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Dogs Playing Poker Teach You How to Respect Personal Space, In Virtual Reality

Poker games can get heated in real life, and so it makes sense that poker games in virtual reality would have equal potential to incite an altercation. Google’s Daydream Labs has been experimenting with the problem of harassment in virtual reality games, and they’ve put together a VR poker game featuring dogs (just like the famous paintings) in order to test out a one-on-one poker gaming environment online. Specifically, they wanted to find ways to subtly discourage harassment between players.

As the video above demonstrates, Daydream Labs’ poker game does give players the option to get up from the poker table and try to get in the face of their opponent—but, crucially, their opponent will no longer be able to see the other player as soon as they get up from the table. Meanwhile, a spotlight will gently show the other player back to their seat. As soon as either player gets up from the poker table at all, the screen transitions into a black and white mode, and the game won’t start back up again until both players are back in their spots. This effect is mostly meant to prevent players from invading each others’ personal space, but it’s also meant to discourage players from trying to steal one another’s chips or look at one another’s cards during the game.

What’s interesting about this design is that it gives each player the illusion of control, but doesn’t actually let them act upon it in a meaningful way. You feel like you have the ability to get up and get in the face of the other player, but you really don’t; the game stops you before you can get there. Is that more effective, psychologically, than just preventing players from getting up from the table at all? Do people calm down and feel ashamed of their reactions once they see the black-and-white version of the screen and the game guiding them back to their chair? What’s the difference between implementing that type of visual effect, as opposed to disallowing the player to move at all?

Google’s blog post on the subject doesn’t explain how or why exactly they implemented this particular change in the game, but they do explain that the point of the mode is to “discourage negative social behavior before it starts,” by making it clear in a subtle way that it’s polite to stay seated at the poker table rather than get up and move around. The game doesn’t chastise the player for trying to get up; it simply redirects them back to where they should be in order to best play the game. Passive aggressive, maybe—but if it works, it works!

(via The Verge, image via Wikipedia Commons)

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Maddy Myers, journalist and arts critic, has written for the Boston Phoenix, Paste Magazine, MIT Technology Review, and tons more. She is a host on a videogame podcast called Isometric (relay.fm/isometric), and she plays the keytar in a band called the Robot Knights (robotknights.com).