Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Reality Spectrum and Body Perceptions: VR Rape

Outside of the constructs of real life, interpretations within virtual realities are more varied.  There appears to be a spectrum of perception of what VR is, with one end being reality and the other being a game.  The NYU students who created Mr. Bungle were just having fun playing what they viewed as a game.  On reality end of the spectrum, the "rape" victims experienced a very real emotional and physiological response to rape.  Without clearly defined boundaries, MUD players can unknowingly cause real trauma.  Confusion over boundaries is exacerbated by other non-normative elements that are present; e.g. making your avatar take the form of a dolphin.  Since fantasy and playfulness are integral aspects of MUDs, many players assume that other social norms in these environments also differ from RL.  The question is, what lines should be drawn in MUDs, and who should draw them? 

Something else that I found interesting in "A Rape in Cyberspace" is the altered perception of the body.  In contemporary scientific western thought, the body is a distinct, finite entity.  The experience of the rape victims in lambdaMOO counters this.  The victims claim to have experienced the act and repercussions of rape in ways that reflect those of physical rapes.  Both types of victims are left feeling violated, powerless, and scared that subsequent attacks might occur.  Dibbell argues that sex is not experienced most by the body, but the mind.  The emotions and physiological response can be felt without physical interaction.  Dibbell suggests that rape is "a crime against the mind", thus virtual rape should be taken just as seriously as physical rape.  


Emily B said...
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Adam said...

I understand the argument that a virtual rape is a crime against the mind, just as a physical rape is both a power play over an individual's mind and body.

However, a virtual reality is just that, in my opinion: virtual. People have the ability to detach themselves from a virtual reality, as we're not a society of "wireheads"...yet. I feel that a virtual rape is only treated as "real" by those that have entirely immersed themselves in virtual culture, and many times at which point they are not privy to the same societal laws.

While harassment online is a serious consideration, I believe rape is a PHYSICAL assault on the body to obtain power over the MENTAL.

Sara Barrantes said...

While reading the article, "A Rape in Cyberspace," I felt kind of confused by the trauma these people claimed to have experienced. I agree that rape is "a crime against the mind," but one should be aware of the possible dangers of an online community. I was also under the impression that the people in the MOO did not see visuals, but only got sentences on their screen. To me, that is no different than getting a Spam e-mail asking to enlarge your penis. As a reader, you have the ability to delete the e-mail or sign off of the MOO. I know that I sound completely heartless for not feeling much sympathy, but it’s the person’s choice to part of a potentially harmful community.

myoung said...

I agree with both of the comments written. Sex is experience most by the mind rather than the body. Therefore, "rape can occur without any physical pain or damage." Before reading this article I laughed at the idea of virtual rape. I mentally noted that it cannot be real and that it was just a bunch of people on the internet that had their feelings hurt. But after reading Dibbell's article, I have a totally different perspective on the issue. When the mind is hurt I feel that it will take longer for it to recover. In addition virtual rape is just as bad as physical rape.

Mollie said...

I think an important point discussed in this comment is about the social norms differing from the real world and the virtual world. When you asked where we should draw the line, it seems like the point of a virtual world in many ways is to be without those expected norms... Whats the point in making a fake person in MUD or SL if you're still restricted to the norms and boundaries of real life? If anything, I feel like fake persona's give individuals the perfect opportunity to live vicariously through this other persona.. doing and saying things that they wouldn't dare do in the real life. As Rheingold pointed out, children can use it to "test the difficult waters of adolescence", where they can escapre, and be in a world where they can exert perfect control. So why shouldn't people take advantage of no boundaries or rules??