User succumbs to a seizure in virtual reality while other players can only watch

[The incident reported in this story from The Verge raises important and interesting questions about what happens when critical events in the nonmediated (‘real’) world emerge in the mediated, virtual world – revealing human nature and suggesting the need to create awareness and potential means for responding beyond the presence environment. The original story includes a 17:56 minute video, and for more details see coverage in Kotaku.–Matthew]

User succumbs to a seizure in virtual reality while other players can only watch

By Megan Farokhmanesh
Jan 19, 2018

While playing around in VRChat, an online virtual community, YouTuber Rogue Shadow VR noticed a player who appeared to be in trouble. His character — a red and black robot — was writhing on the floor and gasping in what appeared to be an epileptic seizure.

In the original video, spotted by Motherboard, Rogue Shadow VR explains that because the player had full body tracking, those in the online room were suddenly bystanders to his real-life dilemma. “There was no way we could tell at first, because all we see is this character he’s playing as,” Rogue Shadow VR says. VRChat is a strange platform to begin with, one where players can appear as any avatar they make, from pokémon and Rick & Morty characters to imagery from problematic memes. It’s typical for players to goof off or otherwise act out of turn.

But players soon realized that this incident was not a prank, but a person experiencing real distress. Many asked aloud “Is he ok?” while others wondered what to do. Without knowing who the person was, however, there was little they could do but watch. Eventually, the player began to recover and respond to their questions, while they tried to comfort him. Although online spaces can be notoriously hostile, especially within the gaming community, the majority of players seemed genuinely concerned when confronted with the reality of a person in trouble. While a few ignored the seizing player or continued making jokes, most voiced their concern and care. “Be safe,” one says as the player logs off. Many seem shaken after the incident.

A full version of the incident without commentary has since been uploaded to Rogue Shadow VR’s channel. According to Rogue Shadow VR, both videos have been uploaded with the permission of the player in question.

“This video is being shared for the purposes of spreading awareness of epilepsy which must be considered with the emergence of virtual reality on both the industry and individual users scale,” the video’s description says. “This is also being shared for the purpose of analyzing and documenting the nature of this occurrence and the reactions of bystanders in Virtual Reality which is an unprecedented situation.” Rogue Shadow VR says he caught up with the player afterwards on Steam, and that he is doing better now.

Virtual reality opens up more physical interactions and relationships than any other online space has before, though it typically masks people’s faces and physical locations. Although players may be able to see someone in trouble, there’s really no way to help them.

“It was definitely interesting to see the way people could come together and show concern for somebody they don’t know, but at the same time it was really weird because there was nothing we could do,” Rogue Shadow VR says. “We didn’t even know what part of the planet this person lived on. All we could do was observe.”

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