FEMALE POWER IN VR - from one woman to all

I have so far not had any negative implication for being a woman in VR and have been treated with respect, and equally. I know that might not be the reality for everyone, but I do feel it is the predominant reality, which is wonderful. 

The VR community has an advantage and an opportunity to stay this way and be different from other mediums and professions, for one, because it started to move into the mainstream from a much more even playing field for women within a culture ready to approach things differently. We find ourselves currently in a time when women have fought hard for equality and most of the world have caught up to view us as equals. Currently, the media is filled with calls to eradicate any last remaining sexism within the world of Hollywood. As a cousin to Hollywood, it seems impossible for VR & AR to turn a blind eye to this when it is defining itself and its work ethics.  

Furthermore, for all of us who work in VR & AR, we are focused on finding solutions for the still many technical and aesthetic issues that face our craft and making sure that this medium is not just another fad. It does not leave much time or room to be exclusive and sexist. We are all working for the greater good of VR & AR. At least this has been my experience so far. On a whole, the community seems pervaded by a sense of comradery to work with each other and help each other find solutions. I hope we can keep it this way, but I am very hopeful! VR & AR does not need to become yet another male-driven environment. 

Below an article on an amazing woman in VR taking a look at other amazing women in VR and her reality within the VR & AR world. 

One kickass woman on the many kickass women of VR

BY KITTY KNOWLES 8 JUNE 2016

SUMMARY: "Some people say there are not women in VR, that’s not true."

Last week we were lucky enough to attend a special ‘Women in Gaming’ lunch at Unite Europe 2016 in Amsterdam.

The event was fantastic, with talks from industry leaders and the opportunity for women of all backgrounds to celebrate their love for their art, as well as seeking support and advice.

Here, we met Dio Gonzalez, a truly exceptional human being and a tech lead at graphics group Unity Labs – the part of Unity that’s focused on making the future of virtual reality a reality, now.

Dio Gonzalez helping to inspire new generations.

Dio Gonzalez helping to inspire new generations.

A love affair with VR

Like every woman present, Gonzalez spoke passionately about why she loves her work: of the “ah-ha moment” when she discovered how a mathematical formula could turn into something visual, and of the endless applications of VR.

“I’m fascinated by using virtual reality for education, for medicine,” she explained. “It’s about travelling as far as the moon, travelling to the past, and interacting with people in faraway locations.”

Gonzalez spoke about memorable projects including a virtual “surreal theatre” of dance and music, and about her biggest frustrations:

“The technology is never enough – it’s never to the point of the dreamers.”

Her current work at Unity Labs involves building new systems to give everyone the ability to make virtual worlds:

“It’s about making virtual reality accessible to pretty much anybody,” she said.

Tomb Raider's Lara Croft was part of a sexist joke, says Dio Gonzalez.

Being a woman in VR

Given that we were at a women in gaming luncheon, I also asked what it’s like to be a woman in the industry. Gonzalez’s response was not rose-tinted.

She recalled a conference earlier this year which included a video gag about a man groping the breasts of a busty Lara Croft.

“I was suddenly in a boy’s club, next to men laughing, pointing at a slide of a man groping the breast of a woman – that was just not needed in a professional setting,” she remembered.

Even more recently, the tech lead was completely ignored, when a male developer assumed that her male counterparts were behind the code that she’d written.

“Unfortunately, those kind of attitudes drive us away,” she said.

From left to right: Jacki Morie, Carolina Cruz-Neira & Kimberly Voll.

From left to right: Jacki Morie, Carolina Cruz-Neira & Kimberly Voll.

Kickass women of VR

Despite this, there are many women leading the way in virtual reality.

“Some people say there are not women in VR, that’s not true,” said Gonzales. “There are a number of pioneer females in the field.”

Gonzalez pointed towards the “groundbreaking” work of Carolina Cruz-Neira, the inventor of ‘the cave’ (a projection-based VR system that used walls to create images you can walk through).

She spoke about entrepreneur Jacki Morie who’s worked closely with avatars for years, and now has two businesses that revolve around how people interact in virtual worlds.

“She laid the groundwork that make social VR possible,” said Gonzalez.

Gonzalez described how pioneers like Monika Jo held her own wedding in virtual reality back in 1994, and about new talent rising on the scene too.

At Oculus, a woman called Lydia Choy is the director of a sculpting tool being creating to empower artist to make art in VR; while the self-taught Liv Erickson has become “an evangelist for VR”, and now teaches others.

Kimberly Voll, a senior technical designer at Riot Games, is working on Fantastic Contraption, a virtual reality app that lets you build your own machine in a 3D world, Gonzalez explained.

Of course at The Memo we’ve already seen fantastic women working with VR.

At one end of the scale, Mardles creator Sharon Wyness has created virtual colouring books that come to life, while at the other, entrepreneur Ela Darling has set up her own virtual porn business.

Journalist Nonny de la Peña produces virtual experiences to bring you to the action, while female artists embracing the medium range from film director Lynette Wallworth to singer Björk.

So how can we support women in VR?

The main thing to help women in VR thrive is talking about sexism more, said Gonsalez:

“Companies need to talk about it more and there’s also sensitivity training to teach your employees about it – that I totally recommend.”

Women and employers also need to work together to build support networks. “Events like this are amazing,” Gonzalez said of the Unite ‘Women in Gaming’ lunch.

“It’s essential to talk to other women to get advice and assurance: They can validate what happens to you is not you being sensitive or too emotional which is kind of common.”

Men should be allies, too. And if anyone sees a female colleague being treated unfairly, or ignored, they ought to speak up.

“By not doing anything, you become part of the problem,” said Gonzalez.

These tips should be taken on board, not just in VR, but across the male-dominated tech scene.

If we support kickass women in VR, you know we’re going to get to play with even more kickass virtual experiences.

If we support women in technology more broadly, who knows what new experiences lie ahead?

Read more: How to look sharp for your future virtual date

Read more: Women in London: Don’t miss out on this £8,000 coding scholarship

Read more: Are women really better coders? Does it matter? What’s the real problem?

Kitty Knowles is a Senior Features Writer at The Memo. Kitty previously worked as an online journalist for GQ. She can be found tweeting @KittyGKnowles.