Essentials Week spotlights unexpected items that make our daily lives just a little bit better.
Want to soar around a floating iridescent tree in a neon-lit, Tron-inspired atrium with one arm outstretched like some virtual Superman? Or perhaps you’re the type who’d prefer to hang around an “Ancient Art Museum” offering dating advice to strangers engaged in strained virtual romances? Maybe you just want to park your avatar in front of a mirror at “The Void” club and chat up cute femboys and girls on the off chance you’ll get a lap dance and experience the phenomenon known as phantom touch. Or you could explore The Great Plateau from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and quite literally become Link.
It’s your choice. This is a zone of endless possibilities, and it’s called VRChat.
In any other year of more recent human history, I wouldn’t have designated VRChat, a free-of-charge collection of public and private virtual worlds that anyone with a VR headset or plain ol’ PC can access, as essential. It’s fun but frivolous; a playground of sorts for randos to connect, share some laughs, play social games, and trololol with an ever-expanding assortment of hilarious avatars. (The cardboard cutout of Danny DeVito as “Frank” from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is a personal favorite.)
But 2020 isn’t any other year — it’s the poop-dollar year which will inspire many reflective films, TV shows, books, and essays about the sheer stupidity of humans, especially those in positions of power. It’s the year we forcibly retreated into our homes, apartments, or manses in an attempt to stop a globe-trotting plague. It’s the year that has so far prevented me, like many others, from connecting in person with my loved ones on the opposite coast. (Among other worries, I’m paralyzed by the notion of wearing a mask on a plane for six straight hours.)
That is, until I locked into a groove with VRChat.
Now, all of that existential misery and despair has been somewhat blunted by my nightly adventures. Think of it like a pub crawl, except sub out the booze for gleeful absurdity and the whiskey-soaked conversations for improv-like exchanges. Sure, it can get deep if you want to go there — many do! — but VRChat is almost like a dose of antidepressants. It surfaces the well-meaning but mischievous child in you and continually delights with an assortment of newfound abilities and easily swappable identities. In one visit, you can go from chasing and infecting others with a zombie virus in a sprawling indoor setting with false walls and secret hideaways to experiencing super-jump powers in an underwater world with floaty physics and marine life you can hitch a ride on.
This is escapism, pure and simple.
I’d been aware of VRChat since its launch in 2017. As an avid watcher (or lurker, tbh) of Twitch streams, I’d stumbled across it but always dismissed it as some deranged kindergarten for the bored and lonely denizens of the internet’s weirder borderlands.
Turns out, I’m a card-carrying member.
It wasn’t until January of this year that I took the plunge, shucked off my social anxieties (oh, yes, they still exist in VR), and logged on for the first time. After about five minutes of aimlessly wandering about the edges like some awkward 12-year-old at a school dance, I found myself quite organically and inoffensively trolling around with a gang of six or seven guys of varying ages. They were all wearing milk carton avatars, so I donned one too and we spent about half an hour making vague, good-natured, nonsensical but completely hilarious “threats” to passersby about their preference for whole or skim. It was so stupid and I loved every moment of it.
VRChat is almost like a dose of antidepressants.
Immediately after, I relayed the experience to my bestie in New York who agreed it sounded cool but I could tell he wasn’t entirely convinced. He’s no VR newb — he’d experienced PlayStation VR at my old Brooklyn apartment several times — but VRChat is an entirely different beast. It’s a sandbox for social freedom that taps into some of your most childlike wishes and dreams, like flying or becoming a My Little Pony. But when you tell people about it, they just sort of shrug and say “cool” in that please-shut-up-about-this-thing-I-don’t-understand way.
And that’s the crux of the problem: How do you convey the awesomeness of VRChat to normals without a headset?
In my experience, you just need to convince one person to take that leap, buy a headset (all of my friends have purchased the $299 Quest 2), and then razzle dazzle them with visits to some of the more undeniably thrilling worlds. Then, the rest of the dominoes will fall. I went from having just one friend with a headset to three friends with headsets to a gang of six virtual warriors. All of whom, I should add, are spread across the U.S. and none of whom are tech-savvy in the slightest.
If they can do it, so can you.
