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During the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic many governments imposed forced lockdowns and implemented social distancing measures. At the same time there was also a large increase in gaming sales, which was particularly pronounced in the Virtual Reality (VR) sector of the market. We hypothesize that this is no coincidence since VR immersion and the capability of inducing embodiment and a feeling of presence can mitigate the loss of contact with outside world. VR has social and spatial potential to provide space and place for human interactions in time when physical contracts are restricted. To investigate this, we analyse reviews of VRChat (a social VR game) posted on the Steam platform, both before and during the pandemic. Among several themes that were identified, we found indications that spatiality plays an important role in the players’ experience. Users describe virtual worlds of the game using emotional language that suggest bonding and presence of place attachment. In the reviews made during the pandemic there is a strong theme of safety associated with virtual places of VRChat – a replacement of physical space that is no longer accessible or is perceived as unsafe. At least for some users, VRChat has provided a sympathetic and comfortable environment during the pandemic to act as a surrogate for social interaction during social distancing and isolation. Future interviews with users are needed to extend and validate this preliminary research.
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56 Maria Paluszkiewicz, Artur Olejniczak Rozwój Regionalny iPolityka Regionalna 51: 57–75
Michał Rzeszewski1, Leighton Evans2
1Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań
Faculty of Human Geography and Planning
Critical Geography Research Unit
2Swansea University, Wales, United Kingdom
Virtual place during quarantine – acurious
case of VRChat
Abstract: During the rst months of the COVID-19 pandemic many governments imposed forced
lockdowns and implemented social distancing measures. At the same time there was also a large
increase in gaming sales, which was particularly pronounced in the Virtual Reality (VR) sector of
the market. We hypothesize that this is no coincidence since VR immersion and the capability of
inducing embodiment and afeeling of presence can mitigate the loss of contact with outside world.
VR has social and spatial potential to provide space and place for human interactions in time when
physical contracts are restricted. To investigate this, we analyse reviews of VRChat (asocial VR
game) posted on the Steam platform, both before and during the pandemic. Among several themes
that were identied, we found indications that spatiality plays an important role in the players’ ex-
perience. Users describe virtual worlds of the game using emotional language that suggest bonding
and presence of place attachment. In the reviews made during the pandemic there is astrong theme
of safety associated with virtual places of VRChat – areplacement of physical space that is no longer
accessible or is perceived as unsafe. At least for some users, VRChat has provided asympathetic
and comfortable environment during the pandemic to act as asurrogate for social interaction during
social distancing and isolation. Future interviews with users are needed to extend and validate this
preliminary research.
Key words: virtual reality, space and place, COVID-19, social distancing, place attachment
Do You Know Da Wae?
Do You Know Da Wae?
Do You Know Da Wae?
Ugandan Knuckles
58 Michał Rzeszewski, Leighton Evans
This is astrange time for ageographical thought. On the one hand there is atrag-
edy of global pandemic sweeping through every country, disrupting geographies
of every scale and taking its toll in human life – at the time of writing (July 2020)
there were already more than 600k deaths attributed to COVID-19. On the other
hand, this is an unprecedented situation where we can observe articially in-
duced and controlled large scale changes – both in their extent and severity, in
human spatial behaviour and in the perception of space and place. To combat
the pandemic many governments implemented lockdowns and encouraged social
distancing. In these unprecedented circumstances there is achoice to be made
by every social scientist whether to use this time and opportunity to pursue
new problems and study them, or consider the ethical choice as dictating that we
stand aside and help with the relief effort, without the risk of exploiting the sit-
uation. This is amatter that must be considered individually, and in the context
of the work being done – see for example aspecial issue of “Dialogues in Human
Geography” journal where aCOVID-19 related call for papers met with astrong
criticism (Rose-Redwood 2020). We choose to have avoice on the matter than
stand aside. Our research is already ongoing in the middle of this crisis and for
us this is acritical call to action – to try to understand the changes that are taking
place. We do it in hope that this will help with understanding those changes and
to better prepare for the future. We feel that the discussion on the implications of
how people choose to allocate their time between physical and virtual worlds is
signicant, especially in the context of lockdowns and social distancing. That this
will help in the future both with mitigation and with understanding.
For our contribution to this special issue we take acloser look at Virtual Re-
ality (VR) technology and its social and spatial potential to provide space and
place for human interactions in time when physical contracts are restricted. This
is an issue that, in our view, rose to importance since the COVID-19 pandemic
forced many governments to impose restrictions on freedom of movement and
social contact. Measures of various type and severity were undertaken to prevent
spreading of the virus ranging from simple recommendations to stay at home
to fully enforced curfews. Public parks were closed, and cultural gatherings pro-
hibited. At the time of the writing of this proposal some of those restriction in
Poland and Wales have been lifted but there is an ever-present spectre of their
restoration since the number of conrmed cases is still growing. No matter how
light or severe those restrictions were, people were less able to perform their
social and spatial behaviour as normal. As aresult, they turned to various tech-
nological solutions in search for surrogates for missing parts of everyday life
that were related to movement and socializing. This can be seen by the increases
in number of users in online digital games (Smith 2020). One of the branches
of gaming and social technologies that could be being able to mitigate the loss
of spatial and social dimensions is VR (Gao et al. 2020). Due to its immersive
potential and capability of inducing embodiment and feeling of presence (Slater
2003) VR can mitigate lack of contact with outside world. This is along time
58 Michał Rzeszewski, Leighton Evans Virtual place during quarantine – acurious case of VRChat 59
promise of VR and its sales pitch – to replace material world in all kind of human
interactions in adream of ametaverse (Evans 2018).
