Zen Of Design

The design and business of gaming from the perspective of an experienced developer

Category: Wacky Peripherals (page 1 of 4)

About that VR Talk

Last week, I talked about an interesting talk at GDC about Women, Harassment and VR.  Some commenters had some choice sentiments about the nature of this experiment.  Elizabeth Sampat had some choice words on the subject:

None of this is consensual: anyone who thinks that harassment isn’t affecting if you know it’s coming obviously has never been harassed before. Women don’t have some magical “sensitivity gene” that makes them more succeptible to harassment than anyone else, and the fact that you know you’re about to be harassed doesn’t make it any less powerful or any more okay. Harassing an unsuspecting woman and calling it an experiment is like holding up a bank, getting away with the money and then calling it performance art. The harm has been done, the boundaries have been violated, and no one has given consent.

None of this is news:  VR stands for VIRTUAL REALITY. There’s a game about tightrope-walking storeys above the ground, and video of people playing this game and of their abject fear already exists. It’s easy to extrapolate from all of these similar experiments in the medium that VR harassment would create the same autonomic responses as real-world harassment! A man is being applauded for discovering that women don’t like their personal space invaded, being shown phallic objects, or having their bodies touched without consent. How is that novel? How is that news?

None of this is brave: What a cowardly thing, to put yourself in the shoes of the abuser. How I would have loved a talk about how Harris designed a VR prototype in which you were a woman getting harassed on a San Francisco sidewalk or NYC subway. How brave and powerful it would have been to create an opt-in experience where people in positions of power could finally learn what it was like to feel small and afraid. What an innovative experiment that could have been! That’s a talk I would have liked to see. How boring and predictable it is to replicate centuries-old power structures, use an unwitting woman as your bait, and gather applause and acclaim. How sad it is to see from the company that made Papa y Yo.

I did not comment on this aspect of the test because, frankly, I don’t have enough information about his experiment – the Polygon article says that she was ‘unsuspecting’, but not having been to the talk, I’ve no idea HOW unsuspecting.  Did she sign a consent form?  Did she have a rough idea of what was going on?  I simply don’t know, and I haven’t found anyplace that discusses those possibilities.

Even if consent were given, history is full of social experiments that were incredibly useful to understanding human nature, and yet highly unethical and likely would earn utter condemnation if run today.  The Stanford Prison Experiment  and the Milgrim Obedience Experiments are both fundamentally important and useful studies, even if horrific in retrospect.  So while I do think this little experiment was probably prone to many of the complaints Elizabeth and other critics raised up, I do think the questions are vitally important to the science of Virtual Reality, and that researchers would be well-advised to find better ways to study this field, and figure out ways to educate the games industry about what I suspect would be their horrifying conclusions.

Multiplayer VR Experiences Need to Worry About Harassment Right Fucking Now

While I was at E3, Polygon published an article about a new, horrifying problem that to be honest, so far I haven’t even considered in my analysis of why VR has a bumpy road ahead, and that is that harassment in VR is likely to be way, way worse than in normal games.  A game dev at GDC demonstrated the problem on an unprepared participant, and made things clear that harassment is a lot more brutal when people are reaching towards your crotch directly.  Said the dev:

“It is intense, it is visceral [and] it triggers your fight or flight response,” he warned, his tone becoming more grave.

This is crucially important, but the only people I’ve seen the article treat this as a serious, grave issue are MMO experts, including Second Life chronicler James Wagner Au and Scott Jennings.  Au is more skeptical, whereas Scott’s point of view mirrors mine – it’s definitely a solvable problem.  The question is whether or not developers will decide to solve this problem before launching their products.

This didn’t stop some incredibly naive and short-sighted commentary.

Nope, not kidding, and it’s not pearl clutching.  It’s time to get to work. This has the problem to be catastrophic for VR – at least for VR that involves connected experiences with strangers.  Here’s the thing – games earn reputations, and so do platforms.  And they earn that reputation right when they launch, usually, when stories of harassment break on the web.  If this isn’t solved before the ‘technology is out’, it could result stunting the growth of VR for years.

To put it in stark terms, if you’re a mom, are you buying yourself or your daughter a VR unit after Time runs a ‘Rape in Cyberspace’ type story and Fox starts villifying it?

I’ve written before about how important that it was that Ultima Online changed the culture of the game by aggressively moving to ban assholes.  This change directly is tied to the doubling of our subscription base.  However, we were never able to change the perception of the market that was formed on day one that the game was a cesspool.  If we didn’t have that baggage, we would have grown much, much faster.  On SWTOR, we built the infrastructure, tools and call centers at launch – it cost us millions of dollars – but as such, our online reputation was never nearly as negative as UO’s (WoW followed a similar path).

