After my no good, not-very-fun time in BigScreen, one of the developers reached out to me with a statement:
I'm extremely sorry that happened to you Paul. I realize we can't do anything to erase it from your memory but we're going to make sure this doesn't happen to people in the future.
Our team of two launched the product four days ago as a very early beta to start getting user feedback. We underestimated the community would grow so fast and figured protection features such as quickly blocking, muting and reporting other users wouldn't be needed in the first week. We were wrong. An extremely small numbers of users have misused the software to harm others and we need to build protection features right away. Currently, you can report a user's Steam account, but we understand that's not good enough. We are adding muting, blocking and other protection features by the end of the week.
Our goal is to build Skype, not Chatroulette and we already have private rooms to fulfill this purpose. The aim of public rooms is for people to meet other VR enthusiasts. We're hoping these new updates will make the app a safer place and again I want to personally apologize for your experience.
Other users have had a similar experience to mine. GiantEraser described his own run-in on Reddit:
It's great that BigScreen is already engaging with the problem. In fact, one of the developers (BigScreen is a team of two), Darshan Shankar, replied in the same thread: "Excuse the french, but that's really fucked up."
Unfortunately, this is a repeat of history for the internet. Content moderation is typically an afterthought, and rarely gets the same sort of technological effort as the "platform" responsible for all the attention in the first place. And, of course, many will question if content should be moderated at all. How do you even moderate VR, anyway? Put protective bubbles around everybody?
BigScreen is undoubtedly a technical marvel. If you've ever tried to stream some gameplay to Twitch, you'll be aware how intensive that process is for most computers, not to mention all the fiddly settings and immaculate internet required to get it right. The fact that you can throw on a headset and see a few other live-streamed screens in VR, while also playing your own game and streaming it, is impressive. I spent some time in a private BigScreen room with friends last night, and it was wonderful. I felt like we really were "together."
Now hopefully BigScreen can introduce similar ingenuity to the age old problem of people being assholes on the internet. VR, with its sense of "presence," sense of "being there," will undoubtedly uncover a whole bunch of new ways for us all to harass each other. And the harassment might be a little more unsettling for the very same reasons VR is so alluring: it's visceral, it's enthralling, it's real.