“On the security side, it’s very simple. Women worry about their safety in ways men never imagine,” says Aurora TownsendMarketing Director and Founder of Planet Theta, a virtual reality dating app. Could VR eliminate some of the security risk?
“I’m not suggesting that we always replace dates with VR dates, but I think it’s a good idea to have a few VR dates before you meet in person, she said, adding, “And if your date you’re not throwing up any red flags and the interaction feels good so maybe you can decide it’s worth getting out of your sweatpants to meet in person… I still think a lot of women will texting a friend for added safety and having an escape plan, but I think far fewer women will need this as they begin to use VR as a tool to filter who they should meet in person.
The the dangers of dating– especially online – are plentiful, and Townsend believes virtual reality can solve some of them, as well as allowing users to hang out in an enchanted forest and meet other people from around the world. “Theta means rebirth and so Planet Theta will be a rebirth of dating culture,” she says, adding that online dating apps have “run their course.”
“People are ready for a way of dating that pushes personal interaction and chemistry at the forefront of dating while enjoying the convenience of technology,” says Townsend, a PC and board game enthusiast who also recently became a licensed airline pilot. It’s safe to say she’s tech savvy and trying new things.
So how is it different from any other app? On Planet Theta, users don’t swipe on profiles and then initiate contact. Instead, they’re matched for mini-dates based on their interests and can only see each other’s profiles or posts after that. Townsend says, “This dating formula is much more effective for matchmaking because you minimize the time you spend with people you don’t click with.” She likens it to going to a bar to meet people, but with the safety and comfort of being at home.
She says that in addition to finding matches, people can use the app to long distance dating. Her brother, for example, is in a long-distance relationship, “so when he and her boyfriend aren’t in the same town, they go on VR dates every week,” she says. “A bonus to having him work with us is his constant reporting on what works and doesn’t work for a VR date.”
Townsend is also convinced that having a woman lead the project will help make Theta safer for all types of people. The virtual reality industry (and technology in general) are mostly male dominated. Researchers have found that because of this, many facets of virtual reality– even up to helmet design– end up being sexist.
“A female voice in this industry is absolutely necessary,” she says, adding that men often *think* they’re dealing with security issues, but don’t do it effectively. “At the end of the day, if you don’t see anyone in the room who looks like the people the decision is being made for, it’s probably not the best decision.”
Many tech companies have struggled to make VR spaces inclusive and safe. While some tech journalists have expressed hope that virtual reality could be used to help build empathy and challenge racism and sexismothers fear that we are “interact with stereotypesand confirming gender-based assumptions.
Facebook’s Metaverse has already gained a reputation for having a fumbling problemas well as reports from sexual harassmentbullying and even virtual rape. So far, the company has responded with victim blaming solutions about what users should have done to prevent the attacks. The problem is not isolated from VRbut simply a more immersive and potentially psychologically dangerous version of the problems that exist in conventional online spaces.
How does Theta solve these problems? While many virtual spaces have the ability to activate “bubbles” that prevent people from entering your space, Theta has a more nuanced approach. “Personal space bubbles are built into Planet Theta and only decrease with time around other users. Ours are not just an on/off switch, but a reflection on the progress of your relationship.
According to Townsend, Planet Theta is for everyone, but it’s garnered some surprising followers. “In our closed betas, approximately 40% of our participation has been from LGBT+ communities. We’ve also attracted interest from conservative religious communities who like virtual reality to allow people to date in a way that respects their religious guidelines on how to date before marriage.
Planet Theta has an active Discord and is expected to launch on Oculus and Steam in 2022, and will eventually be available as a desktop PC version.