VRChat is a popular and free multiplayer online experience. It’s only accessible via Steam, and only if you own a virtual reality headset — specifically, the HTC Vive or Oculus Rift — but despite its currently limited audience, VRChat is a transformative platform like nothing you’ve ever experienced. Calling it a video game would be a wild understatement.
In the simplest terms I can muster, VRChat is a surreal virtual meeting space that lets people socialize, attend events, take classes, create art, play games, perform for large crowds, and explore virtual environments — all from the comfort of their own homes.
In the same way that AOL and Yahoo chat rooms gave the world a peak into some of best and worst corners of the internet in the late 1990s and early 2000s, VRChat has become the new virtual Wild West in 2018.
Users claim to have found a community unparalleled by real life there, and a surprisingly large group of people have come out saying that VRChat has saved their lives, as they battle with mental health issues like loneliness, anxiety, and depression. Unfortunately, like other places on the internet, harassment, trolling and hacking are present here, too.
Above all else, VRChat’s rapid growth in users and functionality are unprecedented, and we are only just beginning to see its potential.
Here’s what it’s like to use VRChat:
To truly understand what it’s like to experience a community entirely based in virtual reality, one must first be willing to leave the physical, biological world behind.
In VRChat, you’ll be entering a world where cartoon characters walk through the streets; where portals can transport you from a dungeon in a medieval castle to the holodeck of a spaceship, then to the set the popular 90s sitcom “Seinfeld,” in a matter of seconds.
Here are some examples of various playable stages in VRChat.
In this world, the limits of physics, logic and science are no match for the human imagination, which runs rampant with little regard for consequences.
The makers of VRChat make a free software development kit (SDK) available to the public, so that anyone with enough computer storage and a handful of YouTube tutorials can create their own in-game avatars and stages.
Thanks to the SDK, much of the virtual world in VRChat is user-generated, and awash with plenty of pop culture references.
There is a downside, however: Since so much of the game design is crowdsourced, and since VR headset controllers and other hardware varies so widely, the graphics in VRChat do not compare to modern AAA video games. To be frank, navigating through the VRChat universe feels like walking through a bizarre, stiff, 8-bit dream.
But what the platform lacks in design chops, it makes up for in community engagement.