Fighting Isolation in Virtual Reality

It’s weird living in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s frankly surreal, on so many levels. One of those ‘levels’ is the forced isolation that many of us are having to get used to, and that can be hard. We are, after all, social animals.

Yesterday afternoon, I dropped in to a small group meeting in AltspaceVR using an Oculus Quest virtual reality (VR) headset. I mention this because you or your kids may have one and you’re thinking of it as just another thing for playing games. Trust me when I say that it is, and can be, much more than just a toy. But I digress . . .

Anyhow, in this meeting, there were five people there, six, if you count me. One guy, dressed in a robot avatar, described himself as an “early 20s” developer at a company in Austria. His office had shut down a couple of days ago, with a couple of his colleagues having tested positive. He opened up a room in VR, just to talk about this. He said that he lived alone and that with the restrictions on going out in public, he was truly alone. He was scared, and he didn’t have anyone to talk to because, as he put it, he doesn’t have any close friends where he lives and works.

Here, in VR, he chatted for a half hour or so, with a person from Canada, two from the US, and the others two I don’t know where they were from. We were a source of comfort, even though we were strangers. When I left, I held out my hand for him to shake (yes, in virtual space), and he shook mine back.

You can’t do that shit in a video conferencing session like Zoom or Skype.

There are many social VR options out there, and not all of them will appeal to you, but it is a way to reach out and touch people that you may not have considered. Once you’ve spent some time in VR, you start to feel like it’s real. That avatar standing next to you is another person. You can talk to them, walk with them, and interact with them in a way that you can not do with a flat video feed. Even if they are on the other side of the planet, they can join you in a virtual living room, sit beside you, and watch a movie with you, or just chat.

I know that not everyone has one of these ‘toys’ lying around, but if you do, consider that it is another way to reach out and touch someone. Pick up the headset and join a random group in VR. It may help ease that isolation, for them, and for you.

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