The 2021 Raindance Immersive Awards Ceremony: A List of All the Winners

I’m a sucker for awards shows (the Oscars are like the gay Super Bowl to me!). So I was in my element as I watched the two-part 2021 Raindance Immersive Awards, which were hosted in the social VR platform VRChat, with audiences also watching the livestream in-world in both AltspaceVR and NeosVR, as well as remotely on YouTube (the videos are below).

The Raindance Film Festival is the largest and most important independent film festival in the U.K., showcasing features, shorts, web series and music videos by filmmakers from the U.K. and around the world to an audience of film executives and buyers, journalists, film fans and filmmakers.

Powered by HTC VIVE’s Viveport and VRChat, this year’s Raindance Immersive (October 27th to November 21, 2021) comprised immersive VR games and experiences competing for jury awards, as well as the Spirit of Raindance Awards, which are selected by the festival team. Raindance is the only film festival in the world to recognize and award VR on such a scale, so this was a major event!

The Raindance Immersive Awards ceremony for 2021 was in two parts. The first part was held yesterday. The cameraman for the event was my friend (and the co-producer of the upcoming second season of the Metaverse Newscast), the talented social VR videographer Carlos Austin.

If you have never visited VRChat, I think that this 1-hour-and-40-minute video is your prefect introduction! You really get a sense of the wonderful variety and diversity of avatars which are available in VRChat, as well as a good look at the Embassy virtual world where the ceremony takes place.

Carlos deftly steers his camera around the avatars milling about and chatting with each other at the very beginning, before the event starts, and it feels as if you were in a cocktail party, overhearing bits and snippets of conversations! I loved it. (If you want to skip right to the awards ceremony proper, it starts at the 27:56 minute mark, and it runs until the 1-hour-and-13 minute mark, followed by an afterparty.)

The awards handed out in Part 1, in order, were (all links go to the description page on the Raindance Immersive website, with a promo video and more information):

The second half of the awards ceremony was today; it was again filmed by Carlos Austin (the awards ceremony proper starts at the 46:50 mark in the video if you want to skip straight to that part):

The awards handed out in Part 2 of the ceremony, in order, were:

Ignite 2021: Microsoft Is Adding Avatars to Microsoft Teams

Have you joined the RyanSchultz.com Discord yet? You’re invited to be a part of the first ever cross-worlds discussion group, with over 600 people participating from every social VR platform and virtual world! We discuss, debate and argue about the ever-evolving metaverse, its avatars, and all the companies building it. Come join us! More details here.


Hard on the heels of Facebook (now Meta) and their Connect 2021 event comes today’s Microsoft Ignite 2021, where Microsoft shows off some of the technology they’re working on. And, of course, give their own spin on the metaverse!

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella presents the company’s metaverse solutions

Here’s a seven-minute clip from Ignite of Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella talking about his vision for the metaverse:

Tom Warren of tech news website The Verge reports:

Microsoft is entering the race to build a metaverse inside Teams, just days after Facebook rebranded to Meta in a push to build virtual spaces for both consumers and businesses. Microsoft is bringing Mesh, a collaborative platform for virtual experiences, directly into Microsoft Teams next year. It’s part of a big effort to combine the company’s mixed reality and HoloLens work with meetings and video calls that anyone can participate in thanks to animated avatars.

With today’s announcement, Microsoft and Meta seem to be on a collision course to compete heavily in the metaverse, particularly for the future of work.

An example of a 3D avatar within Microsoft Teams (image source: Microsoft, from TheVerge)

And—if you’re having a bad hair day—hey, no worries!

Microsoft Teams will get new 3D avatars in a push toward a metaverse environment, and you won’t need to put a VR headset on to use them. These avatars can literally represent you both in 2D and 3D meetings, so you can choose to have an animated version of yourself if you’re not feeling like turning your webcam on.

Bloomberg reports that this new feature will be released next year:

If you’re worried the metaverse will be all fun and games, fear not: Microsoft Corp. is taking its own stab at the idea, and it will have PowerPoint and Excel.

The company is adapting its signature software products to create a more corporate version of the metaverse — a concept promoted by Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg that promises to let users live, work and play within interconnected virtual worlds.

The first offering, a version of Microsoft’s Teams chat and conferencing program that features digital avatars, is in testing now and will be available in the first half of 2022. Customers will be able to share Office files and features, like PowerPoint decks, in the virtual world.

It would appear Microsoft’s avatars (like those in Meta’s Horizon Worlds and Horizon Workrooms) will lack legs (image source: Microsoft, via Bloomberg)

Of course, most people already know that Microsoft acquired the social VR platform AltspaceVR in 2017 (which, by the way, is still absolutely killing it with live events programming!). Altspace is being used for a variety of purposes, including higher education (for example, teaching a psychology course at Mount Royal University).

AltspaceVR (image source: VRFocus)

It looks like we will see more integration between established business software such as Microsoft Teams with concepts from the metaverse, including avatars, over the next twelve months. The era of avatarism appears to be in full swing!


Thanks to Rainwolf for the heads up!

