Exploring Different Cultures in Social VR and Virtual Worlds

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 300 people participating from every social VR platform and virtual world! More details here.


Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

Long-running virtual worlds such as Second Life attract users from all around the world. (The Second Life website itself is available in English, Japanese, German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Turkish and Russian.)

Every so often, I like to load up Second Life, do a keyword search for a country or language name (e.g. Turkey, Turkiye, Turkish), and head off on an adventure! Often I find a nightclub where people are chatting away in a language I do not speak, where I can spend an enjoyable hour listening to the popular music of a completely different culture.

The fact that most communication in Second Life uses text chat is actually an advantage here. Automatic translator software (such as this popular item on the SL Marketplace, which works with Google Translate) can be used to bridge the language gap between users chatting in Second Life who don’t speak the same language.

But what about other social VR/virtual worlds? I decided to do some metaverse exploring this evening, just to see what’s out there.

VRChat

VRChat, with its thousands of users from all around the world, is a natural place to begin my explorations. There are many Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Russian, German, and Thai worlds to visit. (These links are from a Japanese directory called The World of VRChat, a website directory for VRChat worlds. The website is in Japanese, but if you turn on Google auto-translate, it works well, and can be used as a handy guide.)

Of course, you can also perform a keyword search on the Worlds menu (e.g. Japan, Japanese) to pull up VRChat worlds. For example, there are dozens and dozens of Japanese-themed worlds to visit and explore!

Sansar

The best way to explore is to use the Sansar Atlas website, where you can do a keyword search for a language or country name (e.g. Germany, Deutschland, German, Deutsch). Unfortunately, the chances of you running into other people this way in Sansar are pretty slim.

High Fidelity

Of course, High Fidelity was home to the well-known Mexico domain, which was one of HiFi’s domains that were shut down when the company pivoted to business use. And the search function in the tablet UI only pulls up matches on domain name, which somewhat hinders the ability to explore (you pretty much need to know the domain name to find anything). It would be very useful if High Fidelity were to add searchable domain descriptions to the social VR platform, but I’m sure the company is occupied with other, much more pressing, matters at the moment.

Mexico (a former High Fidelity domain, which no longer exists)

Other Worlds

As far as I can tell, there is not yet a lot of multicultural content in places like AltspaceVR, Rec Room, or in Sinespace. But it’s still early days. Eventually, as most virtual worlds mature, they will attract more users from foreign countries, who will naturally import their own cultures.

Do you have any tips on cultural experiences in virtual worlds, a spot you would like to share with us? Please feel free to leave a comment below, or even better, join us on the RyanSchultz.com Discord server and share your tips there! We’d love to have you.

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Syrmor Takes a Look at the Hard-of-Hearing and Deaf Community in VRChat and Their Own Version of Sign Language Used to Communicate In-World

Still image taken from the first video below

Syrmor, whom I have blogged about before, is well-known for his YouTube video interviews with various people in VRChat.

Yesterday, he released a new video about the hard-of-hearing/deaf/Deaf community in VRChat (abbreviated to d/Deaf/HoH). For those of you who are not aware, a distinction is made between lowercase-d deaf, which refers to the medical condition of hearing loss, and capital-D Deaf, which is the term used to refer to the culture, society, and language of Deaf people, which is based on Sign language. (Deaf is capitalized just as American or Canadian would be, since it is a unique culture.)

And yes, there is a version of Sign language (capital S, because like English and French, it is considered a proper language) used in VRChat! Actually, there are several versions: one for users of the Valve Index hand controllers, which allow for individual finger movements, and another is intended for users of hand controllers without individual finger movements.

Here’s a six-minute VRChat Sign language introduction, showing you some common signs:

The video states in a disclaimer:

All signs are based off of American Sign Language, however due to the limitations of VRChat, most of the signs have been changed and/or combined with similar words. Always look up the proper sign before using anything taught here outside the game.

Here is Syrmor’s video, which was posted yesterday, and has already had over 215,000 views as of this morning!

Symor first stumbled across this community when he encountered a Sign language interpreter at an in-world church service (as shown in the video). Through this contact, he discovered a VRChat world called Helping Hands, where you can teach yourself sign language, including some signs which are unique to VRChat (for example, the use of the portal sign to refer to “world” rather than the ASL version of the term).

More information about Helping Hands is in this document, including links to some d/Deaf/HoH VRChat worlds.

Helping Hands Mission and Vision Statement

Syrmor is doing an absolutely inspiring job as an embedded reporter and documentary filmmaker in VRChat, giving people an opportunity to present their stories to the wider world. Syrmor actually earns a living from advertising on his popular YouTube videos (he currently has 697,000 subscribers to his channel) and from his Patreon supporters (here’s a link to his Patreon page if you want to throw some financial support his way). In fact, he was even the focal point of a real-life meetup of his fans in Toronto, Canada, dubbed Syrcon 2019, which people attended from around the world!

Gee, where can I find some groupies? I’d like a convention, too! 😉

UPDATED! VRChat Maps Discord Server: A Directory for Finding Cool Worlds to Explore in VRChat

Stair Hall in VRChat: A procedurally-generated maze of staircases.
Can you reach the prize in the glass cabinet, tantalizingly out of reach?

