Social VR: A double-edged sword

Last night a video went viral on /r/videos. The video ends with a Rec Room user called Handibot (and an unknown accomplice in a viking helmet) advancing on a streamer (dasMEHDI) in a way that prompts dasMEHDI to eventually quit the game. dasMEHDI seems somewhere between amused and shaken by the weirdness of what just happened.

We wanted to use the video as a jumping off point to talk about how we think about social VR generally, and what we’re doing with Rec Room specifically to achieve our goal of creating a fun and welcoming environment for people from all walks of life.

The starting point is our Code of Conduct, which we expect all users to respect while playing:

  • Rule #1: Be excellent to each other!
  • No sexually explicit behavior or language in the locker room or public activities.
  • Whatever you choose to do in a private activity, still make sure everyone is cool with it.
  • Sexist, racist, discriminatory or harassing language is not welcome in Rec Room.
  • Don’t mess with other people’s games! We don’t want to implement a million rules to control your behavior in every game. Don’t make us.

But we’re not going to pretend it’s that simple. We can’t just post some rules and call it a day. Because as users like Handibot can demonstrate, one person’s “hilarious” is another person’s “creepy”.

VR social presence - the sense that other people are physically there with you - is real, and it’s a double edged sword. On the one hand it can make you feel like you’re hanging out with real people. On the other hand it can make you feel like you’re hanging out with real people =]

So what to do?

Luckily, we are blessed with a community of players who have been great about providing feedback and suggestions, and patient with us as we slowly improve features that are intended to be helpful in situations like this. Seriously, much love to all of you who’ve worked with us on this! Let’s talk about two specific features.

Ghost Mode

Ghost Mode is designed for situations like this. If you ever feel overwhelmed in Rec Room, press and hold the menu button for a second. Nearby players and objects will be “ghosted” (rendered translucent so they can’t block your vision), their hands are hidden, and their voices muted. Here’s what it looks like. A user is getting up in my face in a way I don't like. So I press and hold the menu button (That's "Menu" on Vive, B/Y on Oculus Touch) for one second:

The user turns into a harmless, translucent ghost! Her hands are hidden, so she can no long mess with me. With the situation under control, I go to my watch menu and initiate a Vote to Kick (more on this in a second).

You can also initiate Ghost Mode via the watch menu:

For players you really don’t want to deal with, the Ghost effect can be made permanent via a clunky and confusing UI that we really need to make better (find them in the player list and select “Mute” or “Ghost”). We have some ideas for how to make this easier to access even when a Handibot is threatening to tickle you.

So, Ghost Mode is generally quite effective at resolving situations like this. We encourage players to practice initiating Ghost Mode in their Dorm Room, so it's second nature if they ever feel the need to use it.

EDIT: We have since updated Rec Room so Ghost Mode would work in this exact situation (during a game of Charades). I'll leave the following in place for posterity!

Except… it wouldn’t have worked in this case. Due to the complexities of suddenly hiding players and their hands mid-game, Ghost Mode is currently unavailable during gameplay. It works in the Locker Room, and before and after the games. But it actually would have failed here, even if dasMEHDI had known to use it, because the 3D Charades game was in progress.

So there’s two things we’re going to do:

  1. Do a better job of introducing and teaching Ghost Mode to new users.
  2. Revisit the decision to disable Ghost Mode while games are in progress.

Please keep the feedback coming, as we are committed to making this tool as useful as possible, in as many situations as possible, for as many people as possible.

Vote to Kick

Awareness of this one is much higher (we see people using it a fair bit). If a player crosses the line from “hilarious” to “creepy”, others in the room can vote to kick them out. If enough other players agree, the player is removed and cannot rejoin that room for the duration of that session. If a player is getting kicked out repeatedly, it will take them longer and longer to rejoin the public locker room.

Something we don’t love about both Ghost Mode and Vote to Kick is that they are purely reactive features. It puts the onus entirely on you to react to the situation. We don’t consider this ideal, but we’re still in the early stages of figuring out the right mix of reporting, moderation, and other tools to increasingly prevent (as opposed to react to) unwanted interactions.

This has gotten long, so I’ll leave it there for now. We are committed to our goal of making Rec Room a welcoming environment for people from all walks of life. We will likely never do a perfect job, but we are going to try our best and we welcome all feedback - positive or negative - on this or any other Rec Room topic.

Thanks, and please be excellent to each other!