Gender Exploration in Social VR

A independent study into the effects of social VR in users who have used it to explore gender identity and/or expression

socialvr

MY ROLE: sole researcher, designer, illustrator

OFFICIAL LINKS: Summary, Full PDF Report

RESULTS

With 100 respondents, I found that users who used social VR to explore their gender identity, presentation, or expression needed three things:

  • Deeper Connections
  • Better Communities
  • Agency

With those three things, they were likely to grow as individuals, find new ways of self expression, and think positively about their experiences.

summary1

DEEPER CONNECTIONS

Many gender variant users in social VR spaces are looking to find deeper connections than they feel like they could find outside of VR. This is only helped by things VR is good at--immersion, embodiment, and being able to connect with people from anywhere in the world

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BETTER COMMUNITIES

Finding safe spaces and better communities is paramount for users to feel comfortable exploring gender. There is a lot of concern around whether or not users feel safe and many stick to groups they already know, but discoverability of these groups is low

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AGENCY

Users must feel like they have agency over their appearance--it’s important for them to feel comfortable in their own skin and they are very aware of how they are presenting themselves. They will learn tools or find people to help them to make complex changes.

Research Process

What I did:

  • Wrote a survey that consisted of X demographic questions and 4 open answer questions
    • The demographic questions were aimed at understanding the different types of respondents and at identifying patterns in technology usage
    • The open answer questions aimed at understanding users' experiences on a deeper level
  • I evaluated the responses, both quantitatively and qualitatively
    • I coded the qualitative responses using inductive coding to generate topics of interest.
    • Post-coding, the responses were analyzed quantitatively and Fishers test was used to identify significant differences between transgender and cisgender participants to indicate which effects were trans-specific.

Concerns:

  • Quantitative coding may be biased. Unfortunately, since this was an independent and solo project, I wasn't able to get a secondary person to code the responses as well to alleviate bias.
  • Because answers were in an open format, it’s possible that many participants would agree with some of these findings but did not indicate so in their responses. This method errs on the side of being less prescriptive but means that it speaks less about the overall sentiment towards each of the topics surfaced. Because of this, I expect the reported percentages trend towards underreporting.

PARTICIPANT DEMOGRAPHICS

The open call for respondents asked for users who have used social VR in any way to explore their gender presentation or expression. I received 100 respondents with a variety of backgrounds--69 transgender (trending towards trans feminine) and 30 cisgender. 1 response was removed due to obvious spam (all responses were single word slurs).

The respondents were overwhelmingly technical and used VR on a regular basis, which may be because respondents generally used VRChat which requires some technical knowledge to customize things like the avatar or environment, even when purchasing these assets to use vs generating them themselves.

  • 95% of respondents used VR more than once a week
  • 75% used advanced avatar customizations, which means they used programs outside of the social VR app like 3D modeling programs or game engines.
  • 55% of respondents found friends and communities by joining open worlds but respondents also often found communities and social groups outside of VR before meeting them inside of VR, so there was representation of both VR-centric and non-VR-centric social groups.
Participants

Positives of Social VR

Respondents were asked two questions around the positives of social VR:

  • How have social VR spaces enabled you to explore your gender identity?
  • What do you enjoy about social VR spaces?

Some of the largest findings were:

  • 49% of all respondents self reported an aspect of personal growth due to using social VR
  • 79% of transgender respondents said that VR social spaces were more comfortable to interact in compared to physical spaces -- significantly more than the 57% of cisgender respondents that said the same
  • 42% of transgender respondents used VR encourage their comfort within social spaces -- significantly more than the 17% of cisgender respondents that said the same

I've learned I feel uncomfortable in a fully female form, it's just not for me. That would have been more difficult and time consuming to learn without VR.

- Wo1fie (he/him, cisgender)

Being able to present myself in a way of my choosing, without fear of being judged for how I look. I've formed relationships in VR that I couldn't do IRL because of the subconscious barriers I keep up because of my own crippling depression and lack of self-esteem.

- Hero of the Day (she/her)


Negatives of Social VR

 

Respondents were asked two questions around the positives of social VR:

  • Do you have any concerns about VR social spaces?
  • Is there anything you wish you could do or see more of in VR social spaces?

The responses in this section were more varied, resulting in lower percentages of agreement compared to the positives. Some of the largest findings were:

  • 17.4% of transgender respondents mentioned encountering discrimination based on gender presentation as a concern -- significantly more than the 0% of cisgender participants who said the same
  • 38% of transgender respondents were concerned about encountering unsocial behavior -- significantly more than the 17% of cisgender participants who said the same
  • Age appropriateness was the largest concern, with 34% of all respondents concerned about minors being exposed to things that weren’t age appropriate
  • 30% of all respondents wanted VR technology to be better than what’s currently available

VRChat has useful tools to purge antagonistic people from spaces, but that doesn't stop them from interfering with other users even if it's only for a moment.

- Cortez Acosta (he/they/she)

I truly wish there was a separation between the kids under 18...I still want the kids to have fun, I work with kids in the summer and want them to enjoy VR but thrusting us all in the same learning environment when they are not old enough to see a threat is detrimental to the whole

- Freaky ferret22 (she/her)


Colophon

Designed by me. Made using Semplice and custom code by me. Font used is Aileron by dot colon. Elen síla lúmenn’ omentielvo.