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 being activated, her avatar was attacked by four other avatars who tried to touch her, insulted her and asked her to masturbate. She first tried to flee and ended up unplugging herself. She called what she experienced “rape”.
It is not because the universe is new that the act is new. In 2016, an American player told in a post published on Medium that she had experienced a similar attack in “QuiVr”, a virtual reality game where you play as archers. She explains that a player has it “continued with pinching movements near [sa] chest. Emboldened, he even pushed his hand towards [son] virtual crotch and started rubbing. »
If these two attacks are explicit, others are more subtle. Just type “teabagging” on YouTube. For those who don’t have the codes, the scene could seem almost funny. On the screen, we see an avatar on the ground on which other avatars are doing a sort of squat. Symbolically, it is in fact a matter of placing one’s testicles on the face of the defeated player. Code issue.
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 the advertising and marketing agency Nicky. The misogyny inherent in this cryptoeconomy is at the crossroads of the geek ideology that only a handful of insiders master and the testosterone and adrenalinic imagination of traders. »
In other words, the metaverse are at the crossroads of two worlds that are mostly virile, even downright hostile to women: tech and finance. This is evidenced by the recent sexist campaigns of cyberattacks of which two MEPs were the victims, the Frenchwoman Aurore Lalucq, for her support for European legislation aimed at regulating crypto-assets, and the Belgian Assita Kanko, co-rapporteur of the draft directive.
Aggravating circumstance, these universes are used in network. Who says network, says interactions. Sometimes for the worse. Trolling, raids, slut shaming, harassment in packs, cyberstalking or bullying… there are many violent practices against women. In 2019, 44% of French people said they had been victims or witnesses of sexism on social networks, according to figures compiled on Statista. “Online, the toxicity towards women is palpable”, points out Stella Jacob, gamer and narrative designer. A figure is regularly put forward on specialized sites: 77% of players have been victims of harassment. That’s why six out of ten female gamers prefer to play with a male avatar.
Fine of up to 30,000 euros
Since August 2018, the law to combat sexual and gender-based violence online has been strengthened by adding the plurality of perpetrators to the repetition of attacks. The goal? Penalize digital raids carried out by several people acting in concert (or not). But be careful, it only takes once to be condemned. The penalties incurred: two years in prison and a fine of 3,000 euros.
To convince those who doubt it, 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” experienced playing with a female avatar. Within minutes, comments were raining: “your voice is lovely”, “Your boobs will serve as your bulletproof net” or, anyway, “girls can’t play”. He also reported more obscene remarks.
Because online, the body matters. A little historical reminder: these crypto bros are the direct descendants of geeks, yesterday “abnormal” rebels (in other words “nerds” ostracized from society), today in a position of domination (economic, professional, cultural, etc.) . And above all, they are not women. Hence the emergence of the phenomenon of the “Fake Geek Girl” (the fake geek) who mocks the players because they are not 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 become alpha males”, summarizes Stella Jacob. Above all, they are currently sailing in a veritable digital wild west. Moderation tools are still in their infancy today.
Following the aggression of the avatar of the tester in Horizon Worlds, Mark Zuckerberg’s company imagined the first technical solutions. Among them, a “safe zone” option, which allows you to teleport your avatar to a secure space if you feel threatened. Or “block” or “report” buttons, made available to users against avatars who insult them or behave badly towards them. And even the establishment of a “personal border” (“safe bubble”), which establishes a perimeter of one meter distance between the avatars.
There are also other examples of virtual justice experiments. Introduced in May 2011, a court was tested in the game “League of Legends”. This feature allowed players to assess specific instances where players had reported another player’s behavior and decide what action to take. Those who reported were rewarded in tokens. A feature that allowed the community to self-regulate. But the test stopped there.
“Bandage on a gaping wound”
“Moderation is generally like a bandage on a gaping wound”, recalls Stella Jacob, a specialist in these issues. Before pointing: “Especially since it is generally up to the victim to act and withdraw to be safe. » OK, metaverses in the line of video games and social networks are not very inclusive of women. “It is hard for women to penetrate this world”, adds François Peretti. Should we not go there?
“Go ahead” answer in chorus the specialists of the sector. The most optimistic highlight the “infinite possibilities” offered by metaverses and even if they do not avoid deviant behavior, they rely on self-regulation by online communities. They recall that the minority of crypto bros is opposed by a large majority of market players who do not intend to deprive themselves of half of humanity.
Initiatives illustrating this desire for change are multiplying: whether it is 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 “world of women”, participating in the rise of cryptofeminism.
45% of crypto investors are women
Men still invest twice as much as women in cryptocurrencies (16% compared to 7%), according to an American survey carried out in 2021 by the company Acorns and the media CNBC. But women are seriously beginning to take an interest in it. According to a 2022 study by Gemini, 47% of “cryptocurious” people are women. It is also in France that women are taking the plunge the most, since, according to this study, almost half (45%) of crypto investors are women.
The evolution of behaviors will also go through the training and recruitment of women to design the metaverses. Ridouan Abagri, director of the first school exclusively dedicated to these universes, which opens its doors in September in Paris , knows this and wants to encourage as many women as possible to train. A necessary bet since today only a fifth (20%) of the IT workforce are women. No doubt, the challenges are many. But how can we hope to make this new world a “safe space” for women when all the rest of the “real” world is so far from being one?
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Are the “crypto bros” going to make metaverse hell for women?
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