Finding community and freedom on VRChat
One of the internet’s utopian promises was that you could reinvent yourself online and be whoever you wanted. In VRChat, Lasch is an animated girl with blushing cheeks and long white hair. Born in Germany, Lasch was assigned male at birth, but realized at a young age that they didn’t relate to that label. Today, they identify as non-binary and use the pronouns them and them.
They didn’t feel supported by their conservative family, but started experimenting with their gender expression in virtual reality, which helped them develop the confidence to start presenting themselves differently in real life as well. “During the tough times, I got myself back into this game,” they said, “and it helped me find my true self.”
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to VRChat becoming more of a mainstream clubbing space is the limitations of VR hardware. The best headphones are still expensive, and many find them bulky and report headaches or nausea. But with continued heavy investments in virtual reality from Meta and Sony, and with Apple working on a headset, the technology should continue to improve and become more accessible.
Since VR technology is relatively new, there hasn’t been much research on the long-term effect of spending a lot of time in virtual reality. “I spent so much time in VRChat, almost 4,000 hours,” Lasch said, “I have dreams that are in VR. Sometimes I spend 12 hours in VR and then when I come out of it, I see always the little mute symbol of the microphone in my vision.
Another obstacle is the fear that virtual reality will replace real reality. But many of its users said VRChat complements rather than supplants real life.
This is certainly true for Lincoln Donelan, who hosts parties called Loner both virtually and in his hometown of Melbourne, Australia. I found him one evening in the dingy bathroom of the virtual club chatting with a giant fox, two skateboarders and a guy in a tuxedo smoking a cigarette.