Immersive VR & Gender
Immersive Social VR technologies, such as AltspaceVR, VRChat or the upcoming Facebook Horizon introduce new means of synchronous online communication. The next-gen, emergent VR technologies allow significant immersion, sense of presence and expressivity while ensuring strong privacy – you choose ‘what to reveal and what to conceal’. That particular property of SocialVR where we can stay anonymous or assume a specific persona allows a great deal of freedom in terms of how users want to be perceived in a specific setting whether professional or casual. One would argue that has been present for decades in textual social media. Nevertheless, while social media can provide a high level of anonymity, the expressivity and the sense of presence is very limited on the legacy textual communication channels. A better comparison would be with the existing teleconferencing systems such as the popular ZOOM platform. When communicating using a webcam there is only a certain level of freedom – we still need to show ourselves. Moreover, as Stanford University scholars point out (READ HERE), above all, ‘ZOOM fatigue’ is real and is caused by too much direct eye contact, constantly watching self, and very limited mobility in front of the camera. All that introduces a significant cognitive load that is a major obstacle in the era of increased online communications due to pandemics.
The benefit of preserving some of the fundamental elements of person-to-person communication while giving the user the right to choose the level of privacy may significantly help to fight ubiquitous conscious and unconscious biases hindering effective communication online as well as in real-life engagements. In VR, users can align their avatar to the gender they identify with or choose another gender or select a gender-neutral representation. The same goes for other properties such as race, ethnicity or age. In the setting of VR, biased communication is challenged, opening up an avenue for more constructive communication where individual perceptions of others lose their meaning. Going back to gender, VR also gives opportunities to a deeper study of our understanding of gender, the evolving perceptions of gender and to study gender aspects in different socio-technical settings. There are a number of studies as well as artistic performances in VR that look at the possibility of increasing gender empathy, widening gender perspective and gender exploration. Also, many female artists embraced VR as the medium of choice for their creations and the Immersive space appears to be well gender-balanced. More research on VR & Gender is pivotal to ensure a fair and equal next-gen communication space.
You can learn more about the topic by reading about COMPACT late Immersive Technologies Symposium, HERE.
Also check COMPACT Gender and Social Media Report, HERE.