Google announced a new Daydream View VR headset available in gray, black, or coral pink to complement the Google Home colors. Although it isn’t available until November, the company happily splashed images of attractive young women enjoying VR now that the soft foam case and remote control are the color of vaginal hygiene products and lady razors.
What can I say about superficially gendered “pink marketing” that hasn’t already been said here, and here, and here…? When a VR headset is designed to accommodate a ponytail (or a manbun) only then I will acknowledge there was a woman somewhere in the design process.
A pink headset is good for one thing: preventing a man from stealing your electronics due to the talismanic “cootie powers” of the color pink. Wait three months and all the unsold pink headsets will be priceslashed in the bargain bin. I’ve bought pink electronics and pink accessories – even a pink iPad cover – at a fraction of the price of the blue item sitting next to it on the shelf. The un-appeal of the color makes it unmarketable to most buyers regardless of gender. I call it the “Your Dick Will Fall Off Discount”. It would actually be funny if it weren’t such an insult to a major reason women are shunning VR.
“Women are more susceptible than men to motion sickness in general,” says Thomas Stoffregen at the University of Minnesota, in an article from New Scientist. Stoffregen and his team ran experiments in which 36 people – half of them men, half of them women – played two VR games using an Oculus Rift headset. “A game in which players had to push a marble around a maze only made a few people feel nauseous. But a game that involved taking a virtual stroll around a haunted house triggered feelings of sickness in 14 out of 18 women and only six out of 18 men.”
Why women experience motion sickness more than men isn’t understood. Stoffregen suggests it’s the fact that women have smaller feet (!) and this leads to postural sway – nevermind his test subjects were seated and that women typically have bigger butts and shorter torsos which would seem to make them more stable not less.
Computer scientist Mary Czerwinski has a different take on the problem. “Men are quicker to create a mental map of an environment and orient themselves within it…. Unfortunately, it tends to be the case that women have lower spatial ability – and that’s true in virtual worlds too,” she says.
A study of simulation training at Microsoft found that women were just as good as men at virtual navigation when they had a large computer display. “The gender difference simply disappeared,” says Czerwinski. A standard monitor gives a viewing angle of about 35°. With a larger screen, giving a viewing angle of 70°, women navigated better. And with two screens delivering a 100° angle, women matched men’s spatial abilities.
But there was a proviso. Women only matched men when the 3D virtual environment moved smoothly as they progressed through it. “You have to generate each image frame so the optical flow simulates accurately the experience of walking down, say, a hallway,” says her colleague George Robertson. Women find it easier to get their bearings when this animation is smooth and realistic, rather than jerky.
A superficial color change does nothing to address VR’s hardware limitations. VR sickness will continue to hit women harder until the image quality and framerates improve. Selling VR products the color of Pepto-Bismol isn’t going to help.