Insights Illegal actions in virtual reality should be banned – or punished?

New research from media, technology and brands law firm Wiggin LLP shows the large majority of the public wants there to be restrictions on users of virtual reality technology (VR) performing actions that would be illegal in real life – despite the popularity of violence in online gaming.

Wiggin commissioned ComRes to poll 2,003 British adults. 63% of those surveyed were in support of such restrictions.  Just one in five (19%) said that users should be allowed to do as they wish in VR, regardless of its legality in real life, and over half (58%) think virtual reality should have age restrictions. 41% said that they would be concerned about committing a crime in VR.

Alexander Ross, a partner in the Technology team at Wiggin, said “These results are entirely at odds with the huge popularity of violent gaming. Many computer games contain violence of some kind and many make a feature of extreme violence. It is unlikely that large numbers of gamers lie awake at night worrying about the avatars they have terminated that day. It may be that the total immersion that VR technology provides blurs the boundaries with real life to such an extent that the regulation which currently governs more traditional media will be seen as wholly inadequate.”

The research also found the majority of respondents would be concerned about:

  • not being aware of what is happening in the real world while using VR (69%)
  • a reduced sense of right and wrong while in a VR experience (59%)
  • becoming addicted to VR experiences (58%)
  • or the experience of VR affecting behaviour even after use (55%).

Ross continued: “Like the internet, Virtual Reality does not respect nationality, and so we are using laws with legal boundaries to govern a technology with none.  We probably need to agree a common set of standards (outcomes that are universally accepted or rejected) and use that to drive our laws.  Unfortunately, this is a process fraught with difficulties and delay, as anyone who has followed the debates around international climate change treaties will attest.”