She was sexually harassed in a VR game. So the game added self-defense superpowers.

Jordan Belamire's story starts in a snowy, medieval fortress shooting arrows at zombies and giant spiders.

The fortress wasn't real, of course; it was a level in a video game called QuiVr. She was actually standing in the living room of her brother-in-law's home in Redwood City. In her hands were two motion-sensing video game controllers and strapped to her head was the HTC Vive — one of the best and first consumer-level virtual reality (VR) headsets available.

A man using the HTC Vive. Photo by Sam Yeh/AFP/Getty Images.


Belamire was completely immersed in this virtual snow-blanketed landscape.

"Never had I experienced virtual reality that felt so real," Belamire wrote of her time playing QuiVr. "I was smitten. I never wanted to leave this world."

VR is a essentially a series of games brought to life by a headset that immerses you in a 3D, 360-degree simulated environment. The headset tracks your head movements so that if you look up in real life, you'll see the simulated sky. Look to your left, and there's a fast approaching enemy. Look to your right, and you see a fellow player, signed in to the game with you.

VR promises to be at least the next big thing in entertainment. At most? An interactive technology as ubiquitous as TV or the internet.

But VR is not without some unexpected problems — and Belamire's experience with the game soon turned sour.

Belamire booted up a multiplayer version of the same game, launching herself back into the same, snowy, virtual world. This time, however, she had other real life players — virtually — beside her.

Photo by Hannelore Foerster/Getty Images.

Between waves of attacking zombies, a nearby player began groping Belamire's avatar — grabbing at her chest with a disembodied 3D floating hand.

It was just as weird and creepy as it sounds.

"I must have laughed from the embarrassment and the ridiculousness of the situation," Belamire said. "Women, after all, are supposed to be cool and take any form of sexual harassment with a laugh. But I still told him to stop."

The other player didn't stop. In fact, he chased and followed Belamire, continuing his virtual assault despite her multiple pleas to stop. Frustrated, she had no choice but to rip off her headset and log out of the game.

Belamire left the game wondering if virtual reality was destined to become yet another space where women are chased out by targeted harassment.

Photo by Glenn Chapman/AFP/Getty Images.

She wrote of the experience in a blog post (which has since been deleted) and then, presumably, expected that to be the end of it. After all, tech companies have been notoriously hit or miss when it comes to responding to online harassment.

Then something unexpected happened. Belamire got a response from the game company.

"The first thing I felt was that we had let someone down," wrote Andrew Stanton, a developer for QuiVR. "We should have prevented this in the first place."

Stanton and fellow developer Jonathan Schenker were deeply saddened and disturbed by Belamire's experience in their game but used it as motivation to solve the problem. "No one should be able to treat another player like [Belamire] had been treated again," Stanton said.

They introduced an in-game solution in the form of a superpower. With the push of a button, players were granted the ability to create a personal bubble around their avatar that makes anyone who enters it disappear from view. It's a simple and innovative solution that puts the power directly in the player's hands to control their personal player-space in a virtual world.

"We don’t know if this solution will work perfectly," Stanton wrote. "And it’s certainly not the only solution; like everyone in VR, we’re just learning how to approach these very real problems. "

VR is a young technology, which means now is the time for developers to implement forward-thinking solutions to these inevitable problems.

Virtual reality essentially promises a new plane of reality. One where you can be whoever you want to be and one where, ideally, you have a reasonable expectation of privacy and safety.

Mark Zuckerberg has been a big supporter of VR technology and its potential to extend beyond gaming into social interactions. Photo by Glenn Chapman/AFP/Getty Images.

Harassment and bullying are an unfortunately ubiquitous part of the gaming community. Game creators across all platforms are addressing it in different ways. Riot Games, for example, built a "player behavior team" filled with psychology Ph.D.s to analyze, study, and tackle the rampant harassment they found in their online communities.

VR has the potential to be a mainstream entertainment platform that reaches more people than standard video games. The difference is that VR games feel real to those playing — meaning things like virtual sexual harassment feel just like real-world sexual harassment and can cause the same emotional trauma. To that end, solutions are badly needed to protect players like Belamire who had her experience ruined in mere minutes.

Photo by Josep Lago/AFP/Getty Images.

The developers of QuiVr plan to make their "personal bubble" technology available to all VR game developers — and Jordan Belamire thanked them for addressing her concerns so quickly and efficiently.

Wherever this whole VR thing goes, it should be a place where everyone can have fun, where no one has to be subjected to sexual harassment or bullying or unwanted attention.

It's a lofty promise, but VR is inherently untied to the laws of reality. Giving players bully-stopping superpowers is simply a matter of writing code. Maybe the future of VR is the future of personal empowerment. Maybe not.

At the very least, you should be able to kill some zombies in peace.

Heroes
via Hollie Bellew-Shaw / Facebook

For those of us who are not on the spectrum, it can be hard to perceive the world through the senses of someone with autism.

"You could think of a person with autism as having an imbalanced set of senses," Stephen Shore, assistant professor in the School of Education at Adelphi University, told Web MD.

"Some senses may be turned up too high and some turned down too low. As a result, the data that comes in tends to be distorted, and it's very hard to perceive a person's environment accurately," Shore continued.

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Truth

Don't test on animals. That's something we can all agree on, right? No one likes to think of defenseless cats, dogs, hamsters, and birds being exposed to a bunch of things that could make them sick (and the animals aren't happy about it, either). It's no wonder so many people and organizations have fought to stop it. But did you ever think that maybe brands are testing products on us too, they're just not telling us they're doing it?

