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VR Groping: Yet Another Way in Which Gaming Spaces Are Made Unsafe for Women


So, we already knew that playing any video game in multiplayer mode is tricky for a woman. After all, the “trash talking” becomes decidedly gendered when male players hear a female voice on their headsets. Well, guess what? Thanks to virtual reality games, we can add groping to the list of harassing behavior women can experience while gaming. But, it’s not real, I hear you say. How can someone be groped in VR? Oh, they can.

In an essay in the Athena Talks section on Medium, a writer named Jordan Belamire recounts her first experience playing what seems like an awesome VR game called QuiVr, in which you use your archery skills to take out zombies. Having never played a virtual reality game before, she was amazed by how real everything felt. At one point, she describes the feeling of full immersion in standing at the top of a cliff as she played the game with her brother-in-law.

It was when she decided to play multiplayer that things went awry. She ended up next to a player with the handle BigBro442 who, the second she opened her mouth to speak, was on her, always standing next to her during zombie battles. And when the battles were over?

Suddenly, BigBro442’s disembodied helmet faced me dead-on. His floating hand approached my body, and he started to virtually rub my chest.

“Stop!” I cried. I must have laughed from the embarrassment and the ridiculousness of the situation. Women, after all, are supposed to be cool, and take any form of sexual harassment with a laugh. But I still told him to stop.

This goaded him on, and even when I turned away from him, he chased me around, making grabbing and pinching motions near my chest. Emboldened, he even shoved his hand toward my virtual crotch and began rubbing.

There I was, being virtually groped in a snowy fortress with my brother-in-law and husband watching.

That’s the thing about virtual reality. It feels so real. You might not be on the ledge of an enormous tower, but you feel like you are, and the fear or exhilaration you feel up there is real. Translate that to being groped, and it’s easy to understand how real that can feel, too. TMS’ own Carly Lane wrote an article several months ago about how the developers behind virtual reality experiences need to be more mindful about players getting harassed in VR. Virtual reality becomes real reality the second you involve other people, and so the safety concerns of players should not be overlooked.

(image via Steam screencap)

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Teresa Jusino (she/her) is a native New Yorker and a proud Puerto Rican, Jewish, bisexual woman with ADHD. She's been writing professionally since 2010 and was a former Mary Sue assistant editor from 2015-18. Teresa's returned to play in the TMS sandbox as a freelancer. When not writing about pop culture, she's writing screenplays and is the creator of your future favorite genre show. Teresa lives in L.A. with her brilliant wife. Her other great loves include: Star Trek, The Last of Us, anything by Brian K. Vaughan, and her Level 5 android Paladin named Lal.