Sexual abuse, metaverses and virtual realities | Babelia


In 2005 one of the best videogames in history was released, Resident Evil 4. It mixed the horror iconography of the zombie franchise with a twist on action that illuminated some of the most daring mechanics in the industry. In addition, a patina of national pride wrapped the whole: for reasons that no one can explain yet, the story took place in a town in northern Spain where, although the villagers insulted us with a suspicious Mexican accent, we used pesetas to buy and improve our equipment. More than one of them missed a tear with those references.

The fact is that the protagonist’s mission (in terms of the plot he was not even half as innovative as in the playable) was to rescue Ashley, the kidnapped daughter of the president of the United States. For a video game of 17 years ago, her role was quite empowering: there were action sections starring the young woman, and she had a very strong personality, but, nevertheless, many times she sinned to be a helpless girl that we had to rescue. To go down stairs or jump from windows or cliffs, we had to call her from below and she would fall into our arms. Ashley wore a rather short green skirt (the developer, Capcom, is a Japanese company with all that that implies), but if in those sections before she jumped towards us we made our character look up, the girl covered herself with modesty and with a vulnerable expression. The player was uncomfortable.

Last year the virtual reality version of the game came out for Oculus, the leading virtual reality company that Marck Zukerberg bought with a view to its promising (and for now quite undefined) virtual metaverse that without knowing very well how it promises to change everything. This VR version of the game achieves the squaring of the circle a bit: until now, those who knew how to play games (Play Station) had uncomfortable virtual reality glasses, cumbersome due to the number of cables and tending to cause dizziness. On the other hand, those with good virtual reality technology (the Oculus glasses) were not able to offer games to match the experience. The RE 4 Then last year arrived like manna from heaven combining technical and playful excellence.

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Quality aside, a curious thing happens in the game. Ashley is no longer a two-dimensional image, but rather a corporeal presence, a young woman in front of us and with whom we can interact. But not in a pernicious way. Modesty is not only shown in her when she grabs her skirt, but if we look at her closely (very closely), her face will show us without a trace of doubt that she feels uncomfortable. If we get too close, her character will float back so that our face can never touch her. If we bring our hands to it, they disappear before we can touch it. These are details that do not overshadow the playable experience but that do send a message.

Our hands, just before disappearing if we bring them closer to Ashley in 'Resident Evil 4 VR'.
Our hands, just before disappearing if we bring them closer to Ashley in ‘Resident Evil 4 VR’.

On December 18, a woman reported having suffered sexual harassment in the virtual world of Horizon Worlds. This is a first version of the Zuckerberg metaverse, for now open only in the US and Canada, where the first users will be testing the way to interact in this future digital environment and designers will detect flaws that they will refine. Well, one of the users assured that her avatar would have been touched in a non-consensual way by another of the characters.

In a closed video game, in a universe with programmed laws like that of Resident Evil 4, designers can put subtle limits on our behavior (in Fable the player can attack adult characters but not children; in Skyrim The GTA the police chase us if we commit outrages; in Assasin’s Creed the game ends if we eliminate an innocent). But in future free virtual environments there are still no laws restricting our actions.

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The video in which the creator of Facebook exposes his future ideas and the possibilities that this virtual magma will bring is as well-intentioned as it is suspiciously optimistic. For those who think that the digital universe will put an end to the world’s problems, perhaps it should be said that first we will have to prevent transferring the problems that we already have in our analog environment to the new digital environments. Regardless of whether these reproduce chat rooms, medieval fantasy worlds or small villages of emptied Spain.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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