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Combat in the Metaverse and How the University is Getting Ready

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Assault In The Metaverse And How The U Is Preparing


Virtual realities and simulation games have been around for years. One of the earliest virtual spaces, “Maze War,” was created in 1973. Subsequent popular games and platforms like “Second Life,” “Virtuality,” and “Meta Quest” followed, contributing to the growth of the virtual world.

VR was developed to provide individuals with a simulation of their real-life experiences. Similar to real life, people (or avatars) can make choices and have interactions with other characters, even if these interactions can be harmful. An incident where a girl under 16 from the U.K. was sexually assaulted in her VR experience has sparked discussions on the reality of virtual sexual assault, whether perpetrators should face consequences in real life, the potential increase in virtual sexual violence, and how authorities will address such cyber crimes.

How ‘Real’ is ‘Virtual’ Rape?

Ashley Guajardo, a professor in the University of Utah’s games department, emphasizes that games feel real to players. The evolution of video games has integrated different sensory experiences, leading to the immersive nature of VR. Guajardo highlights the hyperrealism of VR games and how they mirror real-life experiences, raising concerns about the impact of negative events in gaming spaces on players. She echoes the view of David Chalmers, a philosophy and neural science professor, who believes that virtual reality is genuine reality, causing the brain to process threats and experiences similarly, whether real or imaginary.

Studies indicate that the online disinhibition effect, facilitated by anonymous online spaces, can dissociate individuals from reality and societal norms, potentially leading to a lack of empathy and ethical behavior. Guajardo explains how this phenomenon may contribute to violent acts in games, emphasizing that individual behavior drives these actions rather than the games themselves.

Guajardo’s book, “Sexuality in Role-Playing Games,” explores how players may engage in behaviors in games that diverge from their real-life ethics, creating a realm for experimentation that contrasts with their everyday selves. She cites Gary Alan Fine’s work, which notes instances of “sexual violence” in role-playing games, indicating the complexities of player behavior and morality in these virtual spaces.

Guajardo points out the escapism that games offer, particularly for women seeking respite from real-life issues like sexism. However, she expresses dismay at the intrusion of real-world dangers into virtual spaces, eliminating the once-perceived refuge from such problems.

Preparing for Cyber Sexual Assault

Thus far, the University of Utah has not encountered a case of virtual sexual violence. Officials from the Office of Equal Opportunity and University of Utah Police affirm no reports have been received regarding cyber sexual assault.

Captain Brian Lohrke outlines the response protocol for such scenarios, emphasizing victim support and investigative procedures. Challenges in prosecuting cyber crimes, particularly cyber sexual assault, arise from defining and regulating such offenses, especially in non-physical spaces.

Jurisdiction issues and the complexity of online perpetrators further complicate legal proceedings, necessitating collaboration between local, federal, and international authorities. The University’s commitment to addressing online harassment or assault aligns with its non-discrimination policy, ensuring swift responses to reports of virtual misconduct.

Despite the evolving nature of cyber crimes, campus resources stand ready to assist victims and advocate for their rights. Collaboration between law enforcement, university officials, and victims remains crucial in addressing the nuances of cyber sexual assault and seeking justice for affected individuals.

For victims seeking assistance or reporting cyber crimes, resources like offer guidance and support. University police are available around the clock to engage with individuals facing cyber threats, emphasizing the importance of communication and community support in combating cyber crimes.



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