I spent International Women’s Day in VR

Posted on March 10, 2017

In celebration of International Women’s Day, Virtual Reality Pop’s homepage featured top stories from female virtual Reality leaders, VR Awards announced their support of women in VR & AR (image below), Digital LA announced their inaugural Top 20 LA Women in VR, and AltspaceVR featured 2 Women in VR meetups on their events page. This short list only scratched the surface of the impact women are having in the VR/AR industry.

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Reading those articles got me super pumped, so I began part of my day figuring out how to slay evil robots in Robo Recall (I’m all about VR games that make me feel like Sarah Connor). Moving on…I spent most of the afternoon hanging out in AltspaceVR with some amazing women from around the world.

Shirin Anlen, a Creative Technologist & Interactive Creator in Israel and member of the AltspaceVR community, hosted a meetup to celebrate women in the VR industry on International Women’s Day. Anyone was welcome to attend to share their experiences and network with other attendees.

It was the first virtual meetup of women in VR. About 40 of us gathered from all around the globe to hear 3 women shared their vision of resistance and the future of the VR space. Lisa Kotecki talked about her role as being the Community Manager for AltspaceVR. Katie Kelley, AltspaceVR’s marketing manager, spoke on gender issues in virtual spaces, and Jeris Jc Miller spoke about her activist VR piece as a force of resistance around the events that happened at Standing Rock Sioux Reservation between the No Dakota Access Pipeline Water Protectors and the Morton County Authorities.

Among the many burning marshmallows and fireworks flying around the campfire before the discussion began, there was a sense of excitement that enveloped the space. When you jumped into the event, you were instantly transported into conversations about what this space could be today and in the future. There were also some great side topics about how everyone is allowed into this meeting despite the title being “Women in VR Meetup”. My favorite quotes from some of these conversations are as follows, “Is this just for women? Cuz, I am a woman if this is just for women,” and in keeping with the spirit of inclusivity, “Shrubs. Shrubs are also welcome.”

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Another dialogue piece that that came up was that standing in the middle of a fire in VR is completely normal and “Do these marshmallows stop burning once they burn? Ya know, I think it’s an endlessly burning marshmallow.” As many of us were jumping in to AltspaceVR for the very first time, it was fun hearing conversations of people helping others navigate the new paradigm of meeting in VR.

We all gathered around the fire and Shirin began with an open discussion on how each of us were contributing to resistance in today’s world and how we were specifically using VR to do so. Jeris shared on her in-progress project with Shifting POV where virtual reality filmmakers Jeris JC Miller and Aaron Moffatt recorded the events of Standing Rock in 360 degrees. Their project helps to create empathy and awareness of the protest through a virtual experience by transporting the viewer in the heart of the action.

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One big mantra of AltspaceVR is that they want to create a safe space for everyone to come and feel welcome — one practical way they are doing this is with the space bubble option you can turn on so people can’t get too close to your avatar. This feature was developed by a woman on AltspaceVR’s dev team. Other topics included gender and avatars, how VR can help overcome social anxiety, as well as how our vocal representation in this space helps provide a platform for diversity.

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A few hours later, Lisa Kotecki (mentioned above) hosted the International Women’s Day #WomenInVR Show Launch! with special guest Eva Hoerth. #WomenInVR is a show by women, about women in VR. It will be held inside AltspaceVR, and is inspired to celebrate and capture some of the wonderful stories of women leading in this space.

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It was great discussing the theme of this years International Women’s Day, “Be Bold for Change” in the context of VR. Lisa and Eva talked about the social aspects of VR being an amazing opportunity to bring communities together despite the growing political climate. One of Eva’s main goal in VR is to bringing in normally underrepresented groups in the tech industry and making sure they feel welcome and invited as VR is beginning to take off.

We ended with all of us gathered around a Red Panda (Eva’s fav) that AltspaceVR has designed for her. If you would like to see the video, here is the link.

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We have some amazing women in the VR industry who are pushing the boundaries of inclusivity and diversity in the tech world. It’s been an amazing ride so far with each and everyone I have met IRL and in VR, and I look forward to continuing to join with them to make all our (virtual) realities a better place.

Written by Stephanie Hawn

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