A VIRTUAL reality fan has described her harrowing experience visiting the metaverse’s “seediest” strip clubs.
In an article for US men’s magazine MEL over the weekend, writer Brit Dawson explained how she accessed the virtual space using a VR headset and was able to chat to fellow visitors online.
She began her quest at Club Ruby, a virtual reality strip club accessed through the popular app VRChat on a Meta Quest headset.
“Like a real dive, it’s dark inside save for the fluorescent red lighting, which illuminates the matching polyester sofas and cascades across the crimson curtains that garnish each private room,” Brit wrote.
“In the corner, there’s a bar, and a stage with two poles on either side. Really — it’s just like any other strip club.”
The metaverse is a social space that users can socialise in as digital versions of themselves – a bit like Facebook, but in virtual reality.
Facebook’s owner Meta does not run the app but it does operate the popular Meta Quest headsets used to access it on.
VRChat is home to many innocent spaces such as supermarkets and even a McDonald’s.
But there are also pole-dancing venues and strip clubs lurking around, A BBC report last month revealed that children are able to access the disturbing virtual spaces without being subjected to age checks.
Following the investigation, Brit decided to give VRChat a go for herself and was able to access virtual strip club “Club Ruby”.
Other visitors to the sordid space interacted with her virtual avatar – including a shirtless man in a gimp mask.
She said that, while the club had “vaguely sexual undertones”, it did not have any staff or strippers to speak of.
Insead, it was a place where visitors interact with one another in sometimes inappropriate ways.
“There was some light ‘touching’ between players — which just involves moving your avatar next to someone else’s — and pole dancing, which was more funny than sexy,” she said.
“There weren’t even real strippers — the club has no employees, no shows and the poles are just there in case any curious users want to try them out.”
The metaverse promises to revolutionise the way we use the internet, if its creators are to believed, and the version available to people now is a crude imagining of the technology’s touted potential.
Eventually, there could be whole worlds for people to explore that are a realistic recreation of spaces in the real world – including strip clubs.
Questions are already being raised about the technology’s potential harms, including the stuff children can be exposed to without proper checks or supervision.
At one point Brit stumbled into the more disturbing side of virtual strip clubs, walking in on a “sexy anime girl ‘shagging’ a banana” and people “making kissing noises” and “writhing about on the floor”.
Clearly, they are not spaces that are appropriate for children, something that was highlighted by the recent BBC investigation.
A researcher revealed that kids are able to access disturbing virtual strip clubs in the metaverse – where they’re approached by adults.
They posed as a minor and were easily able to visit them via VRChat where they were exposed to all sorts of inappropriate behaviour.
According to one person she spoke to, avatars are able to “get naked and do unspeakable things”.
This is despite the app having a 13+ age rating.
There are no age verification checks to download the app, in fact all you need is a Facebook account.
DANGEROUS BY DESIGN
The NSPCC has previously condemned the technology, calling it “dangerous by design”.
“It’s children being exposed to entirely inappropriate, really incredibly harmful experiences,” said Andy Burrows, who leads online child safety for the charity.
“We are seeing products rolled out without any suggestion that safety has been considered.”
Meta responded saying it has no responsibility for the app because it did make it.
“We want everyone using our products to have a good experience and easily find the tools that can help in situations like these, so we can investigate and take action,” Bill Stillwell, Product Manager for VR integrity said.
“In Meta apps like Horizon Venues users can mute, block and report others, and we recently introduced a Personal Boundary to help avoid unwanted interactions.
“For cross-platform apps that have users connecting from other platforms, mobile phones or consoles, we provide tools that allow Quest players to report and block users.
“We will continue to make improvements as we learn more about how people interact in these spaces.”
Jake Moore, a security advisor at ESET said the metaverse has enabled users to create new situations and locations in a fantasy realm but “unfortunately this has led to its creativity being abused by a number of users who will ultimately ruin it for younger audiences”.
“The metaverse is still very young and regulations are far from being ready to be able to police this new virtual world,” he explained.
“Meta must design the platform with security, privacy and safety in mind but sadly profits are clearly dominating at present whilst it finds its feet.
“If younger users are tipped to be the generation to take it on then Meta must enforce better protection and safety measures for all audiences.”
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