“In terms of security, it’s very simple. Women worry about their safety in ways men never consider,” say Aurora Townsendthe Chief Marketing Officer and founder of Planet Theta, a virtual reality dating app. Can VR remove some of the security risk?
†I’m not suggesting that we always replace dates with VR dates, but I think it’s a great idea to have a few VR dates before we meet in person, she says, adding, “And if you don’t date red flags and the interaction feels good, then you might decide it’s worth getting out of your sweatpants to meet in person… I still think a lot of women start texting their location to a friend for have the security and a bug-out plan, but I think a lot less women will need it now that they’re starting to use VR as a tool to filter out who they should meet in person.”
The dangers of dating– especially online – there are many, and Townsend thinks VR can tackle some of them, in addition to allowing users to hang out in an enchanted forest and meet others from somewhere in 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 back to the forefront of dating while still taking advantage of the convenience that technology offers,” said Townsend, an avid PC and board gamer who also recently became a licensed airline pilot. It’s safe to say she knows a thing or two about technology and trying new things.
So how is it different from any other app? On Planet Theta, users don’t swipe on profiles and then get in touch. Instead, they are matched for interest-based mini-dates and can only see each other’s profiles or posts afterwards. Townsend says, “This dating formula is much more effective at matchmaking because you minimize the amount of 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 people can use the app not only for finding matches, but also for: remote dating† For example, her brother is in a long-distance relationship, “so if he and his 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 what doesn’t for a VR date.”
Townsend is also convinced that having a woman at the helm of the project will be instrumental in making Theta safer for all types of people. The VR industry (and technology in general) are overwhelming male dominated† Researchers have found that because of that, many facets of VR– even up to headset design† end up being sexist†
“A woman’s voice in this industry is absolutely necessary,” she says, adding that men often *think* they are tackling safety issues but don’t do it effectively. “The bottom line is that if you don’t see anyone in the room who resembles the people for whom the decision is being made, it probably isn’t the best decision.”
Many tech companies have struggled to make VR spaces inclusive and safe. While some tech reporters have expressed hope that VR can be used to build empathy and challenging racism and sexismothers are concerned that we just “dealing with stereotypesand confirmation of gender-based assumptions.
Facebook’s Metaverse has already built a reputation for having a groping problemas well as reports from sexual harassmentbullying and even virtual rape† So far, the company has responded with: Victim Accusation Solutions about what users should have done to prevent the attacks. The problem is not isolated until VRbut just a more immersive and potentially psychologically dangerous version of the problems that exist in conventional online spaces.
How does Theta tackle these problems? While many virtual spaces have the option to turn on “bubbles” that prevent people from entering your space, Theta takes a more nuanced approach. †Personal space bubbles are built into Planet Theta and only decrease with a certain amount of time around other users. Ours is not just an on/off switch, but a reflection on how far your relationship has progressed.”
According to Townsend, Planet Theta is for everyone, but it has gained some surprising following. “In our closed betas, about 40% of our turnout was from the LGBT+ communities. We’ve also had interest from conservative religious communities who love that VR allows people to date in a way that respects their religious guidelines on how to date before marriage.”