Even before pandemic, and outside the scope of immersive VR apps, some re-
searchers postulated that an increasing number of people spend more and more
time in virtual worlds (Coulson et al. 2019) – where their experiences, at least
at the emotional level, mimic those in the physical world. This phenomenon has
been called by Castranova (2007) the ‘exodus to the virtual world’ and marked
as asignicant sociological turning point. While VR was never at the forefront of
the causes for this ‘migration’, the pandemic coincides with aresurgence in in-
terest in this form of computer environments and interfaces. Evans (2018) called
this an “re-emergence” since virtual reality technology has already along history.
The thing that makes VR special in spatial context is that it offers anew mode of
mediated social interaction and immersion and presence are two terms that are fre-
quently used to describe the experience of VR (Evans, Rzeszewski 2020). While
immersion is ‘simply what the technology delivers from an objective point of
view’ (Slater 2003, p. 1), presence is contrastingly understood as being ‘ahuman
reaction to immersion’ (p. 2). Immersion, as Evans (2018) argues, is aunique
selling point of VR. Engaging with VR has often been considered an immediate
gateway to the experience of feeling immersed. Immersion was dened by Jerald
(2015) as presence, the subjective feeling of ‘being there’ or of being at another
articial place, and users can get afeeling of being ‘transported’ to another world.
This conation of terms is problematic, although common. According to Shin
(2017, p. 65), “immersion and presence are terms used to describe an experience
in which the line between reality and imagination is blurred”. In psychology, the
term immersion is used to describe astate of mind in which the participants are
‘completely involved in something while doing the action(s)’ (Muhanna 2015,
p. 347). Evans and Rzeszewski (2020) argue that the critical difference between
asense of immersion and asense of presence in VR is due to the kinds of rela-
tions between the human user, the technology and the interface and the world
itself – in essence how the human and technology work together to remediate
the experience of the world. An experience of presence requires afocal relation,
an embodiment relation and ahermeneutic relation where the meaning of the
existential locale itself is constructed through the relation of human and tech-
nology towards the world. Presence is therefore both aphenomenological state
of being and a construction which is contingent on the technology of VR, the
interface of VR, the design of the experience, the content of the experience and
the intentionality and mood of the user towards feeling embodied and present in
aVR experience. In the context of social VR then, the use of ahead-mounted dis-
play (HMD) alone is not enough for presence; the VR user must also be oriented
towards asense of embodiment and presence, and the VR environment must be
accommodating to this orientation
From the above we can assume that VR has the technological tools to invoke
asense of place and more importantly aplace attachment through immersion and
embodiment mechanisms. The place attachment is aterm used in environmental
psychology and geography to describe emotional bonding that people develop
60 Michał Rzeszewski, Leighton Evans
towards aplace that is meaningful for them. It is one of the components of the
sense of place (other being place meaning) (Kudryavtsev et al. 2012) and it is
from our perspective amore important one in the context of VR. The reasoning
behind this is that forming an attachment to place is an indication of the sig-
nicant relation being created between aperson and a place. The digitality of
current human existence – of which the ubiquities of mobile media and digital
forms of communication is but one example – results in increasing importance
of digital content in the layers of meaning that form apalimpsest of adigi-place
(Zook 2007). However, the emergence of virtual environments, that potentially
can provide aspace for human dwelling with the use of the VR technology, poses
another conceptual challenge, since it removes the physicality of the location
from the sense of place equation. And that exact physicality has been for along
time traditionally assumed to play an important role in forming an attachment to
place (Lewicka 2011).
The place itself, while differently dened in many disciplinary traditions – and
even within the geography itself (see for example Creswell 2014) – has always
been perceived as something that is anatural condition of human existence. This
claim is characteristic for phenomenology (Heidegger 1962, Tuan 1975, Tuan
1977), where it provides akind of astable anchor for ahuman in an ever-chang-
ing world (dwelling = being) (Lewicka 2011). The importance of place impor-
tance in the age of the digital has been debated from the late 70s and 80s and
especially since the dawn of locative media. The main points of critique lay within
aperceived loss of the cultural specify of places – that they are becoming indistin-
guishable from one another, and that it results in creation of placelessness (Relph
1976) and non-places (Augé 1995). As John Meyerowitz noted in his famous
book “No Sense of Place” (1986), media technologies disassociate physical place
from social space and thus left media users without the sense of place.
On the other hand, it seems that while the concept of non-places is still valid
as an explanatory tool (Bauder 2016), there is agrowing number of studies that
show that not only the role of place has not diminished but it is growing (Janz
2005, Gustafson 2006). We engage with space and place through mobile media
on adaily basis (Wilken 2008) and our urban experience is dened by public
spaces produced by media technologies (McQuire 2017). Many places are created
solely through of the use of digital media by people that aim to construct loca-
tional capital or to take advantage of social value of agiven location – and those
new discourses and practices becomes embodied in spatial habitus (Halegoua
2020). The re-emergence of VR occurs therefore in landscape already rich in
social mechanisms that adopted digital technologies as one of the components
of everyday spatiality. And the COVID-19 pandemic can probably be seen as an
impulse for many people to incorporate VR into their own spatial practices and
their everyday geographies and that it could potentially build an attachment to
place in virtual environment of VR social app. In this research we aim to identify
the indicators of place attachment to virtual place by investigating on of the many
VR social apps – VRChat.
60 Michał Rzeszewski, Leighton Evans Virtual place during quarantine – acurious case of VRChat 61
VRChat – avirtual reality social software
For our investigation we are interrogating the use of VRChat software. It is afree-
to-play, massively multiplayer online virtual reality social platform. It allows play-
ers to choose 3D models (avatars) to represent themselves and to wander through
various gamespaces (worlds) and interact with other users. VRChat is available
for awide range of VR headsets and it can be also played in desktop mode. One of
the features it provides is the full-body tracking that can be used with appropriate
equipment (e.g. Vive Tracker) to bring additional modes of social interaction.
VRChat is one of arange of social VR platforms – with other examples like
AltspaceVR, Rec Room or Facebook Spaces. Since 2018 these applications have
become more popular among VR users due to their increasing sophistication.
