Onstage at Oculus Connect this week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that his goal is to get one billion people into virtual reality. Many of them will come to VR for an escape, the chance to step into fantasy realms or explore far-off places they can’t travel to in real life. Games are at the heart of the current Oculus experience. But Facebook also imagines that much of the social interaction which currently takes place in phone calls, video chats, text messages, and wall posts will someday happen between avatars sharing a virtual world. Right now this kind of social VR is powered by a software platform called Spaces. Rachel Franklin is the executive leading up the development of Spaces, and we got the chance to chat with her about the work she’s done since joining Facebook one year ago. Franklin shared details of the philosophy that drives her team’s design choices and how her background working on The Sims has shaped her approach to social VR. She shared her thoughts on what the most successful elements of Facebook’s push into virtual reality have been so far, and what went wrong with the recent attempt to marry VR to disaster relief. So let’s back up a little. What led you to your work on The Sims? I’ve always had a fascination with the interaction between technology and people. I’ve been in interactive media and games for over twenty years. It was an awesome way to take technology and psychology and kind of mash them up. When you were starting out in games, how social was it? Not at all. But there was the ability to forge an emotional connection with a character that wasn’t real. As you’re designing a game, you’re learning what are the cues that make the player care about a certain character. I think you could take a lot from that and help enhance the avatars we have today in VR that do have a real person behind it. The ability to forge an emotional connection with a character that wasn’t real. There is a balance there that we have to strike there. Go too far, and all of a sudden your avatar is making a giant guffaw sound with a big grin on their face and you think, I didn’t do that? You have to have agency over what your avatar is doing, but have it