The scene is violent. It happens at the end of December in Horizon Worlds, a test version of the metaverse created by the Meta group (ex-Facebook). An English tester says that just a minute after she was activated, her avatar was attacked by four other avatars who tried to touch her, insulted her and asked to masturbate. She tried to run away at first and eventually shut herself off. She called what she experienced “rape.”
It’s not because the universe is new that the act is unprecedented. In 2016, an American player told Medium in a post that she experienced a similar attack in “QuiVr”, a virtual reality game where you play as archers. She explains that a player has it “continue with squeezing movements near” [sa] chest. Encouraged, he even pushed his hand to [son] virtual cross and started rubbing. †
If these two attacks are explicit, others are more subtle. Just type “tea bags” on YouTube. For those who don’t have the codes, the scene can almost seem funny. On the screen we see an avatar on the floor with other avatars doing a kind of squat. In fact, it is symbolic to place his testicles on the face of the defeated player. Code problem.
Geeks and golden boys, two ‘testosterone’ cultures
These incidents remind us that the metaverse is not synonymous with a “safe place”, for women in particular, but for all “non-crypto bros” in general. “This phenomenon is the result of the convergence of two hitherto antagonistic cultures,geeks and golden boys, analyzes François Peretti, senior planner at advertising and marketing agency Nicky. The misogyny inherent in this crypto economy is at the intersection of the geek ideology that only a handful of insiders control and the testosterone and adrenaline fantasy of traders. †
In other words, the metaverse is at the crossroads of two worlds that are mostly virile, even downright hostile to women: technology and finance. This is evidenced by the recent sexist campaigns of cyber attacks that have hit two MEPs, the Frenchwoman Aurore Lalucq, for her support for European legislation aimed at regulating crypto assets, and the Belgian Assita Kanko, co-rapporteur on the draft directive. .
Aggravating circumstance, these universes are used in networks. Who says network, says interactions. Sometimes for the worse. Trolling, robbery, slutshaming, pack intimidation, cyberstalking or bullying…there are many violent practices against women. In 2019, 44% of French people said they had been victims of or witnessed sexism on social networks, according to figures collected on Statista. “Online the toxicity is palpable for women”, points out Stella Jacob, gamer and narrative designer. A number is regularly put forward on specialized sites: 77% of players have been the victim of intimidation. That’s why six out of ten female gamers prefer to play with a male avatar.
Fine up to 30,000 euros
Since August 2018, the law to combat sexual and gender-based online violence has been tightened by adding the number of perpetrators to the repetition of attacks. The target? Punish digital raids carried out by multiple people acting in concert (or not). But be careful, it only takes once to be convicted. The penalties incurred: two years in prison and a fine of 3,000 euros.
To convince those who doubt, on the occasion of International Women’s Day, a professional player known by the pseudonym Jkaem, one of the best on “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive”, who has played with a female avatar. Within minutes, the comment rained down: “your voice is beautiful”† “Your breasts will serve as your bulletproof net” or, anyway, “girls can’t play”. He also made more obscene comments.
Because online the body matters. A little historical reminder: these crypto brothers are the direct descendants of geeks, yesterday “abnormal” rebels (in other words “nerds” banned from society), today in a dominant position (economically, professionally, culturally, etc.). And above all, they are not women. Hence the emergence of the phenomenon of the “Fake Geek Girl” (the fake nerd) who mocks the players for not being real geeks. As a result, geek Pete Warden notes: “Our deep sense of victimhood has become a perverse justification for bullying,” in his article “Why Nerd Culture Must Die” (2014).
When will the digital wild west end?
In the metaverses, “these geeks want to be alpha males”, summarizes Stella Jacob. Above all, they are currently sailing in a true digital wild west. Moderation tools are still in their infancy.
After the aggression of the tester’s avatar in Horizon Worlds, Mark Zuckerberg’s company came up with the first technical solutions. Among them, a “safe zone” option, which allows you to teleport your avatar to a safe space if you feel threatened. Or “block” or “report” buttons made available to users against avatars who insult them or behave badly. And even setting a “personal boundary” (“safe bubble”), which establishes a perimeter of one meter between the avatars.
There are also other examples of virtual justice experiments. Introduced in May 2011, a court tested in the “League of Legends” game. This feature allowed players to review specific instances where players reported another player’s behavior and decide what action to take. Those who reported were rewarded in tokens. A function that allowed the community to regulate itself. But that’s where the test ended.
“Bandage on a Gaping Wound”
“Moderation is generally like a bandage on a gaping wound”, remembers Stella Jacob, a specialist in these issues. Before pointing out: “Especially because it’s generally up to the victim to act and withdraw to be safe. † OK, metaverses along the lines of video games and social networks aren’t very inclusive of women. “It’s hard for women to invade this world,” adds François Peretti. Shouldn’t we go there?
“Go ahead” answer in unison the specialists of the sector. The most optimistic emphasize the “infinite possibilities” that metaverses offer, and even if they don’t avoid deviance, they rely on self-regulation by online communities. They remind that the minority of cryptobros is opposed by a large majority of market players who have no intention of depriving themselves of half of humanity.
Initiatives illustrating this desire for change are on the rise: whether it’s the feminist blockchain manifesto published by Claudia Hart, the Pussy Riots’ investment in cryptocurrencies/NFTs, the Ladies Get Paid club or the NFTs of ‘Emily Ratajkowski and that of the “women’s world”, participating in the rise of cryptofeminism.
45% of crypto investors are women
Men still invest twice as much as women in cryptocurrencies (16% versus 7%), according to a US survey conducted in 2021 by the company Acorns and the media CNBC. But women are starting to take a serious interest in it. According to a Gemini survey from 2022, 47% of “cryptocurious” people are women. It is also in France that women take the plunge the most, as almost half (45%) of crypto investors are women, according to this study.
The evolution of behavior will also happen through the training and recruitment of women to design the metaverses. Ridouan Abagri, director of the first school exclusively dedicated to these worlds, which will open its doors in Paris in September, knows this and wants to encourage as many women as possible to train. A necessary gamble as today only a fifth (20%) of IT staff are women. The challenges are undoubtedly many. But how can we hope to make this new world a ‘safe space’ for women when the rest of the ‘real’ world is so far from it?