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Chico State's independent student newspaper

The Orion

Chico State's independent student newspaper

The Orion

Chico State's independent student newspaper

The Orion

Assault is assault, even if it’s in the virtual world

Photo credit: Briana Mcdaniel

This past year has been huge for the virtual reality industry. Companies like Sony, Google and Samsung have all entered into the virtual reality market. The idea that virtual reality is the future of in-home entertainment is almost inarguable at this point.

With any new technology, there are always people who will try to abuse it. Computers get viruses, email is used for phishing and social media is a platform for cyber bullying. Virtual reality seems more similar to a video game than it does to a potentially harmful social network. Despite this, there have been reports of sexual assault occurring within virtual reality.

On Oct. 25, a woman named Jordan Belamire reported being sexually assaulted while playing QuiVirtual reality, a zombie-themed shooting game. Belamire said that a male player in the game approached her and attempted to ‘virtually rub her chest.’

Most people wouldn’t consider virtual sexual assault to be possible. Players aren’t physically touching, and people can only see and hear each other; they can’t feel one another. But harassment, abuse and assault are very much possible in the virtual world.

Even though there was no physical contact, Belamire says the encounter felt very real. The whole point of virtual reality is to be as immersive as possible, so when something like this happens, it can be overwhelming.

In the near future, virtual reality will be almost indecipherable from real life. With advancement happening so quickly, virtual reality is still new territory for developers. The concept is so new that people don’t know how to classify or react to sexual assault in this situation.

After Belamire reported the assault, she received a disturbing amount of backlash. People, mostly men, called her a “cowardly woman” and played down her experience as “just a game.” The fact is, this is a serious problem that is only going to get worse as virtual reality technology advances.

What a lot of people don’t understand is that sexual assault can take place in many different forms. Just because no physical contact occurred doesn’t mean it wasn’t assault. Verbal and emotional harassment are serious and take place all too often online.

The reaction people had to Belamire’s report is troubling. People were chastising her instead of the person that assaulted her. Belamire responded to the criticisms by saying “I understand why women don’t share their stories.”

The fact that people shame and belittle victims of sexual assault is outrageous. Even if this incident may not be as serious as a physical assault, it is still unacceptable. By criticizing women for speaking out about harassment, we are moving backward as a society.

Virtual reality is an exciting new technology. I personally got a Google Daydream View so I could experience everything the virtual world has to offer. As this groundbreaking concept moves forward, boundaries need to be set and lines need to be drawn. Rather than normalizing this inappropriate behavior, we need to show that it cannot and will not be tolerated.

Carson Predovich can be reached at [email protected] or @cpredo120 on Twitter.

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    vrtime // Dec 5, 2016 at 11:57 pm

    Interestingly, more modest options such as Google Cardboard have much less of a share in the market at only 8 percent, due to the smaller install base.