Social distancing is now also part of the virtual world.
After beta testers experienced harassment on Horizon Worlds, Meta’s virtual reality (VR) platform, the company is introducing new ‘Personal Boundaries’ in an attempt to put a stop to misbehavior in the metaverse.
A Personal Boundary prevents anyone from invading an avatar’s personal space. If someone tries to enter a Personal Boundary, the system will halt their forward movement as they reach the boundary. Users would not feel it, there is no haptic feedback.
The new feature is introduced after an incident of sexual exploitation, as shared by Nina Jane Patel, Co-founder & VP, Metaverse Research. She shared that within a minute of joining Meta’s Horizon Venues she was verbally and sexually harassed and ‘virtually gang raped’ by 3-4 male avatars.
“As I tried to get away they yelled, “don’t pretend you didn’t love it” and “go rub yourself off to the photo”. A horrible experience that happened so fast, and before I could even think about putting the safety barrier in place. I froze”, she shared.
She also mentioned since VR is designed to feel like a real experience, she could not differentiate virtual/digital experiences from real. “In some capacity, my physiological and psychological response was as though it happened in reality.”
The new feature is always on, by default, because this may set behavioral norms, especially for a relatively new medium like VR.
In the future, they will explore the possibility of adding in new controls and UI changes, like letting people customize the size of their Personal Boundary.