With over 50,000 user-created worlds, there is just so much to see in VRChat. However, there is no in-world directory, and you have to rely on using keyword search to find worlds to explore, which admittedly is not ideal. What’s really needed is some sort of directory broken down by category (something I am surprised has not been added to VRChat yet).

However, VRChat user CatRazor has created a very useful Discord server called VRChat Maps, which is described as follows:

CatRazor here, I made this place to sort out the maps of VRChat into categories in case someone is looking for something specific. These maps are personally picked out by me, I believe these maps are worth a visit and you will not regret it!

#adventure-maps – Maps with an objective, such as escape rooms, boss battles and etc.

#club-and-dance-maps – Dance to your heart’s content!

#exploration-maps – Maps where you can enjoy beautiful sights and seek out secrets.

#festive-maps – Maps to celebrate the holidays!

#game-maps – PVP/Game maps.

#hang-out-maps – Usually small maps where you can enjoy conversations with friends.

#horror-maps – As the name entails, not for the faint of heart.

#sleep-maps – Good places for sleepy time, make sure you use a private world for these to not be woken up.

#unique-concept-maps – Maps designed to show off cool mechanics.

For example, here is the entry for the Stair Hall world, found in the #unique-concept-maps channel. Basically, it’s a snapshot of the entry under the Worlds menu:

The world itself, Stair Hall, is a maddening maze of procedurally-generated staircases leading up and down as far as the eye can see, with your goal being to reach an elusive prize in a glass cabinet.

The only problem with this directory of cool places to visit is that it is in Discord, outside your VR headset! So you’ll have to go back and forth in order to use it. Either that, or use the VRChat Maps Discord first, in order to draw up a list of some interesting places to see, noting down the keywords to search under Worlds, then go in-world to explore.

Other ways to find cool worlds to explore are to check out the #world-showcase channel on the VRChat Community Discord, or the #favorite-worlds channel on the VRChat Events Discord. There’s also a Showcase forum on the VRCat user discussion forums for people to share worlds.

Happy exploring!

UPDATE Nov. 12th: A commenter on the VRChat subReddit told me about The World of VRChat, a website directory for VRChat worlds that I did not know about before. The website is in Japanese, but if you turn on Google auto-translate, it works well. Thank you, Warhorse07!

Tafi Allows You to Create a Customized VRChat Avatar Without Needing to Learn 3D Design Software, Coding, or Rigging!

VRChat allows you endless avatar customization options—provided you can wrap your head around a workflow which requires some knowledge of Unity and the VRChat SDK. If you’re not using a pre-existing model and you want to create an avatar from scratch, you’ll also have to have skills in using complex 3D design software like Blender (or pay someone to create an avatar for you).

And, unlike social VR platforms such as Sansar and Sinespace that have dressable human avatars, if you decide you want your VRChat avatar to have a yellow shirt instead of a red shirt, then you’ll pretty much need to start over with your avatar creation process.

However, a company named Tafi wants to make the customized avatar creation process much easier, including the ability to easily make changes to what your avatar looks like (physical build, hair colour and style, eye colour, etc.) and what clothing they’re wearing. And Tafi is now open in beta for people who want to create avatars for VRChat, and the best part is, the beta is free!

It’s quite easy to sign up for free access to the Tafi beta avatar creator for VRChat avatars; just click the Join the Beta button on the Tafi website, and provide your email address, and you can then download and install the program. Here’s what the initial screen looks like:

The pop-up screen says:

Thanks for signing up for our beta!

To make sure you have the best experience and can explore all of our assets, we are giving you exclusive access to our entire asset library, including the premium ones!

But, these are only going to be available for free during the beta time period. Once we launch the application for all users, the premium assets will be available with a small cost.

Good news though, whatever your avatar is wearing the day of our full launch will be yours to keep (don’t worry, we will remind you when we get closer).

Thanks again! Have fun exploring and creating!

The interface offers dozens of options for customizing your avatar, and offers over 400 clothing options. Basically, it’s point-and-click. Here’s a sample of what it looks like in action:

In less than half an hour, I had created a custom avatar I was very happy with!

All I had to do then was connect my avatar account by clicking on the button under the head-and-shoulders icon in the upper left hand corner. You are then automatically taken to the VRChat website to grant the Tafi app access to your account:

Once you have connected your account, you simply click on the blue button in the upper left-hand corner of the Tafi app to upload your customized avatar to VRChat:

It took about two minutes to upload my customized avatar. Then, I signed into VRchat and the uploaded Tafi avatar was sitting in my Avatar folder, ready for me to select and use. The whole process was quick and easy, taking less than 30 minutes from start to finish! Here’s my brand new avatar, a selfie I took of myself using the in-world camera tool:

And the best part is, I can change my outfit quickly and easily! If I want to wear a different shirt, all it takes is a few clicks to select the style and colour, a fresh upload, et voilà! A new avatar look.

Tafi is available to try for free during their beta period. Why don’t you give it a shot? I’m quite impressed with this new tool.