Joe Hunting’s We Met In Virtual Reality is ultimately a story about the human need for connection. This is the first documentary to be filmed completely in virtual reality – truly an impressive accomplishment, if occasionally gimmicky.
We follow a small group as they navigate the VRChat platform, exploring user-created worlds and going through a variety of activities. There’s Jenny, who teaches ASL in the deaf and hard of hearing community called Helping Hands, and two couples who met on the platform – DustBunny and Toaster, and DragonHeart and IsYourBoi. It’s fascinating and heartwarming to see communities like Helping Hands who create inclusive spaces online and help educate others on sign language. The journey of the couples was fascinating as they fell in love without necessarily knowing what anyone looked like beyond the avatar.
The strength of this documentary was based on the visual interest from being filmed within the VRChat platform. We can see such a broad and wild array of avatars, from small space dogs to anime catgirls to giant monsters. There are no limits on your avatar, which can be very freeing to those who feel constrained by their own bodies or struggles with gender representation. The worlds people build are also limitless, and it’s easy to see the appeal of VR especially in a pandemic.
There is a conversation to be had about the accessibility of VR equipment and the limitations of the equipment currently on the market. It’s very apparent when watching the scenes where Jenny is teaching ASL, as the current VR setups on the market do not allow for finger articulation and have limited facial motions, which can make using ASL or any sign language very difficult. There is also the financial investment, as a basic VR system starts at about $400 USD. So while the communities are accessible and there is a niche for everyone, the financial burden might prove to be a hindrance to more people hopping into VR spaces.
Overall, this was a strong documentary contender in the Sundance 2022 lineup. It’s a huge technological accomplishment that also educated the audience on the world of VRChat. The stories we follow are very human and mundane, which I think is a strength as it helps to ground the outlandish visuals. This technology is undoubtedly only going to get more popular in the future as the equipment goes down in cost. I look forward to seeing what the future holds.