Fig. 1. One of the Author’s avatars as seen in the mirror of the default home world in
62 Michał Rzeszewski, Leighton Evans
While they all share the promise of providing an immersive social experience to
users, they vary greatly in tools that they employ to create it. VRChat uniqueness
lays in the ability of players to create almost any avatar they like and copy those
that are being used by other players (Fig. 1). In the same way players can create
worlds of their own with using software development kit (SDK) created by game
developers for Unity – avery popular cross-platform game engine. Worlds pro-
vide background and structure for social interaction. As one of the Reddit users
wrote in the “Rec Room vs VRChat” discussion:
“VR Chat – Social app that has you feel immersed in different environments.
You’re mainly talking with other people while taking in different surround-
ings. You won’t get much gameplay-wise, but the environments will hit you
on an emotional level.”
Entendretimestwo on r/oculus
Those two aspects of VRChat (avatars and world building capabilities) made it in
our opinion agood eld to investigate the role of place in VR during pandemic.
Avatars are known to have the potential to help with invoking asense of presence
through building arelation between real and virtual body (Slater et al. 2008) and
this is even more true for immersive environments where they play an important
role with in cognition (Steed et al. 2016).
It is also worth mentioning that one of the features of VRChat games is that
due the creative tools it provides it is also aspace for all kinds of curiosities. The
quotation that is provided at the beginning of this paper comes from perhaps the
most popular meme that originated in VRChat, the infamous “Ugandan Knuck-
les”. At the end of 2017, the worlds of VRChat were swarmed with groups of
players adorning distorted avatars of the game character Knuckles and follow-
ing and “trolling” other players endlessly asking the question “Do You Know Da
Wae?”. In avariation of this behaviour, trolling players selected female avatars
and according to their reactions either accepted them as their “Queens” – which
was signalled by clapping sounds or as “Fake Queens”, in which case spitting
sounds were emitted. As can be seen from this example, VRChat, as with all
social media, can be abreeding ground for both racist and sexist behaviour. How-
ever, unlike other media, VRChat is an experience that can potentially provide
asense of place and place attachment, meaning that one can feel trolling and in-
trusion more deeply than on other social media platform. Deviant Artist tideayer
the creator of Uganda Knuckles 3D model that was used in VRChat trolling –
expressed exactly this concern when he learned about the widespread use of its
62 Michał Rzeszewski, Leighton Evans Virtual place during quarantine – acurious case of VRChat 63
“It’s like…. It’s like that special place for me. To get away from the real world
and be someone I’m not…. But right now. VRChat has become ameme ground
and Ifeel Ihave helped to dig agrave for VRChat.”
Those interactions and phenomena play signicant role in perception and wide-
spread adoption of the use of virtual worlds. It is therefore important to investi-
gate the spatialities of these environments, to understand the reasons for adop-
tion and the maintenance of this adoption over time.
To investigate questions about the role of place in virtual experience of VRChat
we have decided to investigate user reviews. They can provide avaluable source
of information on various aspects of games and gaming in general. They have
been proven useful in recognizing success factors in game sales (Ahn et al. 2017)
and can be treated as aresource important for game developers to gauge satisfac-
tion of users and identication of bugs and errors in game design (Li et al. 2019).
Here, we are using reviews as asource of information about in-game experiences
that are related to perception of space/place and place-attachment. The time of
the pandemic is special in this regard since social distancing and limits imposed
on the ability to use public spaces are exposing those factors in VR gaming.
While in-depth-interviews would be also useful as amethod we think that using
game reviews provide avaluable data source since we are able to look into past
reviews from before the pandemic and gain access to views and opinions that are
not affected by the current situation. was selected as adata source
since it is the most popular gaming platform2 and had the most reviews for VR-
Chat at the time of writing. We did not use other platforms like the Oculus Store
since the review mechanisms implemented there are different and that would
comparisons between review sources problematic.
Data was obtained using Steamworks3 which is afreely available API made
available to Steam game developers. Using a custom-made script, we queried
Steam for all the reviews of the VRChat game. For each review, apart from the
text content, we also stored additional information like user ID, time of creation,
votes, number of comments and whether it was classied as negative or positive.
As of 1 July 2020, this procedure resulted in adatabase of 28334 unique reviews.
Since we were mainly interested in new themes that could emerge during the
pandemic, we decided to split the data into two periods. Therefore, we creat-
ed two datasets – from November–December 2019 (BP – Before Pandemic) and
64 Michał Rzeszewski, Leighton Evans
from March-April (DP During Pandemic). From both datasets, we randomly
selected 2000 reviews. Their text content was the analysed using CAQDAS soft-
ware (NVivo) and an open coding technique. Individual code was grouped into
categories and patterns according to the principles of grounded theory (Corbin,
Strauss 1990, Glaser, Strauss 2017).
Apart from the reviews, we used our own experiences to interpret the data
in the form of an autoethnography. This was based by our own use of VRChat
software – both researchers have at least 100 hours of gameplay. While the soft-
ware is available both for desktop and VR platforms, we have used only the latter
method of engagement since its immersive capabilities are important in context
of space and place.
During the coding procedure we created 41 individual codes, that were then cat-
egorized into eight themes. The limited number of codes that we used is adirect
consequence of the nature of our data. Product reviews are mainly repetitive
statements that praise or criticize aproduct and VRChat reviews on Steam are
no different; this resulted in afew codes dominating the hierarchy. That being
said, there are many reviews in which users were very open and shared their
emotions and experiences during their time in VRChat. We believe that those
reviews provide us with asufcient empirical saturation. Below, we briey de-
scribe the themes that we found important. Most of them were present in both
datasets – reviews made before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, but when
this is not the case and there is asignicant difference, we have highlighted this
in the description.
