The developers behind the popular VR social platform VRChat shared an open letter via Medium Thursday to address the rise in harassment and offensive behavior among the active community.
VRChat is the latest online social space to catch fire, sweeping in to fill the void left by the rescinding tides of Second Life and PlayStation Home. The VR game launched on Steam back in February 2017 and received heavy investment from HTC Vive in September, but its player base has skyrocketed since last December as the game has become popular among streamers. The game’s developers, VRChat Inc., tout the service as a space that gives “the power of creation to its community,” but that creativity carries a certain inevitability: toxicity.
This toxicity takes the form of the unfortunately routine verbal harassment that comes with online gaming, but the implementation of VR headsets allows for an advancement (if you want to call it that) in trolling. There have been reports of virtual sexual harassment, both verbal and physical, within the virtual setting, including claims of players having their avatars groped and others impersonating transgender people.
Then there’s the rise of the “Ugandan Knuckles” meme. Imagine a half-melted 3D model of Knuckles the Echidna that could be anywhere from 20 inches to 20 feet tall, randomly speaking to you in racist clicks or a racially stereotypical Ugandan accent before spitting on you. Imagine 15-20 of them surrounding you at once. Yeah, VRChat has a problem, and they’re addressing it:
We’re aware there’s a percentage of users that choose to engage in disrespectful or harmful behavior. It is our top priority to address the quality of the VRChat experience, especially for new users, and our team will continue to work toward improving that.
The team reaffirmed their commitment to better moderate the community, but know that there is more that needs to be done as the community continues to grow. “We have a trained and dedicated moderation team … we’re working on new systems to allow the community to better self-moderate and for our moderation team to be more effective,” the team writes. “We are confident we can achieve a higher quality experience for new users in the near future.”
VRChat Inc. does highlight tools currently available to players that can help shield them from unwanted communication, such as mute and block functionality or choosing to only hang out in “invite only instances” with friends, but all those tools do is to insulate pockets of the community, which defeats one of the main purposes of a social space, without tackling the larger issue. It’s a fine temporary fix while moderation efforts are improved, which, luckily, is the ultimate goal of the developers: “We care about these issues … We look forward to working with you to make VRChat a better place.”
The letter also addresses issues with the game’s servers, stating, “Our server team has been very hard at work attempting to fix all the issues and improve the quality of connections for everyone going forward.”
VRChat appears as if it is only going to continue growing, and hopefully the level of civility will expand at the same rate as its player counter.
Read VRChat Inc.’s open letter in full here.