danah boyd VR Oculus Rift.jpg

danah boyd has an important Quartz post which is mandatory weekend reading for anyone excited (like us) by Facebook’s acquisition of the Oculus Rift virtual reality platform. The preeminent academic of technology cites some important research she and others have done around VR, suggesting that it tends (for biological reasons) to make women literally sick:

What I found was startling. Although there was variability across the board, biological men were significantly more likely to prioritize motion parallax. Biological women relied more heavily on shape-from-shading. In other words, men are more likely to use the cues that 3D virtual reality systems relied on. This, if broadly true, would explain why I, being a woman, vomited [while using VR]: My brain simply wasn’t picking up on signals the system was trying to send me about where objects were, and this made me disoriented.

When I was a writer at Linden Lab, danah and I often attended the same conferences, and I recall her raising related concerns around the 3D virtual world Second Life, which was first launched as a VR application, and was experiencing a media hype wave back then. Her skepticism around Second Life was borne out, because as she predicted at the time, “honestly, I don’t think we’re going virtual.”

We hope everyone at Oculus Rift and other VR companies take her current concerns to heart, investigate whether women really do generally experience nausea and motion sickness in virtual reality -- and communicate their findings.

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