VRChat is probably one of, if not the most popular social VR app out there right now. Its popularity grew exponentially in the past couple of months due to a combination of YouTube videos from popular YouTubers like PewdiePie, Twitch streams and an explosion of colorful memes. Which the VR app supplied more than enough content for through its open source platform that allows users to not only import their own self-made avatars but also user-created worlds into VRChat. The app currently supports HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, and normal PC platforms.
Unfortunately, all this new publicity might not be as good as it seems. Because while some may say that any publicity is good publicity – being known as a place where people go to live out all the bad, trollish behavior they can’t justify in real life doesn’t exactly promise a healthy future for a social app.
Jumping Into The Craze
When stepping into VRChat it almost feels like you stepped into the weird side of the internet where dank memes live and trolls ask bridge tolls. Now, this isn’t strictly a bad thing, mind you, since people sometimes need an outlet for strange or wacky behavior (i.e. the whole ‘Ugandan Knuckles’ thing) and virtual reality is almost the perfect platform for that outlet. Because you get to fully immerse yourself in a world where you can do and say weird stuff without worrying about the negative drawbacks associated with that behavior – like public shame.
Which is what makes VRChat so popular to both users and those watching live streams or videos of the goofy things people get up to on the app. All of that, of course, isn’t a bad thing since it not only brings attention to the possibilities virtual reality creates for players but it also creates a lot of hype around the platform. So it’s a win-win right? Well, not exactly.
Having visited VRChat a couple of times myself, I know first-hand the strange things people do and say on there – which, as I pointed out, is not necessarily bad. While people were walking around doing crazy things (some were chasing a piglet, another guy walked around offering everyone a hit off a bong), it was still just people having some fun. I never felt threatened or weirded out too much – even when I revealed myself to be female. Which some women do avoid doing on social VR apps in general. However, I know my experience is not everyone’s and there have been many reported cases of verbal abuse, racism, and other unpleasant situations from people using the app.
The Bad Apples Are Stealing The Show
Like with any online platform, there are going to be jerks who try to make the experience terrible for everyone involved and moderators are always hard at work trying to root them out. Things are no different for the VRChat development team, who is a small team that now has to deal with a huge influx of new users. Which makes the task of keeping up with bad behavior just all the more challenging. The team even recently shared an open letter on their Twitter account that encourages users to makes use of the Mute / Block feature but also states that they’re working on sorting out the disrespectful behavior on the app.
Which puts VRChat in a tenuous position right now. On the one hand, it’s attracting a lot of new users but gaining a somewhat unfavorable reputation which is probably keeping other people from checking it out. On the other hand, if the moderators can clean up the act enough, those people who went looking for a do anything, be anything experience will probably just go looking for it elsewhere – which could mean losing a large chunk of its player base. Though as with most things online, this could just be a phase that passes as people move on to the next ‘best’ thing.
Either way, the VRChat team is probably scrambling to catch up to their newfound popularity as well as their server overload. So we’ll have to see what the future holds for this VR app as well as others out there.