Career Paths Multiply in a Virtual World

Researching accessibility—or lack thereof—in virtual reality expands career prospects for non-tech majors at SCU.

Career Paths Multiply in a Virtual World
Maddy Javier ’23 worked with an SCU team to develop a critique and analysis of Meta Quest Pro VR headsets. The team is presenting their findings on accessibility and inclusion at an international conference. Photos by Miguel Ozuna.

Maddy Javier ’23 worried what she’d do with her communication degree. “What am I going to do if I don’t want to go into journalism or film?” she thought. But then she was introduced to virtual reality, which opened the door to previously unknown opportunities in communications research. Now, she and a team from SCU’s Imaginarium Lab are preparing for a trip to Australia to share their findings on accessibility and inclusion in the VR platform Meta Horizon Worlds.

Javier’s outlook started to shift when she took a quantitative research methods course with Assistant Professor David Jeong, who also serves as director of the Imaginarium—a lab where students explore the intersection of technology with the arts and humanities. Jeong suggested Javier join the lab and continue research for her project on how social anxiety and mental health were affected during the pandemic. When the lab received 10 Meta Quest Pro VR headsets, Javier was excited for the opportunity to lead a team that would test usability.

With the headset on, a user creates their own avatar to interact with other users in a variety of virtual environments and games. Meta’s initial limited customization options raised concerns among the study participants about inclusivity.

Limitations in the avatar creation included the range (or lack thereof) of skin colors, body shapes, gender expressions, height, and accessibility. The team also studied how people experience body dysmorphia through VR, observing how some avatars did not reflect what the user looked like in real life.

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“Some people might present an avatar that makes them feel a certain way about their body,” Javier says. “Limited options could make them feel insecure or hurt their self-esteem.”

The ultimate goal of their critique is to encourage broader representation capabilities in future technology developments. Javier and her team had three papers on their Metaverse research accepted to the 74th annual International Communication Association Conference this June in Australia. It’s a huge accomplishment for an undergraduate. But more than that, her virtual world research has better prepared her for real world opportunities to come.

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