People have been trying to form online communities since the advent of the Internet. Some of these communities are fantasy-based (World of Warcraft, Ultima Online) or based off from real life (Second Life). Some have been kid-friendly as well, shielding the youth from some of the darker aspects of the Internet and giving parents some peace of mind (Habbo Hotel, Club Penguin). Being part of an online community empowers people to socialize and interact own with various fan-made groups arising from massively multiplayer online (MMO) games.
VRChat utilizes the concept of these online communities and adds virtual reality (VR) into the mix to make for an immersive gaming experience. The game also challenges games such as Minecraft in that it is a sandbox game where anything can happen. The game is free on Steam, so anyone can pick it up and start playing with their friends. Like most other sandbox games, it can be used for fun or to create content.
You don’t necessarily need a VR headset to enjoy the game although having an Oculus Rift or an HTC Vive can help with fully experiencing this vast online world. While there is no real objective or an ending to the game, you can create an instanced world and a virtual avatar in the game. This game has been touted not only as a social space, but also as a sandbox where developers can experiment with VR to create their own games through the Unity engine in the company’s software developer kit (SDK). This sets the game apart from many of its competitors since the VRChat is open-ended.
You enter an area called “The Hub” which has several portals to worlds that are created by the developers and even other players themselves. You can watch YouTube videos with all of your friends in the game, walk on the surfaces of other planets, go to a virtual bar or go camping, just to name a few things. There are few mini-games within VRChat as well. For instance, you can go bowling with friends, play capture the flag, play a game called Battle Discs (which resembles Tron), and play a team-based multiplayer shooter named Steel n’ Gold.
The game is most noted for spreading the Internet meme known as “Ugandan Knuckles,” which is a poorly drawn model of Knuckles the Echidna from the Sonic the Hedgehog games. The players use the avatars, asking other players if they know “the way” using African accents. The meme has also brought to prominence a 2010 film entitled Who Killed Captain Alex? with players quoting lines from the movie in an African accent. It has drawn some controversy for being racist, even though the creator of the 3D model avatar himself said that it was not intended to be used for that purpose.
Outside of the meme, many Twitch streamers and YouTubers are also featuring the game in their content. VRChat Inc. said in an early January blog, “Another reason for our growth is we continue to attract lots of creative and talented creators. They have not only been adding their own content but also forming groups and helping in various ways from our Discord, from making tutorials on how to create avatars or build worlds to organizing events. We’ve also gone global. Our Discord community has many channels now for various languages around the world. The core of VRChat is an amazing hotbed of community creativity, sharing of knowledge, connections leading to collaborations, events, learning and more. We’re thankful to everyone involved for all their passion and creations.”
Remember the old saying, “Life is what you make it”? There may be an element of truth in that even in the online gaming world and especially with something such as VRChat, which has huge potential with VR devices starting to take off and bringing people together to do anything they want. It can inspire developers no matter where they are in the world to create their own games and at the same time, have some fun with fellow gamers around the world.
Also published in GADGETS MAGAZINE February 2018
Words by Jose Alvarez
Developer: VRChat Inc.
Publisher: VRChat Inc.