We Met in Virtual Reality. 2022
Written and Directed by Joe Hunting
Filmed entirely inside the world of VR, this documentary captures the excitement and surprising intimacy of a burgeoning cultural movement, demonstrating the power of online connection in an isolated world.
Meaningful human connection is not limited to in person. Frankly, it hasn’t been for a while now. It also took a global health crisis forcing lockdowns and isolation to open some close-minded eyes regarding how far the Internet has come to provide substantial alternatives, whether friendships or serious relationships. Joe Hunting’s undeniably immersive, beautifully powerful We Met in Virtual Reality, which looks at the lives and stories of some of these individuals told inside the VR Chat cultural phenomenon (which range from individuals designated by usernames coping with anxiety and disabilities to committed love to confessions of the app saving one from the thoughts of suicide to grieving the loss of siblings) should result in more converts.
And although the context of people coming together virtually more than ever during a pandemic adds another layer of emotion here, all of these stories would be impactful without it. There are also fascinating questions related to the documentary process, such as the manner of which these VR Chat avatars (which are deeply rooted in freedom of expression not always allowed in the real world as much as they are silly costumes or cosplays of famous fictional characters) are interacted with. Suddenly, the act of messing around and talking to others inside virtual reality, something wholly interactive, takes on a refreshing life of its own. Technically, one could file We Met in Virtual Reality under animated features. Regardless of how you slice it, it’s sure to go down as one of the most unique and absorbing experiences of the year.
The above is also not a statement I make lightly. As a physically disabled person, I can most definitely relate to someone joining this virtual reality, slowly letting go of certain insecurities that only exist in the outside world. For me, it’s easier to text someone and get to know them before carrying lengthy conversations in person, so there’s an understanding here when someone talks about finding the courage to unmute oneself and talk to a girl. However, it also goes beyond the misfit aspect. Throughout the short 90-minute documentary (which efficiently and thoughtfully packs multiple threads to observe), it’s evident that these people see beyond the flesh and genuinely only care about personality, even when finally meeting one another in reality. There’s nothing more wholesome than that.
These stories are also filled with universally tear-jerking moments, such as an online couple re-creating what it will be like when they meet in person by crafting an airport world inside VR Chat. The romantic arcs could be seen as layups to generate an emotional response (especially for anyone that has ever attempted a long-distance relationship), so it’s pleasantly welcome that Joe Hunting explores off the beaten path, such as following around teachers of a virtual ASL class or belly dancing lessons. Such things also help shape a virtual world about the unlimited potential for fun as much as it is about a connection that could grow into something stronger.
While I have no doubts that much trolling and toxicity goes on in some spaces, it’s also noteworthy that the communities being studied and interviewed in We Met in Virtual Reality are welcoming to a degree where identity appears to be a nonissue. These people are free to be themselves, whereas the outside world doesn’t always allow them. To many, these avatars will aesthetically look like anime nonsense, but there are little touches and secrets and flourishes that speak to the individual. Similarly, it’s an outlet for artistic creation, whether it’s creating an original costume or a wedding dress for a virtual reception. These people also make a point to make it known that they are not engaging in gimmicks for the hell of it. A virtual wedding for these characters guarantees that it will happen in the outside world down the road.
There’s something for everyone in virtual reality, whether it be a goofy distraction and escape from responsibility, a place to process death (a stunning sequence that broke me into tears for the third time watching this documentary), or for love to bloom unexpectedly. As a lifelong gamer who never really found the appeal of virtual reality or online gaming in general, We Met in Virtual Reality is an eye-opener even for tech-savvy viewers. It’s a revolutionary approach to documentary filmmaking bursting with more emotion than some filmmakers will ever conjure up in their entire careers.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com