I know, I know, it sounds like a conspiracy theory, but that's exactly what e-cigarette brands like JUUL (which corners the e-cigarette market) are doing in this country right now, and young people are on the frontlines of the fallout. Most people assume that the government would have looked at devices that allow people to inhale unknown chemicals into their lungs BEFORE they hit the market. You would think that someone in the government would have determined that they are safe. But nope, that hasn't happened. And vape companies are fighting to delay the government's ability to evaluate these products.

So no one really knows the long-term health effects of e-cigarette use, not even JUUL's CEO, nor are they informing the public about the potential risks. On top of that, according to the FDA, there's been a 78% increase in e-cigarette usage among high school and middle school-aged children in just the last two years, prompting the U.S. Surgeon General to officially recognize the trend as an epidemic and urge action against it.

These facts have elicited others to take action, as well.

Truth Initiative, the nonprofit best known for dropping the real facts about smoking and vaping since 2000 through its truth campaign. We don't do PSAs. We also need to update so to explain truth – the nonprofit behind the truth youth smoking prevention campaign – you could also say this in a funny way – best known for sharing the facts about smoking and vaping or pull from some old campaigns. Just layer in a description of truth and who the campaign is., is now on a mission to confront e-cigarette brands like JUUL about the lack of care they've taken to inform consumers of the potential adverse side effects of their products. And they're doing it with the help of animal protesters who are tired of seeing humans treated like test subjects.

The March Against JUUL | Tested On Humans | truth www.youtube.com

"No one knows the long-term effects of JUULing so any human who uses one is being used as a lab rat," says, appropriately, Mario the Sewer Rat.

"I will never stop fighting JUUL. Or the mailman," notes Doug the Pug, the Instagram-famous dog star.

Truth, the national counter-marketing campaign for youth smoking prevention, hopes this fuzzy, squeaky, snorty animal movement arms humans with the facts about vaping and inspires them to demand transparency from JUUL and other e-cigarette companies. You can get your own fur babies involved too by sharing photos of them wearing protest gear with the hashtag #DontTestOnHumans. Here's some adorable inspo for you:

The dangerous stuff is already out there, but with knowledge on their side, young people will hopefully make the right choices and fight companies making the wrong ones. If you need more convincing, here are the serious facts.

Over the last decade, 127 e-cigarette-related seizures were reported, which prompted the FDA to launch an official investigation in April 2019. Since then, over 215 cases of a new, severe lung illness have sprung up all over the country, with six deaths to date. While scientists aren't yet sure of the root cause, the majority of victims were young adults who regularly vaped and used e-cigarettes. As such, the CDC has launched an official investigation into the potential link.

Sixteen-year-old Luka Kinard, a former frequent e-cigarette-user, is one of the many teens who experienced severe side effects. "Vaping was my biggest addiction," he told NowThis. "It lasted for about 15 months of my high school career." In 2018, Kinard was hospitalized after having a seizure. He also had severe nausea, chest pains, and difficulty breathing.

After the harrowing experience, he quit vaping, and began speaking out about his experience to help inform others and hopefully inspire them to quit and/or take action. "It shouldn't take having a seizure as a result of nicotine addiction like I had for teens to realize that these companies are taking advantage of what we don't know," Kinard said.

Teens are 16 times more likely to use e-cigarettes than adults, and four times more likely to take up traditional smoking as a result, according to truth, and yet the e-cigarette market remains virtually unregulated and untested. In fact, companies like JUUL continue to block and prevent FDA regulations, investing more than $1 million in lawyers and lobbying efforts in the last quarter alone.

Photo by Lindsay Fox/Pixabay

Consumers have a right to know what they're putting in their bodies. If everyone (and their pets) speaks up, the e-cigarette industry will have to make a change. Young people are already taking action across the country. They're hosting rallies nationwide and on October 9 as part of a National Day of Action, young people are urging their friends and classmates to "Ditch JUUL." Will you join them?

For help with quitting e-cigarettes, visit thetruth.com/quit or text DITCHJUUL to 88709 for free, anonymous resources.

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True

On an old episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in July 1992, Oprah put her audience through a social experiment that puts racism in a new light. Despite being nearly two decades old, it's as relevant today as ever.

She split the audience members into two groups based on their eye color. Those with brown eyes were given preferential treatment by getting to cut the line and given refreshments while they waited to be seated. Those with blue eyes were made to put on a green collar and wait in a crowd for two hours.

Staff were instructed to be extra polite to brown-eyed people and to discriminate against blue-eyed people. Her guest for that day's show was diversity expert Jane Elliott, who helped set up the experiment and played along, explaining that brown-eyed people were smarter than blue-eyed people.

Watch the video to see how this experiment plays out.

Oprah's Social Experiment on Her Audience www.youtube.com

Culture
via Cadbury

Cadbury has removed the words from its Dairy Milk chocolate bars in the U.K. to draw attention to a serious issue, senior loneliness.

On September 4, Cadbury released the limited-edition candy bars in supermarkets and for every one sold, the candy giant will donate 30p (37 cents) to Age UK, an organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for the elderly.

Cadbury was prompted to help the organization after it was revealed that 225,000 elderly people in the UK often go an entire week without speaking to another person.

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