As I was doing the rounds visiting multiple VR platforms one Saturday morning, I ended up on Facebook Venues to experience some of the concerts. I was in a box, on the balcony, with several other avatars milling around. Some would wave, others would say hi. From their voices I could tell that most were young and there with friends.
I was there by myself filming the scene when suddenly, an avatar appeared to my left, moved closer and looking straight into my eyes, he got even closer. It occurred, “this is intentional.”
He approached with his face towards mine, his hands lifted. He’s going to kiss me, I thought, and lifting my hands towards his, I went for it.
Kissing in VR nothing happens – there is no sound, there is no haptic physical feedback. The visuals got blurry for an instant, then we parted.
I‘m not going to lie, dear reader, I blushed.
Suddenly a twitter arose from the peanut gallery around us, their young voices charged with excitement:
“Ooh, did you guys just kiss?”
“Oh my God: they just kissed!”
“Dude, did you just see them kiss?”
My partner disappeared in the crowd as mysteriously as he came. I turned my attention back to the setting, but the momentary encounter with my virtual friend left me with an indelibly fluttery sensation.
Still, I felt deeply uneasy about the fact that I had no clue about who that was and whether that was even…ethical. While I wasn’t concerned about gender (he appeared male but might only have identified as such), the more important question was HOW OLD was he? Sure, my avatar is very pretty, young and ageless, but I am not. It would be super creepy to think I kissed a 14-year-old, even if there was no physical feedback. Which got me to thinking:
What is personal space, or physicality when you have no body?
How does that change with haptics and body gear?
What does consent mean in Virtual Reality?
Should we have some sort of age limit (perhaps you have an aura that signifies your age)?
Could we limit visibility to people outside your own age bracket (for many adults who Rec Room, this would be a welcome relief).
I am not a fan of interacting with children online, and generally attend scheduled industry events when not researching spaces. In other words, I socialize as I do in real life: within certain circles.
But what happens when those circles disappear? It is magical to meet people from all around the world and interact like children. But if they ARE children?
Its not clear who is addressing these ethical issues. It is, however, patently clear they must soon be addressed.
Catherine D. Henry
VR/AR/XR Strategist & Chief Experience Officer
Palpable Media Inc