‘We Met in Virtual Reality’ finds love in the metaverse

Deepak Gupta
Deepak Gupta January 22, 2022
Updated 2022/01/22 at 12:43 AM

Mark Zuckerberg’s vision of a sanitized, hypercapitalist metaverse will likely never be as compelling or idiosyncratic as VRChat, the virtual reality community that has been home to fans of anime, Furries, and a host of other subcultures since 2014. We met in Virtual Reality, the first documentary filmed entirely in VRChat, which premiered today at the Sundance Film Festival.

There’s no way Zuck’s metaverse will let people wear trademarked avatars without paying a ton, frequent exotic clubs to receive (or give) virtual lapdances, or let users build whatever the hell they want. VRChat, as portrayed by , is basically a proto-metaverse where anything is possible. And for many, it has served as a crucial social hub during the pandemic, a place where they can forget about the world, relax with friends and perhaps find love.

But of course this has been the nature of virtually every online community. We are social animals – people have always been able to connect through BBS, IRC, Usenet and the plethora of forums and chat services that populated the early Internet. I spent most of the 90s in anime and gaming chat rooms, the kind of places that today’s online youngsters would probably find strange. Still, the people I met there helped me survive the worst parts of middle and high school. These relationships and the internet itself have shaped me into who I am (for better or for worse).

We met in Virtual Reality proves that the unbridled and experimental sense of the online community is still alive and well today, despite Big Tech’s relentless consolidation. But now, instead of looking at tiny CRT monitors, people are using VR headsets to explore fully realized environments. Hardcore VRChat users are also investing in powerful computing equipment, as well as upgrades like finger and full-body tracking. Back in the 90s, I was grateful to have an extra 16MB of RAM so I could have more than one browser window open. Today, VRChat devotees can communicate using American Sign Language or have their anime avatars show off their belly dancing skills.

Hunting approaches her affairs with an anthropologist’s eye, without any judgment towards her sometimes ridiculous avatars (all anime girls need to have jiggly, Dead or alive-physical level of boobs?). We met in Virtual Reality It starts out as a laid-back movie – we follow a group of friends as they sip virtual drinks and ride rough-built VR cars – but quickly moves beyond the novelty of its setting. One person credits his VRChat girlfriend for helping them “mute” after being silent for two years. An exotic artist explains that being able to dance for people on VRChat helped her grieve through a family tragedy and manage a bout of alcoholism.

We met in Virtual Reality

Joe Hunting

The film chronicles how that exotic dancer, a young girl based in the UK, formed a romantic relationship with another VRChat user in Miami. These types of cyber relationships are nothing new, but the VR platform has allowed them to do much more than exchange links and memes over instant messages. They could exist in a space together, go to new environments every night. I won’t spoil where things end up for the couple, but I can say it wouldn’t have been as effective outside of VR.

We met in Virtual Reality effectively conveys why people would gravitate towards VRChat, especially during a pandemic. But it doesn’t fully capture the wonder of exploring these environments yourself. Watching people hop on a virtual roller coaster isn’t nearly as exciting as doing it, where your entire field of vision is covered and you can easily get vertigo. But I don’t blame Hunting too much for that; his job was to summarize the VR experience so people could enjoy it on a 2D screen, and the film is more successful in that regard. The film was shot using a virtual camera that can mimic all the functionality of a typical shooter, from focus points to aperture levels. So even though it’s produced in an alien environment that most people aren’t familiar with, it still feels like a traditional documentary.

Hunting has spent the last few years making VR documentaries, starting with a few short films, as well as the . It is clear from We met in Virtual Reality that he’s not just jumping into the community for a quick story. Instead, he sees the humanity behind virtual avatars and connections. These people aren’t just escaping their lives with VR – their lives are becoming richer because of it.

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