Dusseldorf Big brown eyes, long eyelashes, full lips: it is clear that Sara Lisa Vogl has created one of her first avatars in her image. But not only that – the figure also gestures and moves like Vogl. Behind this is full-body tracking technology, which converts the movements of the real Sara Lisa Vogl into virtual movements in real time.
The futurist is one of the pioneers of the German virtual reality (VR) scene. Since 2013, she has acted as an independent consultant, speaker and designer for anyone wishing to delve into the metaverses. Your online personality is called “R00T”, thus, the VR artist embodies his avatars in virtual worlds.
Vogl is above all committed to creating structures that prevent discrimination and racism from the outset. Because it not only harms the development of technology, but also the long-term business.
The pioneer woman herself has already had negative experiences. Today, she travels in virtual worlds with several avatars. For example, the (VR) artist reports on a party where his avatar was bullied by a group of other people. “You look so shitty,” he said.
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Vogl describes the experience as incredibly intense, like stepping back in time to her childhood. As the child of an Iranian, she was discriminated against early on due to her dark skin color. It happened to him in the metaverse as well – everyone should be able to be whoever they want in virtual worlds. “But societies thrive in virtual spaces, where racist and discriminatory issues clearly play a major role,” says Vogl.
The chance of a world without discrimination
Metaverse development is still in its infancy. According to Vogl, this is a great opportunity. She thinks that it is possible to set up structures against discrimination and exclusion from the outset. But the developers involved set different priorities from their perspective.
That’s why Sara Lisa Vogl built her own club in the Metaverse. Here, digital bodyguards kick out anyone who breaks the rules. But that’s not enough for the VR artist.
She founded Women in Immersive Technologies (WIIT) with colleagues in 2016. The network is now active across Europe promoting inclusion and equality in the virtual and augmented reality industry. WIIT is largely funded by grants from Oculus, a subsidiary of Facebook owner Meta.
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For Mark Zuckerberg’s group, the metaverse is the grand vision of the future. A vision whose advocates predict annual sales of $1 trillion. But the true extent of Metaverse revenue in the long run will also depend on the safety of users like Sara Lisa Vogl. So far, the meta-group has been unable to rein in hate and hate campaigns, discrimination and racism on its global platforms.
Sexism in virtual worlds
In the virtual meta worlds “Horizon Venues” and “Horizon World”, cases of sexual harassment have increased. Because in addition to discrimination, sexism is also a problem. “Sexual harassment is not a joke on the normal Internet, but in virtual reality the events are even more intense,” describes one of those affected in his experience on an online forum. The group have now acted and introduced a 1.20 meter distancing rule. This is to prevent avatars from getting close to each other in a threatening way.
Women in Immersive Technologies aims to encourage women, non-binary and diverse to take a leading role in immersive technologies in order to minimize sexism and discrimination. “Because who wants to flee in a virtual world where we encounter the same problems?” Johanna Pirker asks a rhetorical question.
The Austrian computer scientist conducts research focused on virtual reality. What Vogl has achieved in her club, she wants to achieve on a large scale: a code of conduct for all users entering the virtual world. Those who do not respect the instructions, discriminate and sow hatred must then be warned. An algorithm recognizing discriminatory behavior should take over. “Then in a few years we can work, play or interact in a world where there is no prejudice.”
Structures must be created during development
According to Pirker, development teams should also diversify in all areas. This is exactly where the WIIT Metaverse Creation Lab comes in. The support program, led by Sara Lisa Vogl, began last week and is intended to allow ten women to spend a month addressing central issues of the metaverse.
“It’s not just about learning skills and programs, but also about understanding: what does my own online representation look like?” Vogl explains. The goal is to find an answer as to how female, diverse, or non-binary people can present themselves in the metaverse without fear of discrimination or bullying.
>> Read here: How Haptic Technology Enables the Metaverse
The material shows that the new virtual worlds are built by men: helmets are often fitted to men’s heads. “As helmets are still primarily developed by men, female physiology is not taken into account and that excludes women from those worlds,” says Vogl. “In the worst case, they can’t play because they get sick.”
But Vogl points out that these practical issues not only create barriers for women, but also for many minorities. “They are also overlooked in the virtual world,” says the VR artist.
Vogl and Pirker agree: if racism and discrimination are not to play a long-term role in virtual worlds, structures must now be created that are still lacking in real worlds.
After: Billions of markets or billions of graves? What The Metaverse Is Really Capable Of