How Women Experience and Manage Harassment Risks in Social Virtual Reality
Online harassment against women-particularly in gaming and virtual worlds contexts remains a salient and pervasive issue, and arguably reflects the systems of offline structural oppression to control women’s bodies and rights in today’s world. Based on interviews with 31 women users of social VR, our study presents women’s experiences of harassment risks in social VR as compared to harassment targeting women in pre-existing, on-screen online gaming and virtual worlds, along with strategies women employ to manage harassment in social VR with varying degrees of success.
Participated in brainstorming the framing and research questions; collected and analyzed the data; wrote manuscripts
Kelsea Schulenberg, Guo Freeman, Lingyuan Li, & Catherine Barwulor. (Accepted, 2023). "Creepy Towards My Avatar Body, Creepy Towards My Body": How Women Experience and Manage Harassment Risks in Social Virtual Reality. In Proceedings of the ACM on Human Computer Interaction (PACM HCI), CSCW
RQ1: How do women experience harassment risks in social VR as compared to harassment targeting women in pre-existing online gaming and virtual worlds?
RQ2: What are women’s strategies to manage these harassment risks in social VR, and what are the limitations of their strategies?
31 in-depth semi-structured interviews
Qualitative analysis: thematic analysis
RQ1 Women’s Experiences of Harassment Risks in Social VR vs. Pre-Existing Online Gaming and Virtual Worlds
① Experiencing violating personal physical space and abilities beyond "viewing" a 2D screen
② Experiencing embodied sexual harassment due to a more nuanced avatar-self relationship
③ Experiencing harassment based on the comparatively ubiquitous use of voice communication
④ Experiencing internalized shame and fear in and out of social VR compared to pre-existing online gaming and virtual worlds
RQ2 Women’s Strategies to Manage Harassment in Social VR and Their Limitations
① Leveraging specific platform tools for harassment prevention and mitigation: using personal space bubbles and disabling specific features to prevent physicalized harassment from happening; using blocking after an incident to mitigate harassment; reporting as a retroactive mitigation strategy
② Creative inter- and intra personal strategies for prevention, mitigation, and coping: leveraging interpersonal connections; implementing intrapersonal tactics
First, the study explains how social VR harassment both targets women’s virtual bodies and physical bodies and reflects complex online and offline cisnormative, male-dominated power dynamics against women.
Second, our findings shed light on the ways in which social VR harassment is weaponized against women to marginalize them by further blurring the boundary between online and offline life in ways that are modified and amplified by social VR’s unique technological features.
Finally, the insights from the study can bring attention to how we should re-think and re-approach social VR design to better protect women and other marginalized users, and can therefor guide our future efforts to design for a safer and more inclusive metaverse.