Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Virtual Crime - What's the Big Deal?

In my short story, Scrying the Plane, Lillian Reynolds dives into a virtual reality plane where everything seems like tons of fun: Twitter bluebirds flit about delivering messages, and the band U2 is performing "live".

Then things take a scary turn and she ends up in the virtual hands of a lecherous old man. Before escaping the police, this villain declares: "I never touched her." Technically, he's right.

Scrying the Plane was published in May of 2016 in the Parallels: Felix Was Here anthology. By October, a story came out of a VR game player, Jordan Belamire*, who was virtually assaulted by another player while blasting away zombies with a bow and arrow in QuiVr. (Read the details in this post from Belamire.)

Reactions to this story were mixed. Some commented that since nothing actually happened, it wasn't a big deal. Others felt a comparison of virtual groping in a game to sexual assault was insulting to victims of "real" sexual assault. But the developer of QuiVr, Aaron Stanton, was horrified and designed a gesture their customers can execute to make other players disappear, creating a virtual safe space during play. (Source:

Image: Mikael T

So is virtual assault a crime? Not yet, according to lawyer Mark Methenitis. As of now, sexual assault and rape statues in the US require physical contact. Players might see their avatar attacked, but they can't feel it. But physical sensation with VR isn't impossible. (Source:

Haptic technology is used to provide a sense of touch. Haptic suits or vests are being developed so gamers can feel explosions or bullet impacts. (Wikipedia)

Image: KOR-FX Immersive Gaming Vest (sale price $99)

What do you think? Should Stanton's safety gesture be an industry standard for all VR games? Would you be interested in feeling the violent effects of these war games with a haptic suit or vest? (Personally, I'd rather have a virtual massage than get shot, but that's just me.)

*This may be a pseudonym.


  1. I get the legal point that a person isn't physically assaulted in a game, but it's still a form of harassment and abuse, which shouldn't be tolerated. I like the idea of a safety gesture to get away from someone who's virtually bothering you.

    As a writer, such a suit/vest would be interesting to try out. I'd much rather be virtually shot than really shot. Heh.

  2. Hmm...this is something that is going to have to be increasingly addressed as VR becomes more popular. Unfortunately, shady people are going to use the lack of laws as an excuse to do shady things.

  3. Blocking shady people from your personal space- including games on the net is a wise move. It's already illegal for an adult to expose a child to sexually explicit material, so if it's done over the net to a child, laws are being broken. Adults are more able to disconnect from offensive people on the net, so I wouldn't add that to the sexual assault umbrella. If we label everything sexual assault, I fear people will stop taking it so seriously.

  4. How intriguing. I have a lump in my throat now. Great writing on your part, and that's a powerful premise. I'm hesitant to weigh in, but I would lean towards virtual damage as real-life damage. Virtual contact can and often is incredibly destructive. You're brave to have taken on this theme.

  5. The last thing I want to feel is a bullet hitting me. Pass on the virtual vest.
    At some point, virtual sexual attacks will likely be considered an attack of some level. Maybe not the extreme of the real thing, but it is still a violation.

  6. I think it's scary, too. I'm sure there are games out there that really push it too far.

  7. Wow, interesting concept. Scary! For sure!

    Thanks for posting. I was going to send out a list of dates and names, but maybe leaving it open to first come first posted is the way?

  8. Interesting. Glad you are still writing. Thank you. Love love, Andrew. Bye.

  9. That's crazy. People are so perverse. I'd never heard of virtual crime like that before.

  10. I don't play video games, but if I DID, I don't think I'd want to feel the bullets or anything like that. As for virtual assault - it's different from in-persona assault, yes, but it's still not right and shouldn't be allowed to happen.



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