Straszfilm’s Video Essay on Active Worlds: A Look Back at a Virtual World That Was Ahead of Its Time—And That You Can Still Visit and Explore Today, 27 Years Later!

Last week, YouTuber Strasz released a 30-minute video essay that’s part documentary and part love letter to a pioneering virtual world that he was once a fond and active member of, called Active Worlds.

Consisting mostly of first-person coverage of his exploration of AW, it’s a fascinating look at what many people (myself included) consider to be the first virtual world with user-generated content—launched way back in 1995, well before Second Life debuted in 2003! Although AW never reached the success of SL, it was still a pioneering virtual world, where users could set up an avatar, build anything they wanted, and form communities.

What is so interesting about Active Worlds, besides its longevity, is that unlike websites which eventually get taken down and discarded, much of the original construction from its earliest days still remains in place, much like a prehistoric insect trapped in amber for scientists to pore over. I think it’s a wonderful documentary, and I can recommend it highly if you’re interested in the early history of the metaverse.

As I mentioned, Active Worlds still exists today, at the ripe old age of 27 (although it has a daily user base in the single digits). You can create an account, download the client software, and explore! Here’s the website. You can also see all my blogposts about Active Worlds here (including this one).

I also wrote about an earlier video essay by Strasz here, in February of 2021, about sexuality and gender in VRChat. If you want more of his content, then follow Strasz on Twitter or Twitchcheck out the rest of his videos on YouTube, or join his Straszfilms Discord server. I very much look forward to future video essays!

An Excellent Video Essay on Identity, Gender, and VRChat (or, Why Everybody in VRChat Seems to Be an Anime Girl)

One of the best decisions I have ever made as a blogger has nothing to do with this blog: setting up the RyanSchultz.com Discord server, which currently has over 500 members who discuss, debate, and argue about the ever-evolving metaverse and the many companies building it—and who are often the source of great story leads for this blog!

And so it was that Madman, a member of my Discord community, tipped me off about this great, thoughtful one-hour YouTube video titled Identity, Gender, and VRChat (Why is everyone in VR an anime girl?), by a guy named Strasz. In a world of VRChat videos chockablock with livestreamed shenanigans, racist memes, and tomfoolery, Strasz presents a refreshing alternative: a one-hour, well-edited, thoughtful video essay on issues of identity and gender in VRChat, addressing a commonly-asked question: why is everybody you run into an anime girl?

It’s well worth setting aside an hour to watch this in full (I watched it last night before I went to bed):

The video is divided into five chapters; if you want to skip ahead, the part about anime girls is in the third chapter, but I would strongly recommend you watch the entire thing so you can see the excellent groundwork Strasz lays in creating an academic framework for his discussion, weaving in various research studies (which he footnotes both in the video itself and in the video description, something that gladdened this academic librarian’s heart!).

Now, coming from my 14 years of experiences in the virtual world of Second Life (where I could be, and often was, anybody and anything), I was already somewhat familiar with Strasz’ premise that social VR and virtual worlds give us an unparalleled opportunity to play with gender and identity, but I found I still learned quite a bit by watching this video, and I can recommend it highly! And I agree with his assertion that adding virtual reality to the mix greatly adds to the feeling of actually embodying your avatar representation in VRChat.

(If this topic intrigues you, you might also be interested in a 2017 blogpost I wrote about sex and gender issues in virtual worlds, and how some worlds impose artificial restraints upon non-binary users, forcing them into male or female roles.)

If you want more of this (and I certainly do!), then follow Strasz on Twitter or Twitch, check out the rest of his videos on YouTube, or join his Straszfilms Discord server. I look forward to future video essays!


Thanks to Madman for the heads up!