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'It's Not a Compliment': VR Lets You Feel What It's Like to Be Street-Harassed

This truly creepy virtual reality simulation allows anyone to experience the pervasiveness of street harassment.

The constant barrage of verbal harassment that women endure day-to-day is difficult to explain to anyone who hasn't experienced it, but a new virtual reality program seeks to simulate exactly how pervasive it can be.

Through Compliment, a new immersive VR adventure created by Parsons MFA student Lucy Bonner, anybody can walk down the street as a woman and experience the harassment that ensues firsthand. Bonner was inspired to create the project after she moved to Brooklyn and was confronted with an overwhelming amount of daily catcalls.

She found that when she simply explained what was happening to friends, many were incredulous—it was clear they had never experienced anything similar for themselves.

"They were surprised by the regularity, pervasiveness, and severity of my harassment experiences, and wanted to dismiss it as just something that has to be dealt with," she wrote of the project on her site. "Perhaps if they experienced it themselves they would be a little less quick to dismiss this constant and pervasive intrusion on women's lives."

She taught herself 3D development tool Unity for the project, which was her first in virtual reality. The project is uncannily realistic. When I tried on the Oculus and walked through Bonner's Compliment world, I felt like I was reliving my walk to work that day.

"I wanted to make it as realistic as possible," she told Motherboard. "Every piece of harassment that is in Compliment is something that has been said to me."

Bonner replicated an endless parade of men shouting lewd comments, grunting, smacking, or whistling, and purposely made the point of view of the simulation from a relatively short person's perspective.

"I designed the point of view to be small so you get a sense of the vulnerability you often feel in those situations," she said. "A lot of men said the height thing really got to them, because that is something you can't really experience as a six foot tall guy."

Bonner said based on initial reactions she has witnessed to Compliment, she feels she has already made an impact, helping those who haven't experienced street harassment to better empathize. Compliment is still a prototype, but Bonner she hopes to further develop it, enhancing the audio and increasing the number of characters, and making it still more realistic.