NOW ON HBO MAX! Seriously, doesn’t it seem like we’re about to take that first step into the Matrix? As the world isolated during lockdown, its citizens found connections in VRCHAT. This digital phenomenon prompted director Joe Hunting to grab his virtual camera and give us an in-depth tour of the coming Metaverse in his documentary, We Met in Virtual Reality.
The entire film takes place in VRCHAT, where users dawn VR gear and move around thanks to home motion capture cameras, custom avatars, and finger articulation. The film opens with a CG meet-up of sorts where avatars gather together and explore worlds that other members built. In this case, it’s a beautiful hillside, and a small group hops in a car for a joyride… which ends hilariously in a horrible crash.
Next, we move to a community center and observe one of the featured subjects, Jenny teaching an American Sign Language class called “Helping Hands.” Down the way is DustBunny, a fitness teacher online, and through VRCHAT, met her long-time partner, Toaster. Finally, there’s isYourBoi, a belly dancing instructor, who used VRCHAT to escape her life, kick alcohol, and is now engaged to fellow dancer DragonHeart.
Visually, the attraction to We Met in Virtual Reality is the worlds its members created, including a Jurassic Park-type land along with the wildly flamboyant and over-the-top avatars they use to wander the virtual universe. However, what Hunting does so well is getting right into the emotions and reasons why his subjects have embraced living in a virtual world.
“…spotlight the benefits of the VR community…”
I’m pretty sure the film is meant to spotlight the benefits of the VR community, and it does precisely that. But, I couldn’t help think about this world’s psychological, sociological, and emotional ramifications. We all want to be part of a community, which VRCHAT has, while at the same time allowing us to be anonymous in that community. As a result, there’s a closeness that forms while at the same time keeping these newfound connections at arm’s length.
For isYourBoi, she had suffered the death of a loved one IRL (in real li… I know, I’m being annoying). In real life, all others did was ask her how she was doing, and then she’d get depressed again. VRCHAT was a way to be anonymous and build relationships, but at the same time, she avoids the grief and pain of that loss.
We Met in Virtual Reality does show that virtual reality is an excellent alternative for those involved in long-distance romances like DustBunny and Toaster. Because of the pandemic, travel was virtually impossible. With avatars, the couple can be intimate physically and create romantic moments, like meeting for the first time at a virtual airport.
It also allowed members to express themselves through customizable avatars. In real life, we’re born with the bodies we have, but in VR, we present the bodies we desire. Think of it as the ultimate form of cosplay where money and materials are in abundance. Though I question the notion of dealing with one’s physical appearances, VR allows for that ultimate freedom to express oneself physically.
I have no right to judge anything onscreen, but I have many questions. This old guy finds absolutely no interest in joining the VR community. However, I got sucked into Second Life for our Film Threat events (subscribe to our email newsletter for upcoming Second Life events). But the always curious side of me enjoyed We Met in Virtual Reality. I found Hunting’s subjects fascinating, and I think more and more about what happened to us as a society since the lockdowns. Though we may disagree on our conclusions, this documentary is an eye-opener to the future of this ever-shrinking yet growing world.
We Met in Virtual Reality screened at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.
"…I found Hunting's subjects fascinating..."