Women as guides for empathetic design in virtual reality

Gambling is generally not considered a female activity. Even in the name – a gamer is not known as a gamer but as a “gamer girl”. While this bias permeated early VR communities, the accessibility of new devices and an increase in women getting into VR for fitness, immersive experiences and an opportunity to get away from it all are changing The dynamic.

While we’re still a long way from being crucial to the basic conversation about the need for additional consideration, we’re getting closer as more and more women continue to engage with VR each year. This trend can also be attributed to female developers in addition to the growing number of female gamers.

Empathetic design in virtual reality is here to stay

It is perhaps the innate empathy of women that is driving the current rise of women in social games, creating communities to support and interact with each other. This has accelerated the adoption of virtual reality as a tool for connection and engagement rather than a challenge. Perhaps exacerbated by the challenges of socializing and meeting other like-minded people in the real world. This growing trend is obvious to any developer committed to their community.

See also: Tamara Shogaolu talks about the power and struggle of black women in extended reality

The term “empathetic design” joins the gaming lexicon alongside accessibility and representation in a way that promotes player thinking and experience. It’s driven by women who want to see themselves, their experiences, and their interactions reflected in the games they play. This is a smart tool for engaging audiences. These women are just waiting for an opportunity to share what they want to see in their metaverse and virtual reality experiences.

With the explosion of billion dollar virtual reality marketwider adoption of headsets and a desire to connect in virtual worlds, “empathetic design” is now a popular user acquisition tool.

Create safe virtual reality spaces for women

The women in the Group “Oculus Quest Ladies”, which has 20,000 members, frequently cite the ability to explore and engage safely as what drew them to virtual reality. As a member, it feels like an exclusive club I can belong to just because I’m female (which is a rare experience, even in 2022). I see women welcomed and their opinions solicited and validated on my feed. This increases engagement and advances the empathetic experience.

Another reason women in virtual reality are on the rise is environments that offer real-world interaction with tools that ensure a safe and enjoyable experience. My company surveyed our female gamers about their VR experience and found that of over 1,000 women engaged in VR, 46% said another gamer made them feel uncomfortable in VR because actions of their avatar.

While not yet common practice, moderation tools can be a selling point just like any other game feature. While not the sexiest and hottest opportunity more revenue-generating, the women we surveyed rank security and moderation as the second most important feature in a game (just behind intuitive controls and even surpassing in-game content).

Traditionally, women have played as male or androgynous characters in multiplayer games or avoided VOIP (where the natural voice is heard) to avoid harassment. Intuitive ways to block, mute, and mute problematic party members add a sense of security while allowing any player to create an avatar that expresses their individuality and full immersion in their experience.

The importance of inclusivity in VR games

In our survey, the emergence of lifestyle and fitness content is cited as the main driver of VR adoption by women. This replication of real experiences in virtual reality is increasingly aimed at all types of players. From the “sweaty 1v1 challenger” to players looking for a laid back way to relax and engage. A player recently shared the story of a bowling game interrupted for a few impromptu games of hide and seek!

See also: Best VR Fitness Games

Game developers must be deliberate and committed to being inclusive, especially when it comes to player experience. While some gamers want interactive features to add a layer of silliness to their experience, others just want to play the game without distractions. The key is to be thoughtful when designing a feature for a specific type of player. I suggest that developers design for the target audience, without harming the experience of others.

One idea to encourage inclusivity and discourage negative behavior is, at the start of each game, to consider having a consistent female voice advocating for the things that matter in games. I often see female voices leveraging community feedback and experiences in tandem with personal opinions in their comments.

Design for every type of gamer

In our survey mentioned earlier, 42% of respondents said they had been discouraged by a game that contained content they believed was designed for them. We found that when we added more female-centric elements (designed by women), the number of women playing the game increased. I hope to see supporting data continue to emerge as VR analytics improves, which quantifies the assess to consider and even to satisfy a base of female players.

While the lion’s share of women we spoke to purchased the device for themselves, 10% purchased their headphones for the purpose of connecting with friends and family. Their games of choice tend to be led by sports games, rhythm games, and social experiences.

Nearly 80% of respondents said they turn on their VR headset at least once a week, while only 75% consider themselves gamers. When we asked women who they played with in virtual reality, 50% played with family and 40% with real-life friends, while 42% also played with friends met through VR gaming, whether in the game or in VR communities.

I hope the industry will pay attention and not consider empathetic, female-focused design a “nice to have” or something to be left behind. It becomes crystal clear that when we game developers embed empathetic design into the DNA of our games, it’s a win for everyone.

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About the guest authors


Lauren Koester


Lauren Koester is Head of Marketing at ForeVR Games. In this role, she oversees all public relations, community, support, and all advertising and marketing efforts as the company grows its game portfolio. A senior game and technology marketer with a passion for building gaming communities and improving marketing, Koester’s previous experience includes roles at Amazon, Microsoft, Xbox and Unity Technologies.


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