The sexual harassment lawsuit against UploadVR was reported to be settled via Tech Crunch on September 6th, and a week later the New York Times followed with more details about how Upload had been barely dented. The case was settled without any elaboration about what did or didn’t happen beyond a vague open letter from the founders of UploadVR. This issue has has splintered the VR community into different factions of people who are either actively blacklisting Upload or have written it off as an isolated incident that has resulted in changes and growth.
Former employee Danny Bittman wrote about his brief time at Upload in a recent Medium post and there were some women who spoke out in a Buzzfeed article in July, but beyond that not many people with first or second-hand knowledge of the lawsuit allegations have made statements on the record. (You can find my Facebook posts about Upload since May here: 1 2 3 4 5). There hasn’t been a lot of people who have been willing to talk about this issue on the record, but this seems to be changing after the latest round of news about the settlement lawsuit that has left segments of the VR community very unsettled.
One woman from the VR community who was willing to talk to me about the community fallout from the UploadVR lawsuit was Selena Pinnell, who is the co-founder of Kaleidoscope VR festival and fund. She is also a producer and featured participant within the Testimony VR project. I previously interviewed the director of Testimony VR project about their efforts to use VR to create an immersive context for women and men to share testimony about their experiences of sexual assault so that audiences can bear witness to those direct experiences. Skip Rizzo has said that healing from PTSD involves being able to tell a meaningful narrative about your traumatic experiences while remaining emotionally present, and Testimony VR is trying to create a new form of restorative justice by capturing these stories within VR that viewers can have have an one-on-one level of intimacy while they bear witness. Pinnell talks about how powerful it was to have over 150 co-workers and friends witness her testimony about being a rape survivor within the context of a VR experience.
LISTEN TO THE VOICES OF VR PODCAST
While VR holds potential for the future of distributing new forms of restorative justice, this issue with Upload feels like it’s a long way from achieving a state of justice and a full accounting of the truth of what happened. Members from the Women in VR communities privately do not feel like justice has currently been served, and Pinnell voices those common concerns as to why she can no longer support Upload as well as why in her assessment the leadership team of Upload never fully accounted for what exactly they did wrong and what they’ve learned.
She also says that it’s hard to trust the leadership after they originally declared that the originally allegations in the lawsuit were “entirely without merit.” Pinnell talks about how crushing it can be to have your testimony of your direct experience be so explicitly denied in this way, especially when it comes to taboo topics like sexual harassment or sexual assault. (Note that the original allegations against Upload were harassment, gender discrimination, hostile work environment, unequal pay, and retaliation, and there weren’t any allegations of sexual assault.) Pinnell emphasizes how important it is to try to listen to women when they are providing testimony about not feeling safe within a work environment, and to try not to go directly towards demanding objective proof from a frame of skeptical disbelief. Learning how to listen, empathize, and reflect the truth of a direct experience is a skillset that is needed here, and it’s something that the unique affordances of the virtual reality community can help to cultivate through projects like Testimony VR. But there’s many more unresolved issues and open questions that Pinnell and I discuss in deep dive into new models of restorative justice and the community fallout surrounding the Upload lawsuit settlement.