Concept / Background:
VR has so far largely been treated as an extension of film – a solitary experience offered up at exclusive festivals by acclaimed directors with a point of view. But by extending current platforms, such as Gaming and Social Media, we could cultivate virtual communities that can teleport to connect with one another, and conjure up real-world tools, impossible spaces, and even bodies to inhabit.
I’ve been spending a lot of time in the hyperreal landscape of VRChat as an exploration of social VR. After a few hours there, I started feeling its effects on at least part of my conscious and subconscious.
I looked down at my legs at home one day and felt a bizarre, numb, disconnected sensation that these legs were not actually “real” and were somehow replaceable (or interchangeable for another pair of literally anything else). There were also dreams that felt like they took place in VR. I found some interesting threads from the last few months that seem to correlate:
If my VRChat experiences have already begun affecting how I relate to my own body, I wonder how continued use would influence our notion of identities, which could perhaps become more fluid or multidimensional. And in eliminating barriers of “real space”, our virtual interactions could change the nature of our personal connections in the digital universe.
What I made:
I built a world called MaiSpace, my first virtual place and home, and it’s uploaded to VRChat, a current social VR platform. By using the VRChat SDK for Unity, I tried experimenting with mechanics for navigating between three levels, including a moving chair and a teleportation portal. Each level reveals itself as a new layer – with the last being a giant sphere that encompasses all.
Here is a link to an edit of me running around by myself in my space (more documentation of social interactions in there to follow):
In attempt to think through possible ways in which we might Search through these worlds and their atmospheric elements, I went back to my initial idea that worlds could function as containers. I could imagine Machine Learning algorithms identifying objects, music search algorithms scraping through similar soundscapes, and certain triggers or functions structuring types of experiences, such as games or expeditions, “hang out” zones, mystery narratives, work areas, or other functional spaces. Looking through the built-in VRChat “Scene Descriptor” in Unity, there is a list of “Dynamic Materials” the program automatically generates, which already include elements like 3D objects, materials, and sound. This would still rely on search terms made up of words, but perhaps advancements in object detection and AI could help categorize the contents of worlds in a more efficient way.
I also started playing around with the 3rd person “streaming camera” function that was just added in the latest update. It would be an amazing experiment to cut together a sort of experience film from having my friends hang out in there, with multiple cameras / perspectives to record from.
I’m looking forward to continuing down this path and creating more impossible spaces, and of course fixing this one up for public access. With most of my family overseas, my ultimate dream for VR has been to be able to meet my mum for a drink on the beach in Tel Aviv, our place of refuge. Whether this happens through a crazy realtime Google Earth VR SDK / API / etc or 360 volumetric webcam or abstract space on a social platform, it feels like I’m a headset and PC laptop away from achieving at least a rough, elementary version of that.