April 22, 2024

One of the utopian promises of the internet is that you can reinvent yourself online and become whoever you want to be. In VRChat, Lasch is an anime girl with flushed cheeks and long white hair. Born in Germany, Lasch was assigned male at birth but realized at a young age that they had nothing to do with that label. Today, they consider themselves non-binary and use the pronouns they and them.

Instead of having the support of their conservative family in this regard, they began experimenting with their gender expressions in virtual reality, which helped them build confidence and also began to present themselves differently in real life. “In tough times, I reinvented myself in this game,” they say, “It helped me find my true self.”

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to VRChat becoming a mainstream club space is the limitations of VR hardware. The best headsets are still expensive, and many people find them bulky and report headaches or nausea. But with Meta and Sony continuing to invest heavily in virtual reality, and Apple working on headsets, the technology should continue to improve and become more accessible.

Because VR technology is relatively new, there isn’t much research on the long-term effects of spending a lot of time in virtual reality. “I’ve spent a lot of time in VRChat, almost 4,000 hours,” Lasch said, “and I have dreams in VR. Sometimes I’ll spend 12 hours in VR, and then when I come out of it, I still see Microphone symbol in my field of vision, little dumb.”

Another hurdle is the fear that virtual reality is a substitute for real reality. But many of its users say VRChat complements real life, not replaces it.

Lincoln Donelan certainly did, throwing parties called Loner in his virtual world and in his hometown of Melbourne, Australia. I found him one night chatting with a big fox, some skater girls, and a guy in a tuxedo smoking in the dirty bathroom of a virtual club.

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