It’s hard to imagine you could leave this world 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 used Discord or Twitter Spaces before, you already have a good idea of what VRChat is all about. At its core, it’s a service where people can meet and hang out. Much like creating a Discord server, you can create spaces for special purposes. There are Discord game servers, servers dedicated to clubs for various hobbies, and some that are just a place to meet and chat with friends.
VRChat is that and more. It’s an example of a metaverse platform, where people come together as avatars in virtual spaces to hang out, play games, chat, and socialize just like you would in real life.
There are many instanced worlds to choose from, mostly created by users. An “instanced” world simply means that the different worlds of VRChat are not connected as a 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 can enter.
Get started with VRChat
Once you have entered VRChat in the App Store in the Quest 2 helmet (now known as “Meta Quest 2.”), you’re dropped into a special room with a mirror so you can choose an avatar.
You can use the randomize button to find an avatar close to what you want and then change it, but none of these choices are permanent. You can come back later and change them. We recommend that you start by setting your avatar size to match your actual size. The world scales based on the size of your avatar, and being giant or mouse-sized can be tricky until you get the hang of it.
Once you choose an avatar, you are taken to an onboarding area with minimal tutorial information posted to the environment. The choice of your type of movement 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 cause motion sickness or a feeling of instability, but we found VRChat’s direct motion to be quite comfortable.
All of these preferences can be changed at any time from the quick menu on the left controller, so I just chose direct movement because I’m quite used to VR locomotion.
The sweetness of the hearth
Newcomers will be presented with five portals: Relaxing Vibes, Play a Game, Visit Your Home, Find Avatars, and Time to Party.
We recommend going home first, as there is a more comprehensive amount of information to help you understand VRChat’s commands before heading out into the world. This is a safe space to try out all the buttons and actions you can perform.
Be sure to check the mirror in your home space; it gives you a good idea of what you look like to other users and how to get around.
There are many portals scattered around your home space, so you can easily teleport to multiple locations directly from home.
Jumping between worlds is relatively painless. The easiest way to access another world is through the quick menu. Just look for a world that looks interesting and warp there. You’ll be pulled into a kind of empty empty space as the new world loads 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 while you hang out 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 this in mind when you are in a public space!
In the real world, friends meet in bars, restaurants, and other hangouts designed to help people socialize. This is also true in VRChat, and you can choose between a huge number of locations, each with its own vibe and crowd. For example, the Black Cat is designed to mimic real-world posh venues with a jazz club vibe.
If it weren’t for the carnival of weird avatars walking around, it could be any real-world club where drinks cost way too.
Basic activities and curiosities
The worlds of VRChat are hard to really separate into categories. Some are designed to be games; others are meant to be places you visit as if you were a tourist. Users may invent games to play, or some worlds are specifically designed to be play areas. Sometimes activities are temporarily added to some worlds due to special events.
For example, the Japan Shrine world has added an Easter-related activity during the holidays, but the rest of the time it’s just a place to visit.
Events like these can also serve as a good icebreaker if you want to strike up conversations with other visitors, but even during regular service there is plenty to strike up a conversation, even if it’s of the appearance of the sanctuary a little last generation.
Time can pass quickly in VRChat when you’re having a good time, and my quest 2 was almost begging for mercy after just under three hours.
Security in the world of VRChat
VRChat is largely community controlled. Like any other online platform, it’s easy to see and hear things that might offend a lot of people. We’ve 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 security 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 trusted 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 before finding your own hidden gems.
Zombie Tag is exactly what it sounds like. A person begins to be “it”, which in this case means to be an infected zombie. Every person they mark is also infected until the last person standing succumbs to the inevitable.
You may know Among us as a dormant hit indie game that took the world by storm, but there’s actually a VR remake of this game of deception and betrayal, so now you can be “sus” in VR too.
Prison Escape is another creative use of the VRChat platform. Here, players assume either the role of a prison guard or a prisoner. The prisoners try to escape; the guards try to stop them. It’s a simple premise but a lot of fun if you play with the right people.
Interact with other users in VRChat
While the world looks rather primitive graphically, especially on a Quest 2, VRChat can quickly look like a real place where you are present. Talking to another user is like talking to a real person in the same space as you. Avatars do an amazing job of conveying basic body posture and body language. Conversations feel pretty natural, and if you can talk to someone in real life, you’ll have no problem conversing with them in VR.
Outside of all the metaverse things you can do, the most important value that VRChat (and similar platforms) bring to the table is that feeling of being in the presence of other people. This is something that FaceTime, Zoom or Skype simply cannot do. Since it’s free to try VRChat, 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.