The historic HBO VR film isn’t honest about the Metaverse

A VRChat character gives another a lap dance.

picture: HBO Max / Field of View

Documentary film by director Joe Hunting We met in virtual realitythe first to be filmed entirely in the parlor game VRChat, is not as compelling as its complex subject matter. It’s filmed from a personal distance, with Hunting always hidden but his camera picking up cartoonish faces like a curious, patient eye. It lingers in the details, the outside of the windows, the dark tree leaves, the strands of hair, but Hunting is too occupied with the surface of virtual reality to help us carve out its core.

Dreamy and disjointed, Hunting follows a cast of (surprisingly homogenous-looking) VRChat Players by 2020, obviously a particularly good time to physically isolate and feel powerless. For Hunting’s cast, the appeal of VRChat is the power it gives them.

A bespectacled stripper in the game, IsYourBoi, recounts how she slammed her human face against a wall while dancing in VR. With her real nose bleeding, she finished the performance, her avatar as groomed as ever. Hunting delivers this information without comment or sad, orchestral swell, choosing instead to tacitly clothe his subjects’ fascination with VR in ways Nietzsche might have categorized superman– a superman who is not bound by the binding rules of fate. The hunt urges us to reconsider the path VRChat is all about detaching, living life the way you envisioned it and embracing your personal power.

“You can be who you’ve always wanted to be,” says Toaster, an anime boy with animal ears and a tail who is in love with DustBunny, an anime girl with matching animal ears and a tail. “You can sort of start from scratch.”

All We metThe cast of have different reasons for starting over. Toaster fought with fear and played VRChat on mute two years before he met DustBunny. IsYourBoi dealt with the death of a family member and her own alcoholism before finding peace in VR and even getting married. In one of the film’s most poignant scenes, we see Ray_is_Deaf teaching American Sign Language in VRChatwho uses the game to heal from his brother’s suicide.

Alongside Jenny0629, another ASL teacher in the game, Ray turns on a floating yellow lantern and calls it his brother’s spirit that goes to heaven. We see the orange light rising, up into the cloudy night sky. The sky sometimes looks real until you realize there are too many stars. Or something seems to be off. As Jenny later says while lying on the grass (actually her rug), “I wish the clouds would move. […] I’m trying to see if I can see any shapes in the clouds. I can not.”

hunting doesn’t matter. He’s more interested in those people who shrug off the physical in exchange for the unencumbered digital. The camera captures the looseness—the virtual bodies that shine and change eye color like shoes—and the tight weave of the resulting relationships. Film studies professor Barbara Creed wrote about this topic in her 2003 book media matrix that the “global self” is “virtual, fluid, and both aware of its immediate local world […] and the other ‘worlds’.”

We and Hunting can find the global self breaded everywhere VRChat. The subjects of the documentary are thrilled that they can transcend their grim realities and take 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 as they long for IRL meetings and find no contradiction there. Online is a place of celebration for them, where they can giggle together for the New Year’s Eve party or sob together during IsYourBoi’s virtual wedding, as real as they once were from a real church pew.

Two VRChat characters stand under floating lanterns.

Jenny and Ray stare up at the lanterns.
picture: HBO Max / Field of View

Ray lets go of the lantern, people cry and coo throughout the wedding, but instead of enjoying this porous real, virtual world, I got stuck with the incomplete picture. And unfortunately the disturbances. They may not be memorable to those who are already familiar with them VRChatbut for the wider audience We met attempts to introduce the game, the choppy nature will set fire to any ambitious Metaverse expectations. The truth is no Tronand even I found messy visuals that speak strongly against the film’s refusal to address them, as well as HBO Max’s leaner, reality-bending offerings like Irma Vep and Lovely.

VRChatThe technical pitfalls of distract from the connections We met would much rather focus on that. During a party scene, I liked witnessing the celebrations, the bunnies and hot girls gathering, but I was put off by the hands running through the beer glasses. I laughed during IsYourBoi’s wedding as her avatar’s time and space-consuming breasts bounced in concern as she walked down the aisle.

I found myself asking more questions about VR as I watched, rather than being comfortable with it We met‘s happy replies. Hunting lovingly dictates what the French sociologist Jean Baudrillard described in Simulacra and simulation about Disneyland too VRChat“What attracts the masses is undoubtedly much more the social microcosm, the miniaturized and religious indulgence in the real America, in its joys and downsides.”

but VRChat has not yet earned what Baudrillard calls the “hyperreal,” the moment when Disneyland becomes more alive and serious than the beige world it created. The glitches now immortalized in this film and the YouTube and Twitch footage that preceded it tell us so VRChat is in many ways still a childish reality.

It is also spotted with teenage shenanigans and racistswhich a general population may not know, but those who are familiar with VRChat will feel missed in the documentary. The hunt never touches VRChats uglier, more sluggish parts, nor is he exploring whether VR could change a person’s real life and relationships for the worse. There is no acknowledgment of anything the copyright stuff that does VRChat So “liberation” is constantly under threat, and will likely disappear when the Metaverse really takes off. And it doesn’t escape me that in a game where your avatar can be anything you make up, the most popular one is a fair-skinned anime girl with big breasts. I want to know more about all of this. Currently, our burgeoning “metaverse” is not replacing reality – it is borrowing and hiding from it. but We met insists with a benevolent smile that we are in the future and the future is uncomplicated.

It’s amazing, and sometimes even enjoyable, to watch Hunting’s cast move back and forth perfume genius and nestle their flickering faces together. I also can’t ignore that the documentary is historical – it legitimizes virtual worlds by being filmed entirely in one. It’s clear that Hunting takes video games refreshingly seriously, but we’re still wading into the virtual world’s impact on our lives when we should dive in. The historic HBO VR film isn’t honest about the Metaverse

Curtis Crabtree

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