From Forbes’ Martina Welkhoff: My friend Gabe and I had just lost a game of dodgeball. As the winning team gloated on a pedestal above us, Gabe turned to me with open arms and offered a consolatory hug. I felt comforted by the friendly embrace.

None of this would be remarkable unless you consider that Gabe happened to be a green troll with a shaggy beard, I was a cheerful avatar with a pear for a head (not a pear-shaped head, but literally a pear with eyes and rosy cheeks), and our friend Chia Chin, gloating above us, was a badger shooting out a stream of confetti.

We’d been playing Smashbox Arena, a virtual reality game that Gabe and Chia Chin were developing and preparing to release. Gabe and I were located in different cities, and I was alone in my home office wearing an HTC Vive, a high-end virtual reality headset. Yet after playing the game for an hour, I felt as thought I’d been in the company of good friends. Days later, when I visited Gabe and Chia Chin at their office, we relived moments from the game as if they were real. And, in a way, they were.

The World Of Virtual Reality

Virtual reality provides opportunities to explore experiences that aren’t otherwise accessible (or possible) in the real world. It provides a new way to connect with people through the convenience of the internet and the salience of face-to-face communication.

The first time I interacted with someone in VR, I reflected on what made the experience different than a video conference, and I kept coming back to a sense of shared presence: My friend and I inhabited a space together and interacted in a spontaneous, multidimensional fashion that I’d only ever experienced when being in the same room as someone else.

The Dark Side Of VR

Of course, with that shared presence comes vulnerability. Recently, a woman wrote an article that received national attention about getting groped during a social VR game. She expresses her frustration and disgust that she couldn’t play a multiplayer game for more than three minutes without getting groped, and says, “What’s worse is that it felt real, violating. This sounds ludicrous to anyone who hasn’t stood on that virtual reality ledge and looked down, but if you have, you might start to understand.”

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