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HBO’s VR documentary offers an overly optimistic view of the metaverse

“Metavers” is a nearly ubiquitous buzzword these days. With Meta, born Facebook, and other tech companies pushing the benefits of Web 3.0 and the Metaverse, very few of us really understand what this digitized future really looks like. But for users of VRChatthe metaverse is already a part of their daily lives — and it’s only getting better

HBO’s new documentary We met in virtual reality presents viewers with a cast of characters that represent the ideal of what the Metaverse has to offer, but it makes glaring omissions about the issues plaguing the platform. For the uninitiated, the film is a sweet portrait of how humans build relationships in difficult times, but We met in virtual reality fails to fully engage with the full spectrum of digital life.

digital love

We met in virtual reality begins in 2020, with a world in the midst of a global pandemic. What better time to try virtual reality?

During the HBO documentary, we are introduced to a small group of people who are using virtual reality as an escape during the pandemic. Dust Bunny is a dancer who teaches VRChat while maintaining a relationship with her partner Toaster. The characters IsYourBoi and DragonHeart plan their in-game wedding. Then there’s Jenny and Rey who work to teach sign language in virtual reality to make the space more accessible. Director Joe Hunting shot the film entirely in VRChat, one of the most popular VR games. The ambitious film immerses the viewer in this world and effectively conveys why these actors are so invested in what it has to offer.

Just like the 2021 animated movie Beautiful, We met in virtual realityThe main interest of for the digital world is how it allows people to escape from real life. But at the same time Beautiful does not recognize the value of living a digital double life, We met in virtual reality revels almost exclusively in the joy of building relationships in virtual reality. Rather than focusing on individual characters, three main stories unfold which focus on pairs of players and what VRChat meant for their relationship (in love or not).

The community is highlighted in the documentary showing virtual reality at its best.HBO

While each story helps demonstrate how the Metaverse can help people in myriad ways, the heart of We met in virtual reality is the story of Jenny and Rey.

They help run a digital school for sign language by VRChat called Helping Hand. Jenny shares how being part of this community made her realize that there were people in the world she cared about and who cared about her in return, which helped her recover from a previous attempt. of suicide. Rey is a deaf gamer who communicates through American Sign Language (ASL) in VRCchat, something that allowed him to make friends in the Metaverse at a time when he was dealing with the death of his brother.

In one of the most touching scenes in the documentary, Rey and Jenny light a lantern for Rey’s brother in VRChat and send him into the sky while Rey says goodbye. The tangible emotions that come out in times like this are enough to bring tears to my eyes. This speaks to the fact that despite its absurd aesthetic, the virtual world can offer genuine human connection and emotion.

A bug in the matrix

The metaverse as envisioned by big tech does not include the freedom of VRChat.Meta

As a film aimed at those unfamiliar with virtual reality, We met in virtual reality succeeds. Most people will walk away thinking that VRChat is a bit quirky but filled with kindness. In many ways, the 91-minute film is the perfect advertisement for the metaverse promises made by tech companies like Meta. Yet the film never addresses the many issues actively facing VRChata fact that makes the film’s attempted immersion more voyeuristic and detached from its subjects than intended.

The plethora of anime cat girls, furries, and pop culture characters like Kermit the Frog never get an explanation. There’s an inherent absurdity to it that feels like how Loan player one was full of cameos from every entertainment franchise possible. But while some people might come expecting to see the promise of a virtual future, they might come away disappointed by the prominence of glitchy character models and animation that persists throughout the documentary.

Despite these flaws, VR still comes across as a space of liberation, which only rings true for indie projects like VRChat.

The future of the metaverse as envisioned by big tech is filled with regulation, censorship, and monetization. The current state of VRChat represents an early Internet-like state, about to be ruined by corporate intrusion. Those who use VRChat currently fear that the game will change forever with the announcement that it will soon include Epic Games’ Easy Anti Cheat software. This would make all third-party software incompatible with the game. For players with accessibility issues like Rey, this would mean necessary accessibility features would disappear overnight.

Director Joe Hunting fails to add much-needed context.HBO

We met in virtual reality depicts VRChat as a very welcoming community, a community that welcomes everyone. It’s hopeful at best and misleading at worst. VRChat has incredible communities in its wider universe, as the spotlighted players show, but it also has a rampant problem with racism and other problematic behaviors. The documentary chooses to prioritize people’s stories without giving much-needed context. A necessary complement to this documentary is a People Make Games video which studies and explains the cultural functioning of VRChat and the uncertain future facing the game.

Whereas We met in virtual reality does not fully engage with the intricacies of its subject matter, the deeply moving stories depicted therein argue for the benefits of a virtual world. It may be an overly optimistic view, but sometimes hope is what the world (virtual or real) needs.

We met in virtual reality is available to stream on HBO Max.

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