For the last few days I’ve been spending quite a lot of time in VRChat. I’ve also been making stuff:

I have some very… mixed feelings about it. It’s really neat to be a liberating space where you can just Be, and where you can explore, and make friends (although it’s really important to start out with someone you know from elsewhere, rather than starting with public spaces).

In the last few days I’ve seen some amazing places, and had some incredible experiences. As a graphics programmer it’s amazing to be able to quasi-physically be in a space where shaders are reality, and seeing the incredible creativity that goes into building things is so wonderful.

There’s also a level of physical interaction that takes place that’s been sorely lacking from my life, not just in terms of the last few years with pandemic isolation, but also with the level of freedom people have for just like… hugging each other. And headpatting. And being silly, and dancing whenever they feel like it.

It turns out that I also feel just as awkward in virtual spaces as I do in real spaces, when it comes to physical interaction.

The sense of presence is incredible. Even without any sort of haptic input, my brain expects to be able to feel certain things — being touched, having snow land on my face — and so I do. Sometimes it can be wonderful. Sometimes it can be disorienting, especially when someone else walks through me, or I get hit in the face by someone’s gigantic tail.

VRChat has definitely messed up my circadian rhythm. Everyone I interact with tends to be on late at night, and different spaces have different apparent times of day, which has really confused my sense of time. But also, the two nights after I got SDK upload access, I ended up staying up until 5 AM with a constant cycle of “one more thing”/“wait let me try this”/“just one more little fix,” a hyperfocus tendency I know all too well.

You know how I’m burned out on working? It turns out that my brain really wants to be productive. It just has to be something that feels meaningful to me.

I’ve ported a couple of my Serious Art™ into VRChat; so far it’s just Teageneration and void*. The folks who have seen them have enjoyed them. I’ve also done a couple of presentations of Lo-Fi Beats to Grind Coffee To which have gone over very well, as well as some of my other music videos. I’ll definitely be adding a theater to my gallery at some point.

But I need to take a break from working on these things. I am very tired. My virtual body doesn’t need to sleep, but my physical one sure does.

I’m worried that I might get addicted to this place. Last night I was hanging out in a cabin with a bunch of other furries, when another member of their group (who I hadn’t met) showed up to announce to everyone that he needed to take a break from VRChat, because it was affecting his mental health too much and his life was falling apart. I could see myself being in his position. I don’t want that to happen to me.

I still need to take care of the real world. And I still want to.

In some ways, being able to be seen as a cute plaid critter has been good for me. I feel like a proper reflection of myself is out there, and the fact that it’s a virtual extension of my physical body has me actually loving my physical body more. And I find this quite surprising.

It’s also helped me with my fear of heights, somewhat (at least I don’t feel quite so viscerally afraid of falling in VR anymore). What this has done to my motion sensitivity remains to be seen.

As usual my mind is exploding with so many ideas for spaces I want to build. It’d be lovely to build out some of the spaces on SpinDizzy or to follow the grand tradition of porting in other-platform games by building out a VR version of Zork or the like. Many years ago I also had the idea that Unity could be a setting for an MMO, and maybe I could dabble with building out some spaces, ironically in the other Unity1.

Most of the VR platforms just feel very commercial and constrained, and you can feel their attempt at being corporate in the air. Sanitized, “safe” avatars built from components that evoke uniformity and blandness, content creation tools that only let you build things that the platform expects you to build, microtransactions to do pretty much anything… everything feels like corporate bullshit. But VRChat is amazing. It’s a glorious creator-driven anarchy, with so much imagination and creativity. It’s a platform for expression, and it gives building blocks that make that expression possible, and every change they make seems to be in service of making expressiveness easier.

One particularly incredible thing is the avatar control system. Rather than everything needing to be baked animations (although baked animations are certainly possible), there’s a fully-fledged IK system, so people who are controlling their avatar on desktop still have credible walking behaviors, and people who only have tracked heads and hands still get their elbows and legs moving relatively well. And of course it’s flexible enough that full body tracking systems are feasible and affordable; you can use a Kinect, for example (I’d be doing that right now if I could find my dang USB adapter!), and there’s also quite a few cheap and DIY body tracking options out there, such as SlimeVR (which I’ve preordered a pre-built set, because I can wait a few months and I know I don’t have the patience to build it myself), and some folks have even built tracking rigs using a cheap webcam and a printer.

Anyway. It turns out that I really do want to make a lot of things. I just have to have motivations that are, like, “hey people like my stuff” or “this feels very satisfying to bring into existence” and not “hey I am being paid for it.”

As always, if you want to friend me on VRChat, here’s my profile page, and I’ve also just added a #vr-chat channel on my Discord if folks want to talk about it there or arrange meetups or the like.

  1. While Unity the game engine did exist in 2007 when I started the comics, basically nobody had heard about it. Because the engine got really big and popular, however, this has become a constant source of confusion. Now whenever I talk about “working on Unity” people aren’t sure if I mean comics or games, or if I specify comics, they think I’m making comics about the game engine. I also have had people ask why I have so many books about Unity (the game engine) when they see my stock shelves. But it really doesn’t help that book 2 is entitled “Distribution.” 

    Within the comic, “Unity” is just the name given to the ship by its current inhabitants since they originally see it as the universe; it was named after the mathematical concept. The original designation of the ship is Icarus 184-31A, so any VRChat space I build would probably be named that.


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