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The Desert of the Unreal: Inequality in Virtual and Augmented Reality

26 Pages Posted: 8 Aug 2017 Last revised: 27 Aug 2017

Mary Anne Franks

University of Miami School of Law

Date Written: August 6, 2017


The world we all live in is structured by inequality: of gender, race, class, sexual orientation, disability, and more. The promoters of virtual and augmented reality often claim that they offer a more perfect world, one that offers more stimulation, more connection, more freedom, more equality. For such technologies to be considered truly innovative, they should in some sense move us beyond our current limitations and prejudices. But when existing inequalities are unacknowledged and unaddressed in the “real” world, they tend to be replicated and augmented in virtual realities. We make new worlds based on who we are and what we do in old ones. All of our worlds, virtual and physical, are the product of human choice and human creation. The developers of virtual and augmented reality make choices about which aspects of our lived history they want to replicate, enhance, or change. The design – and design flaws - of new virtual and augmented reality technologies reveal much about the values of their developers and their consumers, providing a unique opportunity to evaluate just how innovative new technologies are with regard to social inequality.

Keywords: virtual reality, augmented reality, revenge porn, pokemon go, surveillance, inequality, gender, race, class, sexual harassment

Suggested Citation

Franks, Mary Anne, The Desert of the Unreal: Inequality in Virtual and Augmented Reality (August 6, 2017). UC Davis Law Review, Forthcoming; University of Miami Legal Studies Research Paper No. 17-24. Available at SSRN:

Mary Anne Franks (Contact Author)

University of Miami School of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 248087
Coral Gables, FL 33146
United States


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