Addressing Cheating & Harassment in VR – the Ghost Mode

Addressing Cheating & Harassment in VR – the Ghost Mode

htc vive ghost vr
Creating a ghost mode to prevent cheating and harrasment (original image by Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 creepyhalloweenimages)

Ganbatte takes place in a shared virtual space. Up to 4 players gather around a conveyor belt sushi table to eat as much sushi as possible to get the highest score. Ganbatte is built to be a cross-platform, front-facing seated experience that also supports room-scale VR, which allows for potential new ways of cheating and interacting that are undesirable for a positive gameplay experience.

Cheating is always a concern when developing competitive games. Being able to break the game’s rules and gaining an unfair advantage compromises the experience for everyone involved. At the same time, players can get a lot of fun exploring the boundaries of the game world and trying to find ways of bending them! The most obvious way of cheating in Ganbatte is to be able to take advantage of the physical space by having a much broader reach than other players or interfering with other player’s ability to eat.

As virtual reality allows for a big immersion in an environment, there might be undesirable ways of exploiting this for harassment and other undesirable behaviours. We developers have to bear in mind this sense of presence and freedom in the way we design interactions in our worlds.

Taking this into account, how do we prevent our cats from strolling around the spaceship, cheating, and invading other player’s personal space?

Understanding the role of personal space

Proxemics is an area of study of the way humans occupy space. We (as well as many other animals) use our presence, body language and distance from others to communicate and share spaces.

If our expectations for acceptable proximity are not met, it’s easy to feel uncomfortable and the normal flow of communication can be disrupted. We often talk about personal space and personal bubble to talk about these acceptable distances, which are cultural and vary according to intimacy, gender, social setting, and so on. They’re the reason why taking an elevator with strangers feels awkward, for example.

There are many studies of virtual reality and social distances (it is a bit of a low-hanging fruit thing to research, after all), and it seems that most these cues of interpersonal distance and gazing are transported to the interactions in virtual worlds (Yee, et al, 2007)¹. Consequences of disregarding this has already become news, for example in the article “Sexual harassment in virtual reality feels all too real – ‘it’s creepy beyond creepy‘”

Social VR platforms such as High Fidelity, address this issue by giving players a tool that they can use “to make disappear” everyone that enters their personal space.

We also want to prevent other players from entering the personal bubble of a player. Ganbatte takes place in a restaurant around a table, so we tried to use distances that encourage socializing while maintaining the said bubble. In this setting, players are able to touch paws, if they want to do a high five, for example.

However, we also make sure that the heads and body will never invade other cat’s personal space. In order to prevent cheating and personal space invasions, we developed a “ghost mode”. We got a lot of inspiration for our “Ghost mode” from the Google Daydream Labs example. In fact, the article “Daydream Labs: positive social experiences in VR” is a very good read on this subject.

This poker game features a ghost mode primarily to prevent cheating, but, for this type of game, it doubles as a social restraint, that prevents unwanted invasions of personal space.

An out-of-body experience

In Ganbatte, we started developing the “ghost mode” to allow players using different technologies to enjoy the game together. An HTC Vive Ganbatte player could potentially have more freedom of movement and use that to cheat by getting plates considered to be out of reach.

What if another player would start covering your eyes in order to disrupt your sashimi combo?!😲☝

That couldn’t be allowed! 😆

When the player leaves his/her designated play area an out-of-body experience begins. The player will be able to see his/her cat body left behind in a daze like state and will gain ghost cat paws. In this state, the player won’t be able to affect the game in any way or gain an unfair advantage. The other players will only be able to see the dazed cat body left behind. A post-process effect steers the player back to his/her play area.

ganbatte game vr preventing harassment in vr dazed cat

We tried to make the out-of-body experience as “boring” as possible. The idea is: “we acknowledge you are here trying to understand the boundaries of the game, you’re free to do so”.

Final thoughts

Developing VR Games and experiences is amazing. There’s so much to consider, and so much room to craft and build the world you want to deliver. We’re very proud of the way our “ghost mode” turned out. While it started out as an anti-cheating mechanism, it became an enabler and enforcer of positive non-verbal communication.

If you’re curious about trying Ganbatte or knowing more about the game, you can follow us on twitter or subscribe to our newsletter. In the meantime, We have released our early alpha gameplay trailer! Have a look!

Thanks for reading and until next time.

-Daniela

PS. – If you are further interested in the topic of harassment and social VR, I would like to recommend two podcast episodes of Voices of VR:

¹ Nick Yee, Jeremy N. Bailenson, Mark Urbanek, Francis Chang, and Dan Merget. CyberPsychology & Behavior. February 2007, 10(1): 115-121. https://doi.org/10.1089/cpb.2006.9984

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