2022 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW! Seriously, doesn’t it look like we’re about to take that first step into The Matrix? As the world went into isolation 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 future Metaverse in his documentary, We met in virtual reality.
The entire film takes place in VRCHAT, where users experience VR equipment and move around using home motion capture cameras, custom avatars and finger articulation. The film opens with a sort of CG meetup where avatars come together and explore the worlds that other members have built. In this case, it’s a nice hill, and a small group hops in a car for a ride…which hilariously ends in a horrific crash.
Next, we go to a community center and observe one of the featured subjects, Jenny teaching an American Sign Language class called “Helping Hands.” Downstairs, online fitness instructor DustBunny, and via VRCHAT, caught up with her longtime partner, Toaster. Finally there is isYourBoi, a belly dancing instructor, who used VRCHAT to escape her life, get rid of booze and is now engaged to fellow dancer DragonHeart.
Visually, the attraction for We met in virtual reality are the worlds its members have created, including a Jurassic Park-like land as well as the wildly flamboyant and over-the-top avatars they use to wander around the virtual universe. However, what Hunting does so well is go directly into the emotions and reasons why his subjects have embraced life in a virtual world.
“… bring to light the benefits of the VR community…”
I’m pretty sure the movie is meant to highlight the benefits of the VR community, and that’s precisely what it does. But, I couldn’t stop thinking about the psychological, sociological and emotional ramifications of this world. We all want to be part of a community, which VRCHAT has, while allowing us to be anonymous in that community. As a result, there is a closeness that forms while keeping these new connections at a distance.
For isYourBoi, she had suffered the death of a loved one IRL (actually…I know, I’m annoying). In real life, all other people did was ask her how she was and then she would come back down. VRCHAT was a way to be anonymous and build relationships, but at the same time, it avoids the grief and pain of this loss.
We met in virtual reality shows that virtual reality is a great alternative for those involved in long-distance romances like DustBunny and Toaster. Due to the pandemic, travel was virtually impossible. With avatars, the couple can be physically intimate and create romantic moments, like meeting for the first time in a virtual airport.
It also allowed members to express themselves through customizable avatars. In real life we are born with the bodies we have, but in virtual reality we are presented with the bodies we desire. Think of it as the ultimate form of cosplay where money and materials are in abundance. Although I question the notion of managing one’s physical appearance, virtual reality allows this ultimate freedom to express oneself physically.
I’m not allowed to judge anything on screen, but I have a lot of questions. This old man 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 appreciated We met in virtual reality. I found the subjects of Hunting fascinating, and I think more and more about what has happened to us as a society since the lockdowns. While we may disagree on our conclusions, this documentary is an eye-opener about the future of this ever-smaller but growing world.
We met in virtual reality projected to 2022 Sundance Film Festival.