During the pandemic, social life moved online. Businesses set up “virtual Christmas parties,” and friends invited friends to “virtual cocktail parties,” but these were awkward affairs at best, split screens on which every invitee stared at every other invitee at the same time. The booze dulled the pain.
For many others, social life moved to virtual reality.
Where VR Parties Once Blossomed
A VR party was better than a Zoom party, by many thousands of degrees.
These parties were like “real life.” They looked and sounded like real life. In many ways, they were even better.
Just like at a real-life cocktail party, you could drift through the crowd and mingle, but the worlds in which you drifted and mingled were more beautiful. A Brooklyn rooftop bar on a clear night, a Japanese garden, a Manhattan penthouse, a Harlem Jazz club, during the 1920s, where long-dead blues singers performed.
I visited a defunct 1980s Berlin nightclub with friends from around the world, celebrated New Year’s Eve at the Berlin Wall, in the past.
This didn’t feel “virtual,” like Zoom; it felt real. It wasn’t on a screen, it was an immersive world that spread out all around you. A genuine community grew. During the pandemic, I attended weekly parties with friends from around the globe I’d never met IRL.
A Brief AltSpace Renaissance
AltSpaceVR, owned by Microsoft, was at the forefront of this renaissance; on entering this app, a participant could see a listing of public events and sign up. Some were so popular that duplicate worlds were created to hold the overflow. Private get-togethers blossomed as well.
Other VR apps also had treasures to discover. BigScreen let you buy a movie ticket and watch a film in a virtual audience, real people all watching together; VARK let you buy a ticket to watch a concert in a beautiful VR concert hall, in a virtual audience of real people.
I wrote a regular column during this period for the then-great Audere Magazine, a sort of Goings on About Town for the VR-verse. The columns are still archived, and you can still read them.
A Post-Pandemic Slump
When the pandemic ended, the crowds thinned, and Microsoft pulled the plug on AltSpace. BigScreen shuttered its public theaters, although you can still rent films to watch on your own. VARK’s concerts are on-hold pending further fund-raising.
Former AltSpacers spread out to various other apps, none of which offers the same handy all-in-one-place schedule.
It is now much more difficultto find things to do in VR; but there are things to do.
VR can be part of a better future, and a better world, one in which scattered friends can sit at a coffee shop together once a month, bedridden patients can travel the world, young again, theater, concerts and movies are available to everyone. I want to revive this column and to help VR thrive as it should.
The Future of VR
I’m committed to growing the audience for these columns, to have the same readership that I did when I covered VR for Audere Magazine, and I will promote them relentlessly.
I cannot do it without your help. If you have gone to the trouble of building a world and planning an event, please do just one more step, and share it with me.
I look forward to working with you, and I look forward to a bright future for the virtual universe that we love.
This article is written by Steven S. Drachman. He is the author of Watt O’Hugh and the Innocent Dead, which is available in trade paperback from your favorite local independent bookstore, from Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and on Kindle.
Image by Kalyee Srithnam.