Maybe the savior virtual reality needs is someone like game designer Robert Yang.
In a recent blog post about toxic games culture, Yang announced that he’s shifting his work to a new direction; away from games, and into virtual reality. He’s not moving onto the new technology for a lame, overtly hype-centric reason like “VR is the future,” but for something more reasonable: games as a culture may be failing, but VR isn’t a lost cause… yet (even if it’s on the brink of collapsing to the point of no return). On Monday, Yang outlined his core reasoning to taking this next step to VR in his write-up, “A progressive future for VR: why VR is already getting worse, and how to make it better.”
“artists and queers and weirdos need to hit VR now, and hit hard”
Yang cites a barrage of worries that have plagued videogames in the past few years. From rampant misogyny to big publishers not doing much at all to discourage that hateful behavior. Games, especially among AAA publishers, have shown that they’re content with lightly managing and not critiquing their fan audience. This is a problem. And, according to Yang, VR is on its way to matching it.
“Artists and queers and weirdos need to hit VR now, and hit hard,” writes Yang in his plea to other independent creators. “Before VR culture ends up as conservative as the worst of gamer culture.” In the current space of VR, a small group given the approximate 0.21 percent of HTC Vive owners on Steam, some developers don’t have an honest view of harassment—maybe not in witnessing it themselves, or not accepting its seriousness. Yang has found himself frustrated by this, “I’ve met industrial VR developers who view harassment and internet toxicity as something they can just A/B test away,” he writes. “As if the perfect user flagging system, or the perfect neural net AI trained against racist speech, will magically fix everything.”
So, Yang’s transitioning into working with VR in the next few years to see what he can do to help the space. For the time being, there’s no AAA developers really wielding what a VR thing has to be, so there’s room for growth and a standard to be set for individuality. Yang also envisions VR venturing beyond the narrow sight of games and Steam. “Imagine making VR for a wedding, as if you were a wedding planner or a caterer,” he writes as examples of alternative uses for VR. “Imagine public institutions commissioning VR to engage their communities.” Yang notes that in order for this progressive dream to be a reality, VR needs a platform like the independently managed itch.io. Something not controlled by a AAA company (i.e. Valve’s Steam) to encourage creators to post the things they make worry free. And perhaps most importantly, VR desperately needs the diverse creators to back it up—it needs more people like him.
You can read the entirety of Yang’s latest blog post, “A progressive future for VR: why VR is already getting worse, and how to make it better,” here and follow Yang on Twitter. If you want to read more about Yang, you can check out our feature on him in Issue 10 of Kill Screen’s print magazine.