Table 1. Main themes (with percentages) identied in both datasets before and after
% of cases belonging to theme in dataset
No. Main themes BP (pre-COVID dataset) DP (COVID dataset)
1 VRChat is fun 45.1 51.2
2 Glitchiness 30.7 25.8
3 User created content and agency 13.3 20.1
4 Toxicity 25.3 10.1
5 Spatiality and place attachment 20.9 26.0
6 Safe social space in the pandemic 6.2 35.3
7 Virtual Reality technology 5.1 10.3
8 The Other World 4.1 8.8
64 Michał Rzeszewski, Leighton Evans Virtual place during quarantine – acurious case of VRChat 65
Theme 1: VRChat is fun
As the overall sentiment towards VRChat is overwhelmingly positive it came as
no surprise that this theme is dominant. The main type of comment is just aone
sentence post with something akin to this one:
“It is afun game to play with friends, as well fun to meet new people.”
Most of the reviews of this type emphasise that fun, when being described in
more detail, comes mainly from the social aspect of this game. Users are high-
lighting the fact that they are meeting lots of friendly people and that they can
interact with them. The manner of this interaction is another characteristic that
is often mentioned. People are praising the non-linearity and randomness of the
gameplay that together with the overwhelming possibilities of creating worlds
and avatars (another important theme described below) brings potential of end-
less play. As one user describes:
“Joining friends and hanging out together is really fun, whether that means
chilling in atreehouse and looking at some cool views, partying while avis-
ualizer turns aYouTube video into something colourful and stellar, playing
games like freeze tag or aco-op version of Doom, or just goong around with
silly tools and avatars”.
Theme 2: Glitchiness
One of the most common critiques of the game is the amount of errors, bugs and
inconsistencies in the gameplay. VRChat often crashes and, when it is working,
lags and glitches are a common occurrence (this uncanny oscillation between
functioning and non-functioning has been described as the glitch ontology of the
computational, see Berry 2012). This is caused by the constant changes that
game engine is undertaking. The sheer complexity of the game world creation
that requires user created content to be optimized together with the game engine
is not an easy task to do. As one user puts it:
“They try to optimize the game and only for it to run worse than before. Think
of it like this, every update is a step forward, but every update is also two
steps backwards. (…) the fact is the game does not run that smooth for most
average computers out there.”
It is worth mentioning that glitches are mentioned both in positive and neg-
ative reviews and in the former they are seen either as a feature that is just
aminor annoyance or even as an additional level of randomness that add to the
66 Michał Rzeszewski, Leighton Evans
“This is one of the best glitchiest games with all the random fun you need!”
Glitches and errors are often found in complex open world games, but the
social aspect of the game make it particularly stressful and unpleasant since they
forbid aplayer to join their friends and newly created social life. The signicance
of this drawback was even more severe in the time of the pandemic when it adds
another layer of stress:
“Ihave no idea why my VR keeps crashing. It was working perfectly ne afew
days ago and no ican only be in chat for like 10 minutes then it crashed
and kicks me. It’s not just me too this happens with my friends as well. Like
everything is ne, the internet works ne, ijust updated my computer. (before
iupdated it, it still done the same thing) I’m just trying to play this damn
game but it’s not working and it’s stressing me the hell out.”
Asub-theme, that is connected also to the toxicity theme below, is the crash-
ing the game by having or encountering a badly optimized avatars or being in
acustom world that is full of glitches. This can happen because the game itself is
very resource-hungry and some of the special effects (shaders) that can be added
to the avatars, put aserious strain on weaker machines. What is interesting is
that this is used by the so-called “Crashersthat are often accused by other players
of causing this effect on purpose.
“Fair warning however, some people within the VRChat are incredibly toxic
people. Specically, the type of person known as «crashers». They load avatars
with animations that make people’s games, or even computers, crash. Just
because they can.”
Theme 3: User created content and agency
The third them is directly related to one of the main unique selling points of VR-
Chat – the ability of players to create their own avatars and worlds. While doing
it requires some level of technical knowledge, it is very easy to make use of awide
range of public content to create anew avatar. There are even whole worlds – Av-
atar worlds solely dedicated for this purpose only. This is an important feature
for many players and there is avibrant market on the Discord platform for such
commissions. These two reviews are agood illustration of this theme:
“This game also allows you to make avatars and worlds freely in unity, so you
can be as creative as you’d like! Bit of awarning: This game changes your life
but in an amazing and perfect way!”
“This game is amazing, Icommissioned an artist to do a3d model so Ihave
my own custom avatar”
66 Michał Rzeszewski, Leighton Evans Virtual place during quarantine – acurious case of VRChat 67
The ability to create things give the sense of agency that make the experi-
ence more immersive and people can become attached to VR world personalised
through their own creation quite easily. This attachment mechanism is akin to
the very similar process that is responsible for producing place attachment for
physical places – when people bond strongly to aplace, it has been carefully se-
lected for living (Bolan 1997). This also gave people the ability to express them-
selves in new ways:
“This game is what helped me from being anti-social. There are many worlds
that you can nd with alot of people in and you can choose an avatar that
best suits you.”
Although these type of comments that express the importance of agency
and the ability to create content – are present in reviews made during and before
the pandemic it is slightly more visible in the former. This could mean that the
agency, however limited, is still providing aprosthetic for aphysical world. As
one user put it:
“yes, however igot this sick awesome giant avatar and ppl could ride in
my hands it was amazing. imagine caring some cute fox girl in your hand...
iknow amazing right. well they updated the game like 2 days ago and now
ican’t carry anymore e-girls, imean fox girls in my hand anymore. and now
I’m sad. Mr dev or devs plz bring this back. Ineed the cuteness in my life,
COVID-19 is taking everything please let me be aweeb.”
