May 23, 2024

Personal space is an important factor in making people feel comfortable. In addition to personal space in the real world, this is now being extended to virtual reality (VR) environments.

Because VR strives to make things seem real, personal space violations to one’s personal avatar can be more jarring than similar violations in non-VR video and computer games. To help establish these boundaries, Meta announced at the beginning of February that their Horizon Worlds and Horizon Venues for their Oculus VR set is automatically setting what essentially seems like a four-foot invisible barrier around all avatars called the Personal Boundary.

“A Personal Boundary prevents anyone from invading your avatar’s personal space,” Meta said in its press release. “If someone tries to enter your Personal Boundary, the system will halt their forward movement as they reach the boundary. You won’t feel it — there is no haptic feedback. This builds upon our existing hand harassment measures that were already in place, where an avatar’s hands would disappear if they encroached upon someone’s personal space.”

Meta has announced that for now, this setting will always be on, but they are looking into adjusting it as they get feedback from users to make it the most comfortable experience they can. One such change may be allowing people to set their own boundary distance.

Molly Aceves, senior international business major, said she likes the idea of this Personal Boundary to establish proper social conduct in VR spaces.

“I think it’s a smart idea,” Aceves said. “I wouldn’t want a virtual reality (avatar) all up on me in a game. Sexual harassment isn’t acceptable in any form, whether on the computer or in person.”

Alberto Bahena, junior biomedical sciences major, said he thinks we will not know the scope of the influence this will have until it has been around for a while, but he believes it will have a positive effect.

“I think as long as there are good intentions, they are trying to bring light to something that’s more important,” Bahena said. “I think it is a good thing, but ultimately we won’t be able to see the effect until (it has been around for a while). I think it will be helpful, though. It will bring (the harassment issue) more into the light, and bring light to the shadows.”

This is already being implemented in the Metaverse, and we will see if other VR companies will follow Meta’s lead in setting up personal boundaries in their VR spaces.

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