Better than a drunken crawl through downtown Manhattan
“Dude. I really feel like we traveled a lot last night. Almost like we were running around the East Village.”
That is what my friend said to me the morning after his first visit to VRChat, which he quickly followed up with: “Wanna meet up in VR again soon? I really felt like I lived it.”
His reaction was understandable. The night prior we’d initially milled about a recreation of the Smurfs’ village — he outfitted as Kermit the Frog while I enjoyed the body of a monocled, otherworldly Victorian gentleman. We amused ourselves by opening presents littered throughout the world and marveling or cracking up at the surprise animations of exploding confetti and farting poop-swirls they harbored. It was a good time, but pretty tame by VRChat standards. That quickly changed when we hopped through a portal to a world called “Water Closet,” which is a very polite European term for the shitter.
The name is apt.
“Water Closet” is a strong contender for my favorite world to visit in VRChat. It also really drives home the insanity and hilarity of the interactive virtual community. It’s almost like the internet’s unofficial museum of inoffensive 4chan memes. Its walls are papered with countless low-res images, each one worthy of up-close inspection, each one provoking at the very least a chuckle but usually a hearty guffaw followed by a “What the fuck?!”
Venture outside onto the patio and you’ll find a pair of giant lips with free-floating googly eyeballs manically dancing around in the sky across from a Coca-Cola vending machine with flailing foot-arms, a massive spinning Garfield head, and a gargantuan bathtub guarded by a Thanksgiving turkey and filled with goldfish crackers. (It also happens to hide one of the better “holy shit” interactive moments if you jump the plank into it.) There’s even a void you can enter which places you in darkness with a strange creature who demands you feed him bread, although you’re given one additional “food” option. Choose incorrectly and, well, you pay the price.
Oh, and there’s a lot of Shrek. Like, a lot a lot. But you’ll quickly find that’s part of VRChat culture. On a recent visit, for example, another friend wandering about the “Water Closet” roof deck exclaimed in disbelief:
“Is that SpongeBob being burned alive by a troupe of Donkeys from Shrek?”
Yes. Yes, it is.
“Water Closet” is chock full of unexpected interactions with sometimes baffling effects (like a “Shrek the world” button), many of which I won’t spoil precisely because accidental discovery is part of the charm.
Like little kids at recess
Not everyone is a fan of meme-based buffoonery, though. And for those of you who may want to focus more on the controlled social aspects of VRChat, there are numerous multiplayer “games” to enjoy. But scrub your mind of any associations with video games — these are more like virtually realized versions of “let’s pretend” schoolyard classics.
A personal favorite of mine, and one I often use to introduce others to the wonders of VRChat, is a King of the Hill-style game called “Meat Grinder.” The premise is simple: Scale the massive and daunting incline (using the analog stick on your controller or, for PC folks, the keyboard) while avoiding various objects like shipping crates, chairs, and boxes as they come hurtling down at high speed, bouncing around in random directions, in order to reach the top. If you get hit by anything, you’ll be yeeted backwards — most usually but not always to your doom — into a pit of massive grinding gears.
It sounds easy enough but it’s actually pretty hard to make it up safely. Besides, you’ll mostly be encouraged to constantly reattempt your climb since you can hear the exasperated and expletive-laden audio of all the other people trying and failing to make the trek with you. It’s a misery-loves-company scenario, and one you’ll want to repeat.
“Thermal Treatment,” which hails from the same designer behind “Meat Grinder,” is another one of my VRChat multiplayer go-tos and takes liberal inspiration from the childhood classic The Floor Is Lava. It requires almost no skill and, instead, depends entirely on chance. When the round begins, you and your cohorts will be transported from the lobby to a series of interconnected metal plates buttressed by scaffolding atop a fiery pit of death. Above you is a giant pipe which randomly releases explosives, cars, and other objects that will smash into parts of the plates or scaffolding, causing mini collapses. It’s up to you to flee to safety or risk plunging into the flames. If you can outlast the timer, you win and the reward is: nothing. You just get to play, and curse, and laugh again. And you will.
Everyone comes back for more. That’s VRChat. That’s the beauty. There’s no need for masks, no fear of COVID contagion, and no need to disinfect. It’s just dumb fun.
And who couldn’t use a little of that in 2020?
ที่มา : Mashable