Theme 4: Toxicity
VRChat, at its core, is an online social community with all the drawbacks this
brings. One drawback that is often mentioned in the reviews is the toxicity of
some of the players. This can take form of intentional crashing (as mentioned
before), various hacking attempts, using offensive avatars (like avatars styled on
the KKK), trolling (like Ugandan Knuckles) or behaviours ranging from stalking
to simulated rape. Some of the reviewer expressed their disgust and disappoint-
ment caused by those toxic encounters:
“There are plenty of upsides to this game but with good, comes bad. You will
nd yourself struggling, suffering and feeling down due to the toxicity of the
community, they will beat you down and make you feel worthless before you
get achance to start areal conversation, this will not stop, it will continue and
you’ll feel that every attempt you make to nd new people to hang out with,
comes with nothing but drawbacks.”
While it could be assumed that in the case of the quarantine this kind of be-
haviour will be more easily found in the reviews – since it would be more emo-
68 Michał Rzeszewski, Leighton Evans
tional harmful – we have not found this in our research. This may be the result of
the relatively short time that new players spend in the game – toxic behaviour is
athing more prevalent in older online communities where there is an enhanced
awareness of group-specic norms (Lea, Spears 1991).
Theme 5: Spatiality and place attachment
One of the unique aspects of VR games is the promise of immersion and pres-
ence. In describing VRChat, this is revealed in the descriptions of the spatial
experiences of players as being hospitable and enduring. This spatiality of the
game experience is common in the reviews. Users mention world exploration,
places they can visit, being able to move from one location to another location
or even the ability of VR to provide aseparate world to live in (we focus on this
last aspect in aseparate theme below). They often mention how important this
spatiality is for them as one user emotionally describe:
“There are alot of worlds you can join, and whenever Ivisit some worlds,
Iget really emotional seeing how far I’ve come. In aspan of 6 months Iwas
able to become apart of awelcoming community, become more condent, and
overcoming the depression that has loomed me for years. Iwas able to get VR,
watch movies with friends together, have asleepover and sleep in VR. There
are amusement parks, concerts, game worlds, avatar worlds, cafes, bars, sleep
rooms, hangout rooms, theatres, etc.”
Here, as it was briey mentioned in Theme 3, it can be also seen that in some
cases there is abond between players and virtual worlds of VRChat – attachment
to places they created or that tat they frequently visit, often to see friends and
likely-minded people. For them, VRChat became asignicant part of their per-
sonal spatiality – aplace where they can go exactly line in the physical place:
“So far Irecommend this game alot. Feel free to hit me up if you want. VR-
Chat is my second home, and Ihave areally caring group of friends Ican call
my family. So, Ihope your experience is the same, there’s so much fun to do
and so much worlds to explore if you expand your horizons.
See you in the metaverse.”
It is worth mentioning that there is avisible change in the way people write
about space in the reviews made before and during the pandemic. The spatiality
is no longer mainly focused on exploration of new worlds and the signs of place
attachment are more visible therefore we separated pandemic spatiality into
anew theme below.
68 Michał Rzeszewski, Leighton Evans Virtual place during quarantine – acurious case of VRChat 69
Theme 6: Safe social space in the pandemic
The concept of the virtual world of VRChat being asafe space for interaction and
social life emerges before the pandemic but social distancing has intensied it
and changed its character. Before the pandemic, VRChat was perceived as safe be-
cause according to some users it can mitigate social anxiety. For some people, it
is far easier to make friends and acquaintances in the virtual world. One does not
need to look into other people eyes to make contact, toxic people can be blocked
and there are enough strange things to hide in the social background. Here are
some of the examples of the reviews that are focused on this theme:
“Have you ever had the fear of looking people in the eyes as you speak to
them? If you have then VRChat is right for you. You can stare at mirrors as
you and your friends talk to each other and avoid eye contact, making it easier
for Introverts to meet up”
“In the harsh reality, some people suffer from Depression, loneliness, and oth-
er disorders that make it difcult for them to make friends, have aclear head,
and get tasks done. Iwas once one of these people. When no other game fuels
your need for attention and desire for social interaction, VRChat is here.”
During the pandemic, this theme has expanded. People feel safe here not only
from social anxieties but from the terrible reality of the pandemic marked with
social distancing. Virtual worlds are, for some of the users, almost adirect re-
placement that mitigate the loss of physical spatiality. For those that cannot go
anywhere during quarantine, it can replace the outside world completely as one
of the reviewers put it:
“In these times of 2020 pandemic lockdown, VRChat offered away to go
outside, go to anight club, go the beach, moon, forest. Go anywhere in VR
while locked indoors in real life. In VR there’s no social distancing, no queues,
no worries about catching adeadly virus. Just fun, meeting people from all
over the world and exploring, laughing, playing games, drinking, dancing...
Do whatever you want to do. Be whoever you want to be.”
For others – those that do go out, for example, to work – VRChat can replace
the third places in their life:
“Ijust love and am so fascinated with the concept of entering the virtual world
after along day at work, or after astressful day, and meeting up with your
friends in adance club taking shots.”
“Because of covid19, we need to stay home. But you can go out with it.
There’re so many worlds, so that Ican go to the muscle gym, the night club
without social distance, hooray!”
70 Michał Rzeszewski, Leighton Evans
It must be noted that our data provide avery limited insight into the actual
emotions and behaviour of the people that started using VR as asafe social place.
However, there is astrong indication that this is areal phenomenon that could be
explored further using other methods and observed for alonger period. We know
for example that the inux of the new users of VRChat is quite real and have
been noticed by other, “older” players since their behaviour is different:
“With the quarantine the trafc has been alot higher than normal. Which has
been both good and bad. Alot more client users who don’t care when messing
with people, crashing, portaling on top of people and such.”
It would be therefore interesting to observe if the people that immerse them-
selves in social VR during quarantine will become regular users afterwards
which will indicate apresence of aplace-attachment mechanism.