Teaching a Psychology Course at Mount Royal University using AltspaceVR

Dr. Tony Chaston in the virtual world he created for his psychology course in AltspaceVR

Psychology Professor Tony Chaston of Mount Royal University (in Calgary, Alberta, Canada) has developed a new psychology course that will teach students using the social VR platform AltspaceVR. The undergraduate-level course, which is called The Digital Frontier: Perception, AI and Virtual Reality in Psychology, is described as follows in the course calendar:

This course focuses on psychological theory and application relevant to interacting with current and emerging digital technologies. Topics will typically include interfacing and communicating with artificial intelligence, perception and cognition in digital spaces such as virtual and augmented reality and how we can feel “present” in our digital experiences. This course will be taught in a Virtual Reality Classroom. 

Note: This course requires students to have a Virtual Reality Head Mounted Display (HMD). 

According to a news article from Mount Royal:

The first of its kind in Canada, the class, which started Sept. 14, filled its 20 spots (standard for a fourth-year psych course) in a matter of days…

“Immersion in media is a topic that’s been around for a long time, but it takes on a whole different level when you talk about it in VR,” Chaston says, noting it will play a role in everything from work and play to shopping as retailers set up VR stores.

After diving deep into what VR is and how it works, the course will focus on Chaston’s research into using VR nature scenes to lower stress levels. The class is set up as a three-hour block and already students have been invited to a couple of VR “events” to ensure they are comfortable in the space.The first day was an introduction, including basic etiquette for behaviour in VR. While most class time will be in VR, there will be time for group work that uses other more traditional online formats like Google Meet so that students aren’t wearing headsets for three hours straight. As note-taking is tough in VR, those will be provided separately.

Chaston credits Anna Nuhn (who has since left MRU) and Erik Christiansen at the Riddell Library and Learning Centre and MRU psychology professor Dr. Evelyn Field, PhD, for their help over the past year in developing the course.

“This course is possible thanks to Tony’s willingness to immerse himself in the pedagogy of VR and best practices for designing virtual learning environments,” said Christiansen, an assistant professor and subject librarian at the MRU Library who has a background in information technology.

It’s wonderful to see more use cases of social VR in university teaching! For 15 more examples of the use of social VR in higher education, I can refer you to my recent half-hour presentation on the topic to the University of Manitoba Senate Committee on Academic Computing, as well as all my blogposts tagged Higher Education.


Thank you to Kari Kumar of the University of Manitoba for the heads up!

Using Social VR to Teach an Emerging Technologies Class at UNC Chapel Hill

Steven King is an associate professor of multimedia journalism and emerging technologies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, holding a joint appointment with the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media and the Kenan-Flagler Business School. In his work, King combines computer science concepts, human-centered design and storytelling to create new ways to present information through emerging technologies, such as virtual and augmented reality, artificial intelligence and other interactive media forms, such as interactive data-driven graphics.

Steven King uses AltspaceVR to deliver a virtual course (image source)

When the university was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic last year, Steven used both Mozilla Hubs and AltspaceVR to create a virtual classroom for his students:

If you ask a UNC student what their remote classroom experience has consisted of, they will likely tell you about video lectures through Zoom. But for students in Steven King’s class, they are experiencing remote learning differently — through virtual reality.

“I’m always trying to figure out a better way to teach and communicate,” King, a professor at the Hussman School of Journalism and Media, said. “I know virtual reality is an immersive experience.”

King built a virtual 3D version of his classroom, which allows his students to walk around in the classroom and break out into groups. 

He said he has tested out a lot of different platforms for hosting 3D classrooms. The first experience, he said, was through Mozilla Hubs. But King said his class will likely stick to AltspaceVR because of how pleased the students have been with it.

A virtual classroom in AltspaceVR (image source)

The Raleigh News & Observer reported:

“When you’re faced with a crisis, these are times to step up and figure things up and make new discoveries,” King said. “We don’t need to limit ourselves to the tools we have. We need to develop new tools to move us forward.”

King sent Oculus Go Virtual Reality headsets to his 28 students to use at home. King and the students built their own avatars, and they are all attending class together in a virtual world as robots, panda bears, ducks and other characters. King chose the superhero Ironman as his avatar.

The emerging technologies class was tailor-made for this type of experiment, King said. Students had become familiar with the technology throughout the semester while learning about artificial intelligence and augmented reality.

Steven wrote about his experience developing and delivering the course in a four-part series of Medium posts (here’s a link to part one). He described how he acclimated his students to AltspaceVR:

To help the students prepare for class. I gave the students an assignment to be completed before the first class hosted in AltspaceVR. I asked every student to signup for an account, go through the tutorial in their home space, and to go to the InfoZone, which is a tutorial in the form of a social fair about going to events. The final step of the assignment was to send me a friend request. I also recorded a video on how to enter the room/event…

This assignment was critical to the success of the next class. I needed the students to work through any technical issues on their own and to feel confident in another social VR environment. Once I got a friend request, I added them to the group so they could see the private event…

Most students arrived early and were ready to go. I let them spend several minutes interacting and exploring the space. There was lots of personal chatting, like I would see before an in-person class, which has been absent in my Zoom class.

The pandemic provided a golden opportunity which professors like Steven used to good advantage to provide their students with an introduction to social VR used for educational purposes. You can find out more about Steven and his work via his personal website.