All this led to another exchange that was equally face-palming.

This is a lot of ignorance about League of Legend’s challenges with harassment from someone who purports to be a producer for one of the most significant LOL fan sites.  She seemed to think I was implying that League of Legends was not profitable before they started addressing harassment, and her other tweets imply that harassment has not had a significant impact on their bottom line.  The former point is misconstruing my point, and the latter is directly counteracted by evidence from the numerous discussion points from Riot Games themselves.


The simple fact is that Riot Games has invested millions of dollars combating toxicity and harassment in their space.  They have done multiple GDC speeches on their work (seriously, this talk is awesome, watch it), both describing the damage that harassment has done to the game, as well as how they’ve invented new technology, based on machine learning, in order to better police their work.  Jeffrey Lin’s conclusion is very similar to the theory of Broken Windows – i.e. that their inability to address harassment fast enough resulted in the perception that harassment was the norm.  Wired has covered these efforts multiple times.  The investment into fighting harassment is real, its expensive, and in the case of League of Legends, it’s actually working!   

But here’s what’s immediately relevant: despite the fact that League of Legends has clear data that shows that their world is far less toxic than it used to be based on their efforts, they cannot overcome the reputation they’ve already earned from their earliest days.  There’s much less toxicity than their used to be, but you now have an inherent bias as a player – you expect to see toxicity, so when you see it now — even though it’s much rarer than it used to be — it confirms that bias, and developers are given very little appreciation for the massive cost and work that’s gone into fighting the problem.  This leads to, for example, a community that  is 90% male.

THIS is why it’s important that VR starts thinking and worrying about this problem now.  If they wait until after people have a few rape-y encounters before they start taking this issue seriously, the damage will take far longer to undo.

“Madden Meets Rock Band”

As an ‘official’ part of the ‘media’, I get press releases. You guys don’t hear about most of them, because, well, most of them are crap. And not crap in a good way. Things like remote controls for internet-wired microwaves.

The press announcement for the Black College Football Experience caught my eye, though, because it implicitly asks a central question: How do you compete with EA football products like Madden? Answer: Rockband-style gameplay for the halftime drumline show. Continue reading

Have Music Games Run Their Course?

Quick lunchtime read for you: Rock Band and Guitar Hero sales are slumping. Was this all a fad? Or are they running out of ‘must have’ songs?

I still play, but my frequency is way down — to usually once every couple of weeks, rather than every other night, and my wife and I are less fanatical about following the latest DMC. The drum kit is pretty close to being relegated to being shoved in the closet, and only pulled out for game nights.


My Wife’s One-Line Rock Band 2 Review

“No one told me there would be Linkin’ Park.”

Al Roker is Less Cool than Geddy Lee

The Today Show hosts play Rock Band 2.

In other rock band news, I hunger.

Rush Fail

Sorry I haven’t been around lately, we’ve been hard at work to get an internal demo done, and it’s been leaving me just crispy enough to not feel like posting much of anything.

As a reward for your patience, here is a video of Rush failing at Tom Sawyer in Rock Band.


The Music Wankery Genre Becomes a Three-Front War

A lot of action on the music gaming front: Neversoft has announced two new guitar hero games: an all-Aerosmith version, as well as Guitar Hero IV, a version designed to compete directly with Rock Band, complete with drum set and microphone.

Not to be outdone, Konami announced Rock Revolution, their own entry into the music band sweepstakes. A movie can be found here. The game has a heavy focus on drums, but no singing – making it a much less cool party game. On one hand, its art looks cheap and the UI looks unpolished and simplistic, but on the other hand, the songlist takes me right back to the bus ride to school: Scorpions, Motley Crue, Whitesnake, and Skid Row. Cock rock for the win! At least, it speaks to me much more than Molly Hatchet and Deep Purple. Continue reading

On Frankness, Mass Effect, and Savior Lumberjacks

Mental note: there are things not to be said before the Christmas season. Bad things may happen. This news saddened me, because Harvey is a very sharp guy, a good guy, and has a strong sense of design. Continue reading

Rock Band

So we got Rock Band on Wednesday, and have been playing a lot of it. Not non-stop because, well, it’s exhausting. I now have a whole new respect for drummers. Even on Medium, the game kicks my ass.

It’s kind of impressive how much better, slicker and more polished Rock Band is on every level than Guitar Hero III. Seriously, the latest GH seems pretty amateurish in almost every level. The exception: the GH3 guitar is seriously much more playable and responsive feeling than the new stratalike that comes with Rock Band, and we’ve been using it almost exclusively.

The game is good solo, but its quality increases an order of magnitude once you get it going multiplayer. So far, we’ve only done 2 players – I can’t wait to see how it plays once we have a full band going.


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