On the 4th of October, I attended a lecture titled “UI and Male-Centred Design with Kenneth
Boyd”. The talk explored many common mistakes in UX and UI design, and in particular how many
decisions fail to account for women’s experiences. I personally found the discussion very interesting.
It led me to do some research on some examples of male-centred design I remembered from previous readings. I believe this provides a clear example of how male-centred design can manifest
itself in the fields of Computer Science, in this case, Virtual Reality (VR) software and hardware.
The intersection of male-centred design and Human-Computer Interaction is one that is
unfortunately not lacking in examples. Take, for instance, the case of the VR game Resident Evil 4. In
it, users can add items to be in front of them for ease of access. As this is a shooter, having good
access to these items is a deciding factor in both immersion and making the gameplay satisfying.
What was discovered post-launch was that some women players were punching their own chests
when trying to pick these items up (Heaton, 2021). This breaks the immersion of the game (it
reminds the player of the dissonance between the physical world and the virtual world) and leads to
the more important problem of making such a mechanic dangerous. If a player is in a high-stress
situation in the game, and they try to do this, they might try to quickly grab their item, punch
themselves, and thus hurt themselves.
Fortunately, the women who experience this issue have suggested their own solutions for
this problem: accounting for different body types and adjusting accordingly in an in-game menu.
Whilst this might be a straightforward enough fix (ignoring the actual difficulty of implementing
such a solution), there is another way to make sure that this issue would not occur post-launch.
Having people of different body types (tall, short, women, men, etc) in Quality Assurance testing.
Whilst in normal video game production this might not be of such a concern unless designing new
hardware perhaps, VR is in a unique position in which both human interaction with hardware and
software is inherently shaped by the physical world. This makes the concern of accessibility doubly
important (this isn’t even beginning to mention questions of accessibility to those with physical
disabilities). Commercial VR software, and in particular commercial VR video game software, is a
very new field and as such these hurdles are bound to appear due to design decisions that were
unquestioned before. But if we want to allow for as many people as possible to participate, then it
requires thinking about different physical obstacles to interacting with the virtual world from the
beginning of the design process, not as an afterthought.
To highlight the point about hardware more specifically: women who use VR are more likely
to get “cybersickness” than men (Stanney et al., 2020; Allen, et al. 2016). This appears to be due to
two reasons. The first being that women tend to have different “interpupillary distance” (IPD) on
average, which some VR headsets might not account for well. As evidence for this, once in the
experiment by Stanney et al. they did manage to adjust the headsets by the on-average difference in
IPD, it led to a similar likelihood of cybersickness in men. The second reason possibly is that as
Allen et al. suggest (though their study was not directly aiming to measure this), the women in their
experiment were more likely to quit early which was likely due to women performing better at “3D
motion tasks”, and thus being better at feeling the dissonance between what their eyes were seeing
and their physical-world balance.
These studies, though perhaps of small sample size, do indicate that this is a good direction
for future research. The video games industry, and VR more specifically, serve as particularly clear
examples of male-centred design and how we create software and hardware. Due the inherently
necessary property of immersion (interacting with the software so naturally you forget you are
interfacing through hardware), these issues become more noticeable than otherwise. But this
introduces difficulties: software in this day and age can be updated with some sort of frequency, but
hardware is much harder to update. To fix the aforementioned issues, this would require more
research into designs that accommodate both men and women, and then the replacement of the
current models. It would not be a cheap thing to do.
That all being said, it is nonetheless necessary. The more research is done into this area the
more specific and targeted the necessary changes become, and thus the clearer the ideal final
product becomes: one where the differences in software and hardware experiences between men
and women are negligible.
Heaton, A. P. (2021) Resident Evil 4 VR Has Design Flaw That is Causing Female Gamers Some
Discomfort: GameRant. Available at: https://gamerant.com/resident-evil-4-vr-design-flaw-female-
Stanney, K., Fidopiastis, C. and Foster, L. (2020) 'Virtual Reality Is Sexist: But It Does Not Have to Be',
Frontiers in Robotics and AI, 7. doi: 10.3389/frobt.2020.00004
Allen, B., Hanley, T., Rokers, B. and Green, C. S. (2016) 'Visual 3D motion acuity predicts discomfort
in 3D stereoscopic environmen', Entertainment Computing, 13. doi: