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Virtual Reality (VR) Gaming Accessibility

Designing an ethical environment for the metaverse

By Rob Burton



The Drum Network article

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April 5, 2022 | 6 min read

In October 2021, Facebook announced the repositioning of its business to Meta and a new focus on the metaverse. Rob Burton, managing consultant at Frog, questions whether it will be a mainstream cultural success, a niche pursuit or a dystopian nightmare – which he thinks will depend on how we design the space.

Frog looks at the opportunities emerging through the metaverse.

Frog looks at the opportunities emerging through the metaverse

Facebook has a poor history in planning for and managing various issues on the platform, and so if we were to reimagine what the world would look like in virtual form, how do they ensure this is a success? Do we, as consumers, want them to have any involvement?

History will remember Facebook as one of the great social innovations, but ultimately its struggle to create a safe space for users could be its legacy. However, it doesn’t have to be that way with the metaverse. Design isn’t an afterthought – it sits at the heart of every single product, service and system we create. If we want to create virtual worlds that act as safe havens from the widespread misogyny, terror, racism and fear that frequently occur on social media, then companies need to ensure they design it that way.

So what needs to be done before we see anything concrete from the metaverse?

A clear, unambiguous speech policy

Facebook’s struggle to police, contain and halt hate speech on its platforms has had severe ramifications for society, spilling out into public and political discourse. The need for a clear and unambiguous policy addressing this area is paramount. It doesn’t take a designer to see that the libertarian branch of Silicon Valley will already be working out how to host virtual rallies in the metaverse in the hope they will be protected from hate speech laws.

The UN International Covenant for Civil & Political Rights is clear: free speech carries responsibilities and restrictions. You don’t get excluded from hate speech laws just because you’re the President of the United States or a famous figure. It is paramount a speech policy is agreed by independent free speech experts, is borderless and – most importantly – is both enforceable and enforced with zero tolerance.

Ensure ethical design is at the heart of the platform

Everything needs to be designed with accessibility at the core. Accessibility is still typically designed as an afterthought or a bolt-on. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates 20% of the world live with a disability, and yet today just 2% of the internet is truly accessible for all users. Building accessibility into the design of the metaverse would be a huge step forward for people with disabilities, but user research at an early stage here is key for ensuring any development exceeds the requirements and delivers a truly accessible experience for all.

We must also ensure there’s no clickbait and no dark patterns that encourage users to make bad decisions and purchases. This is another challenge for Meta to overcome because virtual reality (VR) and gaming are so intertwined, it’s going to be near-impossible to create virtual worlds that aren’t addictive at the core.

Meta is a private business and the metaverse will be host to countless other private businesses within it. The goal for Meta, unsurprisingly, is to build environments that encourage you to stay longer, to buy one more item, to visit one more store. The pitfalls here are obvious, and again require independent third party oversight to ensure what’s being created is a safe space for all users.

Data opt-outs

The opportunity for collecting personal data from the metaverse will completely dwarf anything possible within the confines of Facebook. Everything you do, see and interact with will be a touchpoint for data. Every conversation you have could be recorded and stored. The EU has GDPR laws that companies must comply with when collecting PII data about individuals, but how this works in the metaverse is anyone’s guess. Exactly what Meta plans to do with all that valuable data is likely to be a multi-billion-pound question.

Arguably, education is at the heart of the data problem. Users still don’t understand how their data is being used to influence them, and in turn they don’t understand the value their data footprint holds to those companies that wish to purchase it. We need to ensure regulations such as GDPR, which firmly put the control of data back in the hands of consumers, are used in the metaverse and supported by education to help users understand the value of their data.

These are just the obvious known examples that Meta needs to design into the metaverse platform before it gets the go ahead. In 10 years from now, we fully expect the metaverse to be a niche but growing part of our lives. However, in order for it to be a positive part, and not destructive or damaging, Meta needs to guide the creation carefully through design – taking into consideration speech policies, data regulations and accessibility for all.

For more information on Capgemini Invent and Frog, visit our site and get in touch.

Virtual Reality (VR) Gaming Accessibility

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frog is a leading global creative consultancy, part of Capgemini Invent. Partnering with passionate leaders and visionary entrepreneurs, we apply creativity, strategy,...

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