I’ve decided to finally do a write-up of the current social virtual reality applications we have available for research.
We’re constantly looking for new social spaces, so feel free to message us with suggestions. The core requirements are:
- There must be a multiplayer (preferably cooperative) element to the VR interaction
- There must be a reasonably active playerbase
- The application must be compatible with the HTC Vive
One of the core problems with current virtual reality applications is their relatively low total playerbase. At the time of writing, there are only about 1500 players using VR multiplayer applications worldwide. Only the top three most popular VR-only applications (Pavlov VR, Rec Room, Arizona Sunshine) currently have more than 100 concurrent players (Source). This is likely one of the reasons why some applications allow non-VR users to play as well.
This handicap of cutting edge technologies is slightly annoying for practical purposes. Some for-VR projects with interesting interactional mechanics never took off as multiplayer titles, becoming purely single player experiences instead. This will likely change when VR becomes more accessible to the average consumer, but means that I’ll only cover those applications where there can be a realistic expectation of multi-user interaction. This limitation also has the consequence that there are more game-type virtual spaces, since these tend to attract a more consistent playerbase. The downside of game-type VR applications is that some game loops do not require any meaningful cooperation between players, making them a less appealing subject for VR-interaction research. The first item on this list is one notable exception.
Arguably the weirdest, most advanced, most well-known, most memetic space in contemporary social VR. I still don’t quite know how to make sense of this space in its entirety. On the surface, it’s a social application where VR users from all over the world can meet and mingle. In practice, it’s a cacophonic torrent of nonsense-effervescence, where multitudes of differently-avatared users compete for one another’s attention, deliberate about anything and everything, and compete in the ever-evolving race to more immersive and realistic full-body tracking. It’s an eminently fascinating cultural phenomenon, and slightly scary to encounter for the first time.
Below is a recording of one of our first experiences in VRChat.
Many of the interactions seem to be hinged upon a kind of technological one-upmanship, where players construct elaborate animated avatars to direct the attention of other players in the room. We’ve been debating this topic internally, and there are currently two interesting streams that can be explored. Firstly, there’s the late-Durkheimian/Goffmanian question of the dynamics of attention, and the link between focus management and a sense of ‘being there together’. Secondly, there is the more ‘macro-level’ question of how these avatars circulate through VRChat. Since many of these avatars can be replicated by clicking a button, they can spread like attention-grabbing viruses through different public spaces, until their memetic potential wanes and the space becomes ripe for some new avatar-based innovation.
This checks all the boxes, really. Active playerbase? Check. Cooperation? Check. Arizona Sunshine (AS) is a cooperative post-apocalyptic zombie survival game. Players move through a semi-linear landscape, coordinating anti-zombie activity, searching for loot/scarce ammunition, and navigating around various obstacles. The players have hands, their head and sometimes their voice as resources for cooperation and coordination. See the previous posts to have a glimpse of the rich, varied and unexpected communicative strategies employed by AS players.
VRChat’s more well-behaved younger brother. Rec Room is a social environment that features both spaces for pure communication as well as different types of party games (charades, sports, DnD-type adventures). It’s very polished and is therefore accessible to a broad range of users. I’m especially curious about its charades area. I have an inkling that VR-charades have different properties – given the limited range of inputs. As with AS, the hands and head are tracked by default. There are options for additional emotes; proximity-based voice chat is used almost universally.
A more polished social VR application that seems to be situated between the off-the-rails VRChat and the slightly infantile vibe of Rec Room. It is very similar to Rec Room, but may have some variations in its userbase. In this space, I’d be particularly interested in its VR-boardgames aspect, since the more mature communicative features of Altspace could facilitate novel mixed-mixed-reality interactions between players.
Minecraft VR (Vivecraft)
A VR version of Minecraft, with adapted in-game mechanics. There are a number of semi-active multiplayer servers where users build, farm, mine and fight together. Since this is Minecraft, the possibilities for the types of interactions are limited only by the imaginations of the players. I am personally interested in how large ‘builds’ (i.e. large-scale monument/building constructions) are coordinated between players, and whether they end up significantly employing the VR-specific resources that are available (such as complex deixis).
Onward is a squad-based tactical shooter. It is differentiated from titles like Pavlov or War Dust by being focused on team coordination and the slow, tactical progression through the level (depending on the specific objective). While it features simulated radio band communication, the player has to actually physically trigger the radio transmitter with their hand. This encourages a reliance on nonverbal communication and makes this specific game more interesting for our purposes.
Another curious specificity of Onward is its focus on realism: every gun has to be handled based on its real-world reloading sequence. This results in a steep learning curve for even the most basic actions (such as reloading).
Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes
This game is built around a communicative asymmetry between two human players. One player can see, describe and manipulate a virtual bomb, while the other player, using a physical printed manual, has to guide the defusal process ‘from the real world’. This environment is especially curious as it features a kind of ‘control room logic’ reminiscent of the work of Suchman and Reeves et al.
Maria and I decided to upload a video of how this works. The top right corner shows my view (unavailable to Maria).
Bigscreen is a space for the collective viewing of screens – as the name implies. Here, people can meet for virtual presentations, streams or watch TV shows together. Here, the point of interest is the fact that there is a mandated central point of attention (the big screen, literally), a fixed seating arrangement and the normal interactional repertoire of 6 DOF VