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.