Image: HBO Max/Field of View
Documentary by director Joe Hunting We met in virtual reality, the first to be fully filmed in the VRChat social game, isn’t nearly as compelling as its multi-layered subject matter. It’s filmed from a personal distance, with Hunting still in hiding but his camera absorbing the cartoonish faces like a curious, patient eye. It dwells on the details, the outside of windows, the dark leaves of trees, the locks of hair, but Hunting is too preoccupied with the surface of virtual reality to help us dig into its core.
Dreamily and rambling, Hunting follows a cast of (surprisingly homogeneous) VRChat gamers through 2020, obviously, a time particularly conducive to physical isolation and feelings of helplessness. For the cast of Hunting, the appeal of VRChat is the power it gives them.
A bespectacled stripper in the game, IsYourBoi, recounts slamming her human face against a wall while dancing in VR. While her real nose was bleeding, she finished the performance, her avatar looking as neat as ever. Hunting delivers this information without commentary or mournful orchestral swell, choosing instead to discreetly dress up his subjects’ fascination with virtual reality as Nietzsche, perhaps, categorized the Übermensch – a superhuman unattached to the binding rules of fate. The Hunt pushes us to consider how VRChat is about breaking free, pursuing life as you have imagined it, and seizing your personal power.
“You can be whoever you always wanted to be,” says Toaster, an animated boy with animal ears and tail who is in love with DustBunny, an animated girl with matching animal ears and tail. “You can, sort of, start over.”
All of the cast members of We Met have different reasons for doing it again. Toaster battled anxiety and played VRChat muted for two years before meeting DustBunny. IsYourBoi dealt with the death of a family member and his own alcoholism before finding respite and even a marriage in virtual reality. In one of the film’s most poignant scenes, we see Ray_is_Deaf teaching American Sign Language in VRChatusing the game to heal from his brother’s suicide.
Standing with Jenny0629, another in-game ASL teacher, Ray lights a floating yellow lantern and names it his brother’s spirit going to heaven. We see the orange-tipped light rising, rising in the cloudy night sky. The sky seems real sometimes, until you notice there are too many stars. Or something seems to be off. As Jenny later said lying in the grass (actually, her mat): “I wish the clouds would move. […] Trying to see if I could see shapes in the clouds. I can’t.”
I don’t mind hunting. He is more interested in those people who get rid of the physical in exchange for the digital discharged. The camera soaks up the looseness – the virtual bodies that shimmer and change eye color like shoes – and the close bond of relationships that flow from it. In this regard, film studies professor Barbara Creed wrote in her 2003 book Media Matrix that the “global self” is “virtual, fluid, aware of both its immediate local world […] and other “worlds”.
We and Hunting can find the global self breadcrumb in VRChat. The subjects of the documentary are seduced by their ability to transcend their dark realities, taking refuge in the things they have seen, learned and collected on the global platform. They can attest that their avatars create a purer version of themselves while yearning for IRL encounters and finding no contradiction there. Online, for them, it’s a place of celebration, where they can get together, laugh, for a New Year’s party, or sob during IsYourBoi’s virtual wedding, as sincerely as you once could have done on a real pew.
Jenny and Ray watch the lanterns. Image: HBO Max/Field of Vision
Ray drops the lantern, people cry and coo during the wedding, but instead of savoring this permeable real and virtual world, I got stuck on an incomplete overview. And, unfortunately, glitches. They might not be memorable for those already familiar with VRChat, but for the larger audience We Met is looking to introduce the game to, the jerkiness will set all the lofty expectations of the metaverse on fire. Truth isn’t Tron, and even I found messy visuals against the film’s refusal to address them, as well as HBO Max’s sleeker reality offerings like Irma Vep and Belle.
VRChat’s technical pitfalls distract from the relationships We Met would rather focus on. During a party scene, I enjoyed witnessing the merrymaking, the bunnies and the hot girls coming together as one, but I was put off by the hands going through glasses of beer. I laughed during IsYourBoi’s wedding, when her avatar’s time and space defying breasts bounced in worry as she walked down the aisle.
I found myself asking more questions about VR while watching instead of being satisfied with We Met’s cheerful answers. Lovingly, Hunting prescribes what the French sociologist Jean Baudrillard describes in Simulacra and Simulation about Disneyland at VRChat, “what attracts the crowds is undoubtedly much more the social microcosm, the miniaturized and religious delight of real America, in its delights and inconveniences”.
But VRChat still doesn’t deserve what Baudrillard calls “the hyperreal,” the time when Disneyland becomes more vibrant and serious than the beige world that made it. The glitches, immortalized now in this film and the YouTube and Twitch footage that preceded it, tell us that VRChat is still, in many ways, an infant reality.
He is also spotted with teen shenanigans and racists, which a general population might not be familiar with, but those familiar with VRChat will feel left out of the documentary. The Hunt never touches on the ugliest, slowest parts of VRChat, nor does it explore whether virtual reality could make a person’s real life and relationships worse. There is no acknowledgment that any the copyright elements that make VRChat so “liberating” are under constant threat, and likely to disappear if the metaverse really takes off. And it doesn’t escape me that in a game where your avatar can be anything you cook up, the most popular is a fair-skinned, busty anime girl. I want to know more about all this. Right now, our burgeoning glitchy “metaverse” doesn’t replace reality — it borrows it and hides. But We Met insists with a well-meaning smile that we’re in the future, and the future is simple.
It’s amazing and sometimes even beautiful to see the cast of Hunting swinging on perfume genius and snuggle their twinkling faces together. Nor can I ignore that the documentary is historic: it legitimizes virtual worlds by filming entirely in one. It’s clear that Hunting takes video games seriously, but we’re still wading through the impact of the virtual world on our lives when we should be diving into it.
Article source https://kotaku.com/we-met-in-virtual-reality-vrchat-metaverse-joe-hunting-1849357053