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Meta’s solution to VR creepers: a four-foot zone of personal virtual space

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Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook, is launching a new feature for its Horizon Worlds and Horizon Venues VR platforms that it hopes will cut down on harassment, abuse, and generally creepy behaviour from its users. Called Personal Boundary, the new option prevents avatars from coming too close to one another in virtual worlds, “creating more personal space for people and making it easier to avoid unwanted interactions.”

The system sounds quite simple in its workings: When someone gets too close, their forward movement is halted. The distance between avatars will be locked to just under four feet at launch, and there’s no visible barrier or haptic feedback when someone is halted, so users won’t be aware that someone is trying to run up on them. Avatars can move past one another when Personal Boundary is active, according to The Verge, so the system can’t be used to block or trap users.

“We are intentionally rolling out Personal Boundary as always on, by default, because we think this will help to set behavioral norms—and that’s important for a relatively new medium like VR,” Meta said. “In the future, we’ll explore the possibility of adding in new controls and UI changes, like letting people customize the size of their Personal Boundary.”

As for why this sort of thing is necessary, the simple truth is that it’s for the same reason forum moderators are necessary: Some people just cannot bring themselves to behave in an online setting. Creepy behavior and outright abuse are unfortunately common in VR. The New York Times, for instance, reported in December 2021 that more than 100 “problematic incidents” were recorded by a single person over an 11-hour session in VRChat, some involving people who claimed to be under 13.

 

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