It’s hard to imagine that you can leave this world behind with a $300 electronic gadget, but that’s the promise of VRChat. All you need is an Oculus Quest 2 to socialize in VR and get a glimpse of the promised “metaverse.”
What Is VRChat?
If you’ve ever used Discord or Twitter Spaces, you already have a good idea of what VRChat is all about. At its core, this is a service where people can meet and hang out. Just like creating a Discord server, you can create spaces for particular purposes. There are gaming Discord servers, ones dedicated to clubs for various hobbies, and some that are just a place for friends to meet and chat.
VRChat is this and more. It’s an example of a metaverse platform, where people gather as avatars in virtual spaces to hang out, play games, chat, and socialize like you would in real life.
There are numerous instanced worlds to choose from, mostly created by users. An “instanced” world simply means that the various VRChat worlds aren’t connected as one continuous place. You have to warp between these discrete spaces. Instances can be private or public, and you can start a private instance where only people you approve of can enter.
Getting Started With VRChat
Once you grab VRChat from the app store in the Quest 2 headset (now known as the “Meta Quest 2.”), you’re dropped into a special room with a mirror so that you can choose an avatar.
You can use the randomize button to find an avatar close to what you want and then tweak it, but none of these choices are permanent. You can come back later and change them. We do recommend that you start off by setting your avatar’s height to match your real-world height. The world scales according to your avatar’s size, and being a giant or the size of a mouse can be tricky until you get the hang of things.
Once you’ve chosen an avatar, you’ll go to an onboarding zone with a minimal amount of tutorial information posted in the environment. Choosing your movement type is important, and you have the choice of using third-person teleportation or direct movement with the sticks. In many VR titles, direct motion can lead to motion sickness or feeling unsteady, but we found that VRChat’s direct motion feels quite comfortable.
All of these preferences can be changed at any time from the quick menu on the left-hand controller, so I just picked direct motion because I’m quite used to VR locomotion.
Home Sweet Home
Newcomers will be presented with five portals: Relaxing Vibes, Play a Game, Visit Your Home, Find Avatars, and Time to Party.
We recommend you head to your Home first since there’s a more comprehensive amount of information to help you figure out VRChat’s controls before you wander out into the world. This is a safe space to try out all the buttons and actions that you can perform.
Be sure to check out the mirror in your home space; this gives you a good idea of what you look like to other users and how to move around.
There are numerous portals dotted around your home space, so you can easily teleport to several locations directly from home.
Touring the Metaverse
Hopping between worlds is relatively painless. The most straightforward way to get to another world is the quick menu. Just look for a world that seems interesting and warp there. You’ll be pulled into a sort of blank empty space as the new world loads in from the internet.
A nice place for newcomers is the Udon Bird Sanctuary, which is literally a waterside space filled with ducks. You can feed them as you hang around and chat with people.
In VRChat, you can hear other people’s conversations if you’re close enough to them, as the app simulates how voices travel. Keep that in mind when you’re in a public space!
In the real world, friends meet in bars, restaurants, and other hangouts designed to help people socialize. This is equally true in VRChat, and you can pick between an enormous number of places, each with its own vibe and crowd. For example, the Black Cat is designed to mimic classy real-world places with a jazz club vibe.
If it weren’t for the carnival of weird avatars walking around, this could be any real-world club where the drinks cost way too much.
Basic Activities and Sights
VRChat’s worlds are hard to really separate into categories. Some are designed to be games; others are made to be places you visit as if you were a tourist. Users can make up games to play, or some worlds are specifically designed to be play areas. Sometimes activities are temporarily added to some worlds because of special events.
For example, the Japan Shrine world added an Easter-related activity during the holiday, but the rest of the time it’s just a place to visit.
Events like these can also act as a good icebreaker if you want to strike up conversations with other visitors—but, even during regular service, there’s plenty to get a conversation going, even if it’s about how the shrine looks a little last-generation.
Time can pass quickly in VRChat when you’re having a good time, and my Quest 2 was pretty much begging for mercy after just under three hours.
Safety in the World of VRChat
VRChat is largely policed by the community. Just like any other online platform, it’s easy to see and hear things that are likely offensive to a broad number of people. We encountered many young-sounding users while using the app, and that’s something to keep in mind if you’re an adult.
To VRChat’s credit, you have plenty of options to control who you can hear or see in the world. These safety and privacy settings aren’t particularly intuitive, but once you know where they are, it’s easy to toggle them from your quick menu.
Ultimately, the best way to stay safe is to use private instances where only approved friends can interact with you. However, just like in real life, there are risks and rewards when you leave the safety of your own space.
Fun Games to Play in VRChat
There are plenty of games to play in VRChat, but a few options are worth checking out first before you find your own hidden gems.
Zombie Tag is just what it sounds like. One person starts of being “it,” which in this case means being an infected zombie. Every person they tag also becomes infected until the last person standing succumbs to the inevitable.
Prison Escape is another creative use of the VRChat platform. Here, players take on either the role of a prison guard or a prisoner. Prisoners try to escape; guards try to stop them. It’s a simple premise but huge amounts of fun if you’re playing with the right people.
Interacting With Other Users in VRChat
While the world looks rather primitive graphically, especially on a Quest 2, VRChat can quickly feel like a real place where you’re present. Speaking to another user feels like speaking to a real person present in the same space as you. Avatars do a remarkable job of conveying body posture and basic body language. Conversations feel quite natural, and if you can speak to someone in real life, you’ll have no issue conversing with them in VR.
Apart from all the metaverse-ey things you can do, the most value that VRChat (and similar platforms) bring to the table is that feeling of being in the presence of other people. That’s something FaceTime, Zoom, or Skype simply can’t do. Since it’s free to give VRChat a try, there’s no reason to avoid dipping your toes into this vanguard of the metaverse revolution. All you need is a VR headset like the $299 Meta Quest 2.