Meta takes on virtual reality behavioral problems with 4-foot “personal boundary”

Virtual Reality - Person wearing VR Headset - VR experience

The company will use an invisible cylinder as a default setting to keep Horizon avatars apart.

The metaverse is proving that in the virtual reality world, groping and other personal space boundaries are not respected in the same way that they would be IRL.

Personal space in the real world is taught from a young age, and social pressure enforces it.

In the real world, people learn to respect personal space as children. It’s taught early on as an unspoken rule and enforced socially so that people will keep a proper distance from each other. Meta has observed that when using virtual reality in a metaverse-style social experience, those boundaries don’t always automatically apply. As a result, Meta is implementing the default 4-foot zone around avatars to stop the VR groping problem.

Meta recently published a blog post in which it explained that the Horizon World and Horizon Venues VR spaces how include the boundary by default, which “prevents avatars from coming within a set distance of each other, creating more personal space for people and making it easier to avoid unwanted interactions.”

Virtual Reality - distance

Each virtual reality avatar comes with a cylinder with a 2-foot radius that won’t overlap with other cylinders.

Each avatar’s cylinder has a 2-foot radius. When the avatars move around, their cylinders will stop when they reach each other, leaving 4-feet between the avatars. If the cylinders start to overlap, “the system will halt their forward movement as they reach the boundary,” without any other explicit feedback.

Specific interactions like a fist-bump or high-five will set the personal boundaries aside, explained Meta in the post. By keeping the personal boundary system activated by default, it will “help to set behavioral norms – and that’s important for a relatively new medium like VR,” it explained.

This personal boundary and VR groping is not an issue that has only just been identified. The New York Times published a piece at the end of December 2021, already pointing to “harassment and assaults” among other issues in virtual reality spaces. That said, cases were already being talked about as far back as 2016, through the use of consumer-grade VR gadgets.

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