Virtual Reality – A Lawless Space?

Virtual Reality (VR) promises to change our lives. But despite all the euphoria, the side effects are not only positive. Even today, users are being harassed and robbed in virtual reality. Women report harassment, privacy is often hardly guaranteed. The acts are difficult to prosecute. Do we need new laws?

The drone is directly in the sights. It glows orange, flickering and getting closer. Now just stretch out your right arm. You do not even have to bend a finger to shoot down the drone. It explodes. Just gone well again. If she comes too close, you will be hit. Nothing happens, but the shock is real. Because you only see this world, just this game. The real world is hidden, behind the VR glasses governs its own reality. But the cable of the glasses, which hangs from the ceiling and inevitably has to be touched, keeps you a bit back in reality before you get entirely lost in the films of or a thrilling shooter game.

Another game, a new world. Balloons can be blown up with one hand and knocked away with the other. Moment. Was that really a touch? Who puts the glasses, comes back very quickly in the real environment. On the third floor of a former factory in the south of Nuremberg. Here, the company Virtuis has created a makeshift virtual playground. On two 30 square meters of playing surface, visitors can let off steam with the VR glasses HTC Vive: playing, walking or fighting in virtual reality.

Thomas Heinrich, the founder of Virtuis, is enthusiastic about this technique: “One expands the reality and can act out completely different.” With a VR glasses you feel much closer in the action. It lacks the distance that a computer monitor would produce. The term for this is Immersion – the feeling of being immersed in a virtual world. In this world, the player can turn into anything: a man, a woman, an animal, a robot. “We give people a bit the opportunity to be God,” says Heinrich.

Emotions Defeat Perception

But anyone who feels almighty in the virtual world quickly crosses borders. Even those who are punished in the real world. People can already meet in virtual rooms via social networks, so-called social VR. Some American VR forums have recently been voiced by women who feel harassed in virtual reality. Virtual bodies of men, so-called avatars, would have come too close to their avatars, they report. Their virtual hands would have touched them, groped. Everything felt immediate and real. Groups would have the fun of going through them, which also creates a sense of helplessness.

Social VR

Even today, people can meet via virtual VR in virtual spaces. Young American startups such as AltspaceVR or Against Gravity provide these. The majority of users are male. Virtuis founder Thomas Heinrich predicts that, similar to Facebook, millions of users could be in these rooms in the near future.

For Thomas Metzinger, Professor of Theoretical Philosophy at the University of Mainz, these developments are no wonder: “We behave immediately antisocial, if we see the possibility, not observed and not held to account.” Even a virtual touch can leave victims with significant damage. “The brain is a system that constantly generates predictions about what the next sensory perception will be,” says Metzinger. If the eye now sees that the body is being touched, then the brain would predict this contact, but correct itself within a few milliseconds. “But the emotional, the negative reaction, that would probably still happen automatically.”

As In The Ghost Train

How can harassed women resist such emotional interventions? At least legally, they would not stand a chance. Rolf Schwartmann, Professor of Civil Law and Business Law at TH Cologne, is sure of that. “You have to relate to the criminality of virtual reality violations in relation to the physical world,” he says. In fact, Article 177 of the Penal Code on sexual coercion states that anyone who “forces another person to tolerate the sexual offenses of the offender or a third party” is punished.

Nothing will ever change in this interpretation, says Schwartmann. “The fact that someone feels touched is only as real as feeling in a ghost train, we experience the harassment in our emotional world intensely and real, but it is physically not, just like the movies of will never give a real experience although it might come close, which must be considered in sanctions,” he says , One can not punish anyone for a behavior that does not occur in the physical world. Also, not for increasing harassment, virtual killing: “penalty for killing data or pixels.” That would be bizarre. “

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