HBO Max Documentary Review: We Met in Virtual Reality

This evening, I finally had an opportunity to watch Joe Hunting’s full-length documentary, We Met in Virtual Reality, which I first wrote about last year. This is my review of that documentary.

Here’s an overview of Joe’s film, taken from his IndieGogo page:

We Met in Virtual Reality is an enchanting portrait of social Virtual Reality (VR) app VRChat, composed of intimate and hilarious moments inside global VR communities. The film presents an emotive impression on this new virtual landscape through a poetic collage of stories, exploring how VR is affecting the way we socialise, work, love and express ourselves; told authentically by the users of VRChat through a warm heartfelt lens. 

The overall narrative is made up of three distinct protagonists each presenting unique stories of discovering a romantic relationship through VRChat, and using VR to cope with poor mental health. These core narratives flow between each other in a linear fashion through Winter 2020 to Summer 2021, delivering a compelling journey amidst the more observational moments in other VR communities.

Filmed entirely inside VRChat using cinematic virtual cameras during the COVID lockdown crisis, this film captures a precious time in an underground cultural movement that will soon shape the world we live in; additionally highlighting contemporary subjects such as of coping with poor mental health, modern forms of sign language, non-binary gender expression and finding love beyond physical interaction. Everyone appearing in the film will be addressed by their virtual usernames without any real life imagery, immersing audiences into a new cinematic documentary experience.

This documentary has three main storylines: the American Sign Language (ASL) teachers teachers Jenny0629 and Ray_is_Deaf, who work at Helping Hands; one couple, DustBunny and Toaster; and a second couple, IsYourBoi and DragonHeart. Both couples first met each other within VRChat. In addition, there are many cameos of a number of other characters, who candidly discuss various aspects of being an avatar on a social VR platform.

Among the worlds explored are a dinosaur theme park, a camel ride through the desert, an improv comedy stage show, a New Year’s Eve countdown celebration, and the Zodiac Club, an exotic dance club. Many of the avatars shown have eye, finger and even full-body tracking, which gives the viewer a really good idea of what you can accomplish in VR (for example, shooting a game of pool, or taking part in a belly-dancing lesson!). This film will be a real eye-opener to the metaverse neophyte who might have thought that being in virtual reality meant that you would be limited to only moving your head and your hands!

There are moments of glorious hijinks in this documentary, as well as some sombre discussions of mental health issues. Joe does a masterful job of editing, moving smoothly from one story to another, and he wisely gives the people he profiles the time and space required for them to tell their stories, each in their own fashion. It’s been a joy to see Joe Hunting burnish his skills as a documentary filmmaker over time!

The decision was made to film the entire documentary in VRChat, so there is no jarring back-and-forth between the virtual world and the real. In fact, one of the underlying messages of We Met in Virtual Reality is that the virtual can, in fact, become the real. The communities and relationships Joe documents are just as authentic as any in the real world! (While this will not come as a surprise to any of my blog readers, many of whom already have experience in countless virtual worlds, it might come as a shock to those who have not yet set foot in the metaverse.)

In fact, the outreach potential of having Joe’s documentary available on a major TV/movie streaming service such as HBO Max means that a lot more people will learn about social VR and the metaverse in general, and VRChat in particular!

I do find it ironic that this documentary—which focuses so wonderfully on the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community of Helping Hands—has been released on HBO Max at the very moment when the VRChat community is in an uproar over an update which has disabled many popular mods intended to serve the Deaf and hard-of-hearing, providing core functionality which the official VRChat client still lacks.

The documentary is available in both closed-caption and described-video versions, and you can watch it on HBO Max in the United States, and through Crave TV in Canada (which carries HBO content). Here’s a list of the other countries where HBO Max is available.

Joe Hunting has crafted a love letter to VRChat, and if you watch only one film about the metaverse this year, We Met in Virtual Reality is that film. Highly recommended, particularly if you are brand new to social VR and VRChat. I give it five stars out of five! ★★★★★

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