Theme 7: Virtual Reality technology
The appeal of VRChat as asocial media application lays in its utilization of VR
technology. User generated content allows players to think of new and unexpect-
ed ways of using VR and VRChat includes many relatively new tools, like full
body tracking, to support this creativity. VR itself (i.e. the use of an HMU) is
perceived as a“killer feature” of this software:
“Someone said to me: “If you’re not in VR then it’s not VRChat, it’s just chat’”
“Of course, you can play the game without VR but as you use VR, the ex-
perience is night and day. Being able to have custom avatars with limitless
possibilities that can have unique emotes and also being able to explore user
created worlds with other players in VR is truly something special.”
For others, the most important aspect of VR is that it allows them to be
co-present with others, to be present in other place that their own home, some-
thing that rise in importance in periods of social distancing:
“This is the perfect software for people using VR or Not that want to be social
without going anywhere, especially due to the pandemic this is agreat solu-
tion to social distancing, Iget to feel like my friends are actually there.”
VRChat can also be played without a VR headset which make it aunique
game in this respect. Of course, playing without aheadset has its limitation, but
still many reviewers found this experience apositive one:
“This is a fun game that has so many worlds you will never be able to see
them all. The best part is you don’t need aVR Headset to play. Iplay it on
my desktop and ieasily put hours into this game. Everyone should try this at
least once.”
70 Michał Rzeszewski, Leighton Evans Virtual place during quarantine – acurious case of VRChat 71
Still, it is often mentioned in the reviews by desktop players that they want to
join aVR crowd, since they are aware of the elements they are missing from the
game experience:
“Ionly have the desktop version but can’t wait to get an actual VR headset to
play this game as Iam addicted.”
The fact that both desktop and VR players co-exist in the gameworld at the
same time produces difference in levels of perceived and actual agency. While
this is also true for VR players with and without full body tracking, the desktop
players are at the bottom of this hierarchy which causes some resentment:
“if you are desktop user be aware that sometimes people will make fun of you
that you don’t have vr.”
Theme 8: The Other World
While researchers from various disciplines debate the existence and signicance
of the divide between the virtual and real world (Leszczyński 2015), players of
VRChat seems to adopt the view that when they enter the game, they enter asep-
arate virtual world. They tend to compare the experience of VRChat with real sit-
uations and real places and describe as other futuristic world, parallel to our own:
“But what this leads to bring up, is that no other game has made me feel this
way. It’s like Iam genuinely living asecond life in here, as Iam experiencing
all these emotions like we as humans naturally cause in the real world. But
that’s all Ihave to say as of today. Imay update this further as Iplay more,
Ithink this is interesting to log my thoughts as Iexperience this. But my nal
note is this: This VR stuff, it’s the future man!”
“when computers/the internet was rst exploding into what it is now abutt
load of people thought that in 50 years everyone would live avirtual life and
be automatically feed by robots and this game is basically the closes thing to
Within this view it is hard to escape comparisons to visions of the future that
are the work of ction. Two references that are most common are the ‘metaverse’
from Neal Stephenson’s “Snow Crash” (1992) and more the more recent ‘Oasis’
from Ernest Cline’s popular novel “Ready Player One” (2011). Those two visions
of virtual world form the most common frame of reference when the theme of
other world make its way into areview. Below are two examples of such posts:
“You think Ready Player One is good representation of what internet would
look like in VR? Oh you sweet summer child...”
72 Michał Rzeszewski, Leighton Evans
“VRChat is this generation’s Oasis; if you dig the world of “ready player one”.
The city of golden shadow, the other-land. Everything is made by its users and
as broken as some things can be from time to time, there’s so much more to
it. It boasts thousands of unique users aday, and you’ll NEVER run out of
something new to see, which is what makes it so exciting. The content that is
pushed to this game by its users is NEVERENDING.”
Conclusions and discussion
The examples we have provided above show that while VRChat provides acuri-
ously chaotic social experience, this experience is shaped in large part by its spa-
tiality. The reviews we have analysed are rich with direct and indirect references
to space and place. There are clear indications of the presence of place attachment
in the way players indicate their emotions and bonding to virtual features that
make the worlds of VRChat. The main mechanism that could be responsible for
this is the perceived agency that users have while playing. The ability to change
their avatars, their homes and to create new worlds is makes the places they visit
more ‘real’ to them. Instead of experiencing a place created by an anonymous
game developer, they can either make it personal by acreative act or choose one
of the worlds that suit them best. The vast majority of these worlds are created
by other players. This can perhaps result in the production of attachment in the
same as way as indicated by Bolan (1997) – that bonding with aneighbourhood
is stronger in people that invested more time in looking for anew dwelling place.
The place attachment that people acquire in this way while playing VRChat dif-
fers from the one that is associated with for example afamily home. There are no
feelings of nostalgia involved but rather the bond is formed more actively, which
as Gustafson (2014) observed is adistinct characteristic of the age of mobility.
There are examples of aspecic place attachment formed by anon-permanent
resident for example by second-home owners (Stedman 2006), and VRChat
users can be seen as temporary visitors in this manner.
Another way of looking at the place attachment mechanisms in VR is perhaps
through the lens of Gibsonian affordances (Gibson 1986). Specic kinds of affor-
dances, like the mode of movement and home environment are native to VRChat
(McVeigh-Schultz et al. 2018), are routinely created by active participation of the
players in their worlds – like the placement of mirrors that play aspecic social
function in the game (see Theme 6). Those affordances can be enacted upon, due
to the uniqueness of the VR embodiment experience that provide the tools nec-
essary to perform Seamon’s ‘place ballet’ (1980) and this enactment can produce
the sense of place (Marsh et al. 2009).
