Stuff to Watch and Places to Hike, in VR

I used to write a column for Audere Magazine called “Things to Do in VR.” Since  there was a whole world of entertainment that existed in immersive, beautiful artificial worlds, I thought that these venues deserved to be reviewed in a New Yorker/ “Talk of the Town”-style format. Concerts, movies, bowling, nightclubs, restaurants — I reviewed it all. The column began when the pandemic still raged, and those of us under quarantine could still live a social life out in the world, though it wasn’t the world we’d known.

These columns were heavily focused on AltSpaceVR and Venues, with a bit of Vark, which were the best places to go. Now both Venues and AltSpace are gone; Venues disappeared into a bigger and more confusing Meta app, where it is harder to keep track of entertainment, and AltSpaceVR’s corporate parent, Microsoft, shut the app down altogether. Vark raised around $7M in May, but the owners say they need “at least ten times” that amount to be successful, and, while the pretty world is still standing, its virtual auditorium hasn’t hosted a live concert since April.   

AltSpace was especially spectacular, with free entertainment listings available as soon as you logged in, and an apartment where you could entertain friends. So its loss was especially devastating, and the heartbroken AltSpace refugee community hasscattered to various other apps, or left VR completely.

I will readily admit, the future that I foresee for VR is more extreme than most other fans would want. But for all of us who think there is some kind of amazing future in VR, the show must go on, in some form or other.

Some AltSpacers have uploaded their worlds to new forums, and I’ve been MIA. Now I will do my best to do my part. If I can figure out the new terrain, I will let you know where to go and what to see, and I begin, tentatively, this week. Please contact me through the Oblivioni website if there is something you think I should cover.

What to Watch in VR

One of the big impediments to the full adoption of VR, by which I mean the adoption of VR as a kind of living space, is that it can be difficult to share certain experiences, especially home entertainment. In many VR worlds, you can socialize with friends from around the globe, but not when it comes to something as simple as watching TV. In real life, you can watch Netflix or Prime Video with your family; in VR, your home entertainment center is much more beautiful, but you can only watch alone. Till something as fundamental as watching TV becomes a communal experience, VR entertainment will remain a niche endeavor.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t great things to watch in VR, though.

The top of the list of November releases (maybe the only November release) is NightMara: Episode 3.

The brain child of writer/director Gianpaolo Gonzalez, Nightmara is a series of CGI cartoon shorts about a brave, foul-mouthed 11-year-old orphan from a place called Brighton City, who drives a sleek and speedy convertible through the pre-teen nightmares, where she battles demons and Brighton’s evil Mayor Doesgood. In this episode, little Ned Nimrod, who was abducted by aliens in Episode 1, may be on the verge of rescue, but new nightmares await. This episode is especially cartoonishly gruesome! While the story is nimbly told, the spectacular effects seal the deal; swirling camerawork spins you through a 360-degree world, into TV screens and comic strip frames, down dark noirish streets, into holes in the ground inside of dreams. Someday, all TV will be like this, and we’ll all be really happy. 

Unlike a lot of stuff in VR, Nightmara is easy to find! Just go into your headset, click the free “VR Animation Player” app, and it’s right there.

Where to Hike in VR

One of the problems with VR is mobility; if you want to walk across a crowded virtual nightclub, eventually you’ll bump your head against a wall in your real-life apartment. Your goggles will warn you before you crash, but the illusion is blown. Many people maneuver through their VR world using joysticks, which is not much like walking.

Cybershoes are one solution to this problem. To summarize briefly how they work: you walk around, using your legs and feet. Wheels on the shoes ensure you don’t move around in real life, but inside your virtual world, it feels as though you’re walking. Not as fast your friends who are propelling themselves with joysticks!

Cybershoes aren’t compatible with many VR apps, but they are compatible with VR Chat, an app filled with expansive virtual worlds, many of them perfect for exploring with your new shoes.

Avid hikers feel a little jumpy during the winter months, and VR has a solution.

The VRC National Forest is a hiking trail within VR Chat, created by a world-builder who calls himself OhYeahItsMike. The hike begins at an intersection with a country road, and soon takes you into a mountain forest; you can hike through the afternoon and into the night, till the moon and stars come out, and crickets’ chirping replaces birdsongs. The hike stretches thirteen kilometers, long enough to satisfy the most avid hiker, and your muscles will feel every one of those kilometers.

While not as long, Daisy Shaw’s Solitude world, in VR Chat, is also a great hike. I make no secret of the fact that I bought my Cybershoes just so I could walk around in Solitude, a world of mountains, trees, lakes and an abandoned castle, which I wrote about back when it was in AltSpace. It’s a beautiful, relaxing break, and with your Cybershoes on, it’s also a bracing and vigorous winter hike.

See you soon.

^^^

This column was written by Steven S. Drachman. Steven is the author of a science fiction trilogy, The Strange and Astounding Memoirs of Watt O’Hugh the Third, which is available in paperback from your local bookstore, Amazon and Barnes & Noble; it is also available as a Kindle e-book.

Cover Image by Kalyee Srithnam.

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