment in the virtual world requires deeper structural changes in real and digital life. However, if nothing is done, and if the existing real-world laws may be inappropriate or ineffective, we must turn to technology-based tools to actively manage the VR community.
At present, the most common way to deal with harassment and bullying in the virtual world is passive and mild punishment. Its basis depends on the user’s report, and then the reported person will be punished by warning, account blocking and so on. Given the huge size of virtual communities, these processes are usually automated. For example, artificial intelligence (AI) may process reports and perform actions such as deleting content or blocking accounts, or take action after receiving a specific number of reports for a specific user.
Although such countermeasures can be effective in the short term and show obvious consequences for destructive behavior, they also have great problems. Because they are passive initiatives, they can not prevent problematic behaviors in advance, nor can they support and enhance the capabilities of edge users. Automation helps manage a large number of users and data, but it can also lead to false positives and false positives, as well as further concerns about bias, privacy and surveillance.
As an alternative, some multiplayer games have tried the so-called “democratic autonomy”. Perhaps best known, riot Games has launched a court system that allows players to review reports against other players in the multiplayer game hero League and vote on their penalties. However, due to the lack of accuracy and efficiency, the system was shelved a few years later. However, valve still has a similar system overwatch in CS: go and dota 2.

The form of self-governance in VR has also attracted Facebook’s attention: researchers working with oculus VR recently published papers indicating that the company is interested in promoting community driven review initiatives in personal VR applications as “potential remedial measures” to address top-down governance challenges. Such systems are valuable because they allow virtual citizens to play a role in their own community governance. However, allowing community members to do difficult, time-consuming and laborious censorship for free is not entirely an ethical business model. If hate groups rise, it is difficult to determine who is responsible for them.
Hire community manager to strengthen management
One way to address these barriers is to hire a community manager (CM). Community managers are often used by game and social VR companies to manage virtual communities. They are “visible people” and can help promote a more active and democratic decision-making process while holding VR users and developers accountable. Community managers can remind players of the code of conduct, and sometimes warn or prohibit users. They can also feed back players’ concerns to the development team. Community managers may also have a place in the virtual world, but the premise is that we must figure out how to treat them properly.
Community managers are usually the first gateway of the game community. They are actually a virtual bridge to welcome new players, hype around the game, and transfer information between developers and players. However, it is a big mistake to think that their role is just marketing. Community managers can also help set a good example for positive behavior, strengthen the code of conduct, and set the right tone for the community, just as the elderly in the community do in the real world.
Assigning community managers in VR space can add empathy and vital “humanization” to the governance process. By enhancing the sense of belonging, responsibility and humanization, community managers can help minimize the problem behavior caused by anonymity and automation, at least in theory.
Unfortunately, the role of community managers is currently seriously underestimated, poorly trained, poorly paid and often faced with death threats, rape threats and other forms of abuse from users they are employed to care for. If community managers want to play a role in managing vr virtual world, we must ensure that this basic work is better supported and compensated. An overworked and ignorant community manager may do more harm than good.
Although best practices are still being developed, the fair play alliance, a game company alliance aimed at cultivating a healthy game community, has shared a framework for destructive and harmful behavior in the game, which provides suggestions on managing the community while developing a punishment and reporting system. Combined with adequate compensation, evidence-based training and internal emotional support, these types of resources will help community managers in a better position to serve the virtual community in a sustainable way.
The core of VR space is design space. Therefore, the mechanism of digital environment is also the core of governance. More than a decade ago, Nick Yee, a social scientist and co-founder of quantifoundry, a game research company, believed that the rule framework and coding design (i.e. social architecture) of multiplayer games can help shape our interaction in the virtual world. If we can design virtual worlds to realize antagonistic interaction, we can also design them to promote the interaction of a harmonious society.
Such design choices can be quite subtle and unexpected. Yee pointed out that in the multiplayer game EverQuest, the players who died in the game lost their booty and had to go back to the place of death to find it. Yee believes that this design helps to promote altruistic behavior, because players must seek help from each other when retrieving lost items. In a less fun VR space, a way to guide this effect (and more protective measures) may include encouraging users to seek help from others in virtual tasks, such as boarding, walking or changing the environment, or acquiring the talent of virtual image, so that users have the opportunity to realize their more positive values.
A gesture shields the harasser
To some extent, we have begun to see that the unique experience of VR is benefiting users through other ways of design. In response to bellamir’s description, quivr developers implemented a powerful gesture: a gesture similar to “super power”, which will open personal bubbles, silence nearby unpleasant player avatars, and disappear from the user’s line of sight (and vice versa) until the user chooses to turn it off.
Although this is largely symbolic, this gesture shows the importance of developers taking these issues seriously. In the VR field, it is very important to control a person’s personal space. Simple and intuitive gestures can let us immediately control the people or things we see, which can enable users to realize self-protection in any VR space in a way that is impossible in the real world. To be sure, some forward-looking design methods that work in the game may not work in the more serious VR space.
However, there is still room for VR to further explore non-traditional methods. For example, what would happen if we sentenced an illegal avatar to perform virtual community services or receive virtual counseling or consultation? The idea of using real-world punishment to stimulate the response of the virtual world may sound absurd, but this method is not completely unheard of.
The game platform steam disclosed the information of players banned for cheating, and in 2015, the president of daybreak game company invited cheaters to publicly apologize for their behavior to lift the ban on the game h1z1. Just as in the real world, virtual public humiliation and imprisonment bring special moral problems worthy of attention. However, through careful review, more rehabilitation and recovery responses to violations in the virtual world may also occupy an important position in the governance of the meta universe.

When we explore how to manage users in VR, it is necessary to solve a crucial problem, that is, who may be excluded from these spaces. Existing prejudices can sneak into our technical design in an annoying way, resulting in specific groups being unable to enter or hostile to the virtual world. The physical requirements of VR may make it difficult for people with some disabilities (such as visual impairment) to participate. Avatars can be regarded as anchor points through which people connect and navigate with virtual space, but game research shows that their design methods often distort and exclude people of color. As bellamir’s experience tells us, interaction in VR is particularly harmful to women, which makes them reluctant to participate at all.
Those excluded from the virtual world are often underrepresented in the virtual world research and design team. Therefore, we must recognize the barriers to inclusion faced by people and promote different voices early in the development process. It is gratifying that people are making more and more efforts to build more inclusive games, and these games are also being transformed into VR. For example, the ablegamers charity is working with the game industry to make it easier for people with disabilities to play games. These focused efforts are essential to help us avoid the existing gaps and inequalities in VR.
Despite these challenges, we must embrace the shared social responsibility of cultivating a prosperous and dynamic VR community. Like real-world laws, a balanced approach to restrictions and penalties can also play an important role. But we must be careful not to rely too much on automatic audit, suspension and prohibition, which are only part of building a healthy virtual world. “Out of sight, out of mind” is not the motto of our life in the virtual world. As our rich history of managing communities in multiplayer games shows, virtual governance can (and must) go far beyond that.
By continuing to learn from our rich experience in multiplayer games and exploring the community driven, inclusive and enabling potential of VR, we can help build a digital community that we really want to be a part of. The quality of our VR life often depends on it. (reviewed by Tencent technology / Jinlu)