Finding Community, and Freedom, on VRChat

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One of the utopian promises of the internet was that you could reinvent yourself online and be anyone you wanted. In VRChat, Lasch is an anime girl with blushing cheeks and long white hair. Born in Germany, Lasch was assigned male at birth but realized at a young age they did not relate to that label. Today, they identify as nonbinary and use they and them pronouns.

They did not feel supported in this by their conservative family, but began to experiment with their gender expression in virtual reality, which helped them build the confidence to start presenting differently in real life, too. “During rough times, I remade myself in this game,” they said, “and it helped me find my real self.”

Perhaps the biggest barrier to VRChat becoming more of a mainstream clubbing space is the limitations of V.R. hardware. The best headsets are still expensive, and many find them bulky and report experiencing headaches or nausea. But with continued heavy investment in virtual reality from Meta and Sony, and with Apple working on a headset, the technology should keep improving and becoming more accessible.

Since V.R. technology is relatively new, there has not been much research into the long-term effect of spending large amounts of time in virtual reality. “I’ve spent so much time in VRChat, close to 4,000 hours,” Lasch said, “I have dreams that are in V.R. Sometimes I spend 12 hours in V.R. and then when I come out of it, I still see the little mute microphone symbol in my vision.”

Another obstacle is the fear that virtual reality is a substitute for actual reality. But many of its users said VRChat supplemented, rather than supplanted, real life.

This is certainly true for Lincoln Donelan, who runs parties called Loner both virtually and in his hometown, Melbourne, Australia. I found him one evening in the virtual club’s dingy bathroom chatting with a giant fox, a couple of skater girls and a guy in a dinner jacket smoking a cigarette.