This idea began in March 2017 at the We Make Realities Makeathon hosted at Substantial. We developed our philosophy of mindful development of social VR, focused on acculturating new users to be good citizens of VR spaces and environments. There are tutorials for VR game mechanics; why not for VR culture? After hours of brainstorming in a small team of 5, we decided to focus on users who wanted to have and create good immersive experiences for themselves and others. We explored the possibility of using an interactive tutorial to create safe-space examples of certain situations which might arise in a virtual reality social space, and model appropriate behavior.

Each team at the makeathon was encouraged to publish their workshopping and research on Medium; the beginning article is linked below.

Continuing where that research left off, the idea was pitched at the 5th Seattle VR Hackathon on April, 2017. The pitch attracted a team who were interested in continuing to develop a positive and generative culture experience for VR spaces. Ultimately, the project will be of use to both new users of VR as well as developers, serving as a model for considerations in developing VR cultures.

What it does

The VR Culture Tutorial will guide new users as well as VR developers will use this tutorial as an example of better practices when it comes to cultural on-boarding and acclimation, thereby encouraging a better user base, which leads to improved retention and experience.

Butterfly effect: In this section, we wanted to grow empathy in users by having them understand the importance of personal space in VR. A user new to VR may not know that the need for personal space and boundaries carries over to VR, even if your solid-matter existence does not. Even though you can’t physically touch anyone, you can still degrade a user’s comfort zone if you cross a boundary without permission and infringe upon their personal space. As with the physical, the actual distance varies between individuals and cultures, but it is always there.

For this example, we chose to use butterflies to fly into the headspace of the user, obscuring their visual view. While the butterflies fill the visual space, the sound of the experience around their avatar is filled as well to illustrate the feeling of being unintentionally overwhelmed. After you are instructed open a box, butterflies fly out and invade your space. Describing the relevance of this experience, a tip comes up to inform the user that virtual reality can feel very similar to real life, even if you can’t physically feel anything. This is a reminder to both users, and those that design experiences to me mindful of the proximity of other users and in-experience elements.

Pardon me: Our final section creates a scenario in which the user is compelled to walk backwards a bump into another user (played by an NPC. The NPC demonstrates an appropriate reaction in the form of verbal cues to alert the user of the NPC’s presence and right to some personal space. We hope that by giving the tools for users to be able to resolve conflict in a healthy manner, they will model those thoughtful reactions in their own interactions. We also hope this prompts the user to be more aware of their surroundings in VR space, like they would be in the real world.

What Next? We envision our product as a developers’ asset. The asset would provide a framework for constructing a culture tutorial, along with suggestions on where to integrate it within their user journey (i.e. after avatar creation but before game play). We do not intend to enforce a particular set of cultural rules, such as distance for personal space or acceptable vs. forbidden language. Rather, we provide the template, and the developer sets the rules for the culture they want to create -- a cultural dimension to world-building. Whether you’re making a genteel Victorian Tea party or a brash New Jersey sports bar, our framework gives you the tools to show your users appropriate behavior.

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