Every so often, something hits you like a sucker punch to the gut. This is one of those times.
Somebody alerted me to this brand new, investigative-documentary-style video on YouTube, and I started watching it this evening. Even before I had reached the halfway point of the video, I knew I had to stop watching it, and write this blogpost.
While it is titled The Dark Side of Virtual Reality, this one-hour-48-minute video is entirely about a single popular social VR platform, VRChat. The creator is a man by the name of BrandonFM (his channel only has 3 videos so far; after I finish watching this, I will certainly be watching his two earlier videos, which appear to be on similar topics to this new one).
WARNING: This YouTube video covers some very disturbing topics! Consider yourself forewarned!
TRIGGER WARNING: This video discusses sexual content involving minors, and will likely be upsetting to some viewers.
Brandon’s video talks about the hidden adult content in VRChat, which I have written about before here (ironically, this safe-for-work post by far the most popular blogpost on the RyanSchultz.com blog). And I’ve even written fairly recently about the Nevermet app, which is briefly mentioned in this video.*
This is a not-safe-for-work side of VRChat which I had suspected to exist, based on that previous blogpost I wrote about adult content in VRChat, but I had never actually set (virtual) foot in. But I never knew about some of the darkest depths uncovered here by Brandon—particularly where it involves minors. (He uses the word “degenerate” a lot in this video, and frankly, it’s the appropriate word.)
In 2007, Linden Lab (the makers of Second Life) underwent a public relations disaster when this sort of behaviour was discovered happening on its platform (item #4 on my list of scandals and controversies in SL):
The virtual pedophilia uncovered by two different news reporters in Second Life was a public relations disaster of the highest order for Linden Lab…Linden Lab responded to the crisis by creating an official Ageplay Policy, where people involved in ageplay and virtual pedophilia activities were banned from the platform.
Well, it would appear that a similar scandal may soon befall VRChat, once the major news media latch onto this story (and believe me, they will!). And, once again, a metaverse platform is going to be in the white-hot glare of the media spotlight, and have to scramble to address a public relations disaster. It’s happened before, and it will happen again.
So, I’m just going to post this, then finish watching this video, then I will add some more of my thoughts (I’m sure I will have some!).
UPDATE 9:06 p.m.: O.K., I have not yet finished watching the entire video, but holy shit. I’m really impressed with the work that BrandonFM and his team did in researching and reporting on these stories, as well as the overall editing of the documentary.
What I now want to know is: What has VRChat done in response to this video? Do they even know about it? Brandon posted it on May 6th, 2022, but it only has a relatively paltry 88,500 views so far (possibly because it does not have “VRChat” in the title?).
Also, this video talks about things such as slave auctions, something which (unfortunately) still can be found among the adult (18+) community in Second Life, despite calls from some people to forbid any slavery completely on the platform (pertinent thread from the SL Community Forums). In fact, there are numerous SL sims devoted to Gorean roleplay (based on the “of Gor” series of science fiction novels written by philosophy professor John Lange, writing as John Norman), in which slavery is commonplace.
What really struck me, in fact, is that VRChat is struggling with many of the same sorts of problems that Second Life has been struggling with throughout its own 18-year history.
O.K., back to the video…
UPDATE 9:48 p.m.: I finally finished the video, and I immediately became one of BrandonFM’s patrons on Patreon (here’s his Patreon page if you are similarly inclined). Seriously, this documentary was a trip, and this 58-year-old blogger learned a lot of things about VRChat that I did not know before (like the gangs of crashers, and the zoophiliac “hypnotherapist”, and the drug dealing, and the doxxing). The documentary is like a fever dream. My head is kind of spinning with it all.
Brandon did a masterful job of video editing (although the voice distortion used for some avatars interviewed made it a bit difficult to understand what they were saying).
My initial response after watching Brandon’s video is that, once this information becomes more widely known, VRChat is going to receive some serious pushback from parents and officials for its current Teen (age 13+) rating. It’s going to be interesting to see how much traction Brandon’s documentary will achieve, and what kind of impact it will have on the platform overall (hopefully, positive).
I also need to let everything percolate for a little while, so I am not going to delete any blogposts I have written in the past about adult content in VRChat, or Nevermet. I need to think things through, and not act simply as a knee-jerk reaction, despite how appalled I am at some of things that Brandon has uncovered. And I definitely need to watch his earlier videos!
* I did explicitly warn the people behind the Nevermet app that they needed to pay attention to the serious problem of potentially underage users setting up profiles. Now that I am watching Brandon’s documentary, which mentions Nevermet in passing, I have a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I’m going to finish watching this video, then I might have to make some decisions about what to do about my review of Nevermet, in light of the information Brandon has reported.