This research has also indicated that, for some users, VRChat has provided
asympathetic and comfortable environment during the pandemic to act as asur-
rogate for social interaction during social distancing and isolation. The salient
features of the game – fun, agency, world building and providing asafe space for
72 Michał Rzeszewski, Leighton Evans Virtual place during quarantine – acurious case of VRChat 73
interaction – can build asense of spatiality and place-attachment and overcome
the experience of toxicity and the disruption of delity from glitches. In the con-
text of VR, the social aspect of VRChat is important to note; Jaron Lanier was
arguing in the 1980s that co-presence and social interaction in VR would be
critically important to the experience of VR (Lanier 2017) and the user reviews
of VRChat validate those early reections on the power of VR when experienced
with other persons. This indicates an important research agenda away from the
apparent impression of VR as an extension of game studies and as commercially
viable as agaming platform.
To understand the notion of place-attachment (and therefore dwelling) in so-
cial VR, future interviews with users are needed to extend and validate this pre-
liminary research. While place-attachment in social VR is seen as important and
positive as asocial interaction surrogate in the time of COVID-19, there may be
other issues that arise from this phenomenon. Fried (2000) warned that strong
attachment to place can lead to decreased mobility and Druzhinina & Palma-Ol-
iveira (2004) connected this to our willingness to move in the face of natural
dangers. It would be important to observe whether this behaviour is also visible
in VR users and what form will it take. Will those that found asanctuary in vir-
tual worlds during the pandemic and formed an attachment to virtual places have
enough investment in that environment beyond the pandemic? Would this ex-
perience change their spatialities and relations to the ‘material’ world? How has
this inux of new players with different motivations changed the gameworld and
how the game interface is built? Most importantly, especially from the geograph-
ical point of view, what is the role of physical, material space in the human spatial
experience of VR? All those questions are worth pursuing since the potential of
VR to provide safe social space is hard to overlook – whatever the future brings.
This work was supported by the National Science Centre, Poland, grant number
2019/33/B/HS4/00057 and by the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan grant received
from the call „Badania nad COVID-19”
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Wirtualne miejsce wczasie pandemii – ciekawy przypadek VRChat
Zarys treści: Wpierwszych miesiącach pandemii COVID-19 wiele rządów narzuciło
swoim obywatelom różnego typu ograniczenia iwprowadziło zasady dystansowania spo-
łecznego. Jednocześnie nastąpił również duży wzrost sprzedaży gier komputerowych, co
było szczególnie widoczne wsektorze rynku Virtual Reality (VR). Stawiamy hipotezę,
że nie jest to przypadek, ponieważ zanurzenie wVR oraz zdolność tej technologii do
wywoływania wrażenia ucieleśnienia (embodiment) i poczucia obecności (presence) mogą
potencjalnie łagodzić utratę kontaktu ze światem zewnętrznym. VR ma naszym zdaniem
społeczny potencjał, aby zapewnić przestrzeń imiejsce dla ludzkich interakcji wczasie,
gdy zyczne kontrakty są ograniczone. Aby to zbadać, analizujemy recenzje VRChat (gry
społecznościowej VR) opublikowane na platformie Steam, zarówno przed pandemią, jak
iwjej trakcie. Wśród zidentykowanych motywów przewodnich znaleźliśmy takie, które
wskazują, że przestrzenność odgrywa ważną rolę wdoświadczeniach graczy. Użytkow-
nicy opisują wirtualne światy gry za pomocą emocjonalnego języka, który sugeruje więź
iobecność przywiązania do miejsca. Wrecenzjach pandemii pojawia się mocny wątek
bezpieczeństwa związany zwirtualnymi miejscami VRChat – zastąpienie przestrzeni -
zycznej, która nie jest już dostępna lub jest postrzegana jako niebezpieczna. Przynajmniej
niektórym użytkownikom VRChat zapewnił przyjazne i wygodne środowisko podczas
pandemii, działając jako substytut interakcji społecznych wokresie utrzymywania dy-
stansu społecznego iizolacji.
Słowa kluczowe: wirtualna rzeczywistość, przestrzeń imiejsce, COVID-19, dystansowa-
nie społeczne, przywiązanie do miejsca
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This scoping review focuses on therapeutic interventions, which involve the creation of artworks in virtual reality. The purpose of this research is to survey possible directions that traditional practices of art therapy and therapeutic artmaking could take in the age of new media, with emphasis on fully immersive virtual reality. After the collection of papers from online databases, data from the included papers were extracted and analyzed using thematic analysis. The results reveal that virtual reality introduces novel opportunities for artistic expression, self-improvement, and motivation for psychotherapy and neurorehabilitation. Evidence that artmaking in virtual reality could be highly beneficial in therapeutic settings can be found in many aspects of virtual reality, such as its virtuality, ludicity, telepresence capacity, controlled environments, utility of user data, and popularity with digital natives. However, deficiencies in digital literacy, technical limitations of the current virtual reality devices, the lack of tactility in virtual environments, difficulties in the maintenance of the technology, interdisciplinary concerns, as well as aspects of inclusivity should be taken into consideration by therapy practitioners, researchers, and software developers alike. Finally, the reported results reveal implications for future practice.
The most ambitious visions of metaverse technology promise to create virtual places that offer the same possibilities as the real world. However, as any novel technology, the metaverse raises controversies and questions. Does one want to migrate to the metaverse? Does one's willingness to move to virtual worlds depend on the bonds with existing virtual places and the sense of threat related to this technology? To address these questions, we drew on the theories of place attachment and intergroup threat. In two studies – (1) among users of open-world games (N = 366) and (2) using a sample representative of the Polish population in terms of age, gender and size of the residential place (N = 995) – we observed a low level of willingness to migrate to the metaverse. The participants displayed a high level of perceived metaverse-related threat, ranging from privacy concerns to the belief that metaverse can deprive one of access to essential human experiences. However, greater attachment to virtual, as opposed to real, places was associated with both an increased willingness to migrate to the metaverse and a low level of perceived threat. The results provide a better understanding of individuals' perception of the metaverse and of how the bonds with virtual and real places translate into attitudes towards metaverse technology.
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The December 2019 COVID-19 outbreak in China has led to worldwide quarantine, as recommended by local governments and the World Health Organization. Particularly affected are older adults (i.e., those aged ≥ 65 years) who are at elevated risk for various adverse health outcomes, including declines in motor ability and physical activity (PA) participation, increased obesity, impaired cognition, and various psychological disorders. Thus, given the secular increases in the older adult population, novel and effective intervention strategies are necessary to improve physical activity behaviors and health in this population. Virtual reality (VR)-integrated exercise is a promising intervention strategy, which has been utilized in healthcare fields like stroke rehabilitation and psychotherapy. Therefore, the purpose of this editorial is to synthesize recent research examining the efficacy and effectiveness of VR exercise in the promotion of favorable health outcomes among the older adults. Results indicate the application of VR exercise to facilitate improved physical outcomes (e.g., enhanced motor ability, reduced obesity), cognition and psychological outcomes. VR exercise has also been observed to be an effective intervention strategy for fall prevention in this population. Future research should employ more rigorous research designs to allow for a more robust quantitative synthesis of the effect of VR exercise on the preceding outcomes to elucidate which type(s) of VR-based PA interventions are most effective in promoting improved health outcomes among older adults. Findings from this study will better inform the development of technology-savvy PA programs for wellness promotion in older adults who practice social distancing and exercise from home under the unprecedented global health crisis.
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The spread of the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) has resulted in the most devastating global public health crisis in over a century. At present, over 7 million people from around the world have contracted the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), leading to more than 400,000 deaths globally. The global health crisis unleashed by the COVID-19 pandemic has been compounded by political, economic, and social crises that have exacerbated existing inequalities and disproportionately affected the most vulnerable segments of society. The global pandemic has had profoundly geographical consequences, and as the current crisis continues to unfold, there is a pressing need for geographers and other scholars to critically examine its fallout. This introductory article provides an overview of the current special issue on the geographies of the COVID-19 pandemic, which includes 42 commentaries written by contributors from across the globe. Collectively, the contributions in this special issue highlight the diverse theoretical perspectives, methodological approaches, and thematic foci that geographical scholarship can offer to better understand the uneven geographies of the Coronavirus/COVID-19.
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Place attachment to both physical and virtual places was investigated in an online survey of massively multiplayer online gamers. Participants (N=740) completed a place attachment inventory once for the place in the physical world which they considered home, and once for a place in a virtual world they felt attached to. In addition, measures of personality, gaming motivation, life satisfaction, attachment style, and identification with online avatars were taken. Results suggested that place identity, place uniqueness, and place social bonding were higher for physical places than for virtual places, but that place affect was higher for virtual places. A small number of participants (N=55, 7%) identified virtual ‘homes’, which participants felt were more special and which they identified more strongly with than other virtual places, and that were as unique and associated with an equal sense of belonging to physical homes. Results are interpreted through the lens of migration theory, and recommendations made for future research into digital domiciles and migration.
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In this short book, Evans interrogates the implications of VR’s re-emergence into the media mainstream, critiquing the notion of a VR revolution by analysing the development and ownership of VR companies while also exploring the possibilities of immersion in VR and the importance of immersion in the interest and ownership of VR enterprises. He assesses how the ideologies and desires of both computer programmers and major Silicon Valley industries may influence how VR worlds are conceived and experienced by users while also exploring the mechanisms that create the immersive experience that underpins interest in the medium.
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The emerging ecology of commercial social VR currently includes a diverse set of applications and competing models of what it means to be social in VR. This study maps a slice of this ecology, comparing and contrasting ways different applications frame, support, shape, or constrain social interaction. We deploy a method of design-oriented autobiographical landscape research to examine five platforms: Facebook Spaces, Rec Room, High Fidelity, VRChat, and AltspaceVR. We analyze design choices underlying these environments and draw attention to issues of space and place, locomotion, and social mechanics. Drawing on this analysis, we identify key issues and concerns for future research and design in social VR.
The emergence of Virtual Reality (VR) as a viable consumer medium for gaming offers an opportunity to reconceptualise understandings of immersion, embodiment and presence in gaming. However, many of the discourses and attempts to conceptualise experience in VR games conflate these terms rather than understanding each as a state of engagement with a VR environment or game. This results in a lack of understanding of the importance of design and intentionality in the VR game with regards to immersion, embodiment and presence. Using a post-phenomenological approach, this paper differentiates immersion, embodiment and presence as three kinds of relation utilising the I – technology – world schema. This approach allows for an understanding of these states of engagement as layered and hierarchical rather than instantly emergent on the part of the technology. The hermeneutic relation between the user and VR game [I → (technology – world)] that indicates presence can be understood as a feeling of place or placehood in VR and is intentionally the state aimed for as optional in VR games. The importance of technological intentionality as a co-constructor of embodiment and presence is exemplified through an analysis of user reviews of VR games either built-for VR or ported to VR. Built-for VR games create the possibility of a sense of place for the games by incorporating the possibility of embodiment and presence into the design of control and movement while ported VR games fail to immerse because of a lack of technological intentionality towards these goals.
Virtual Reality (VR) has traditionally required external sensors placed around a designated play space. In contrast, more recent wired and wireless systems, such as the Oculus Rift S (released in March 2019) and the Oculus Quest (released in May 2019) use cameras located on the outside of these devices to monitor their physical position. Users can now mark out a physical space that is then digitally tracked within their display. Once a play space has been established, users are alerted if they come close to breaching this boundary by the visual inclusion of a grid. Should this threshold be breached, the headset display shifts to an image of the surrounding concrete environment. We contend that physical space is increasingly being incorporated into the digital space of VR in a manner that meaningfully differs from older systems. We build our argument in the following way. First, the article explores how theories surrounding VR have implicated only a limited relationship with physical space. Second, the article introduces the concept of coextensive space as a way of understanding the developing relationship between the physical, digital and concrete reality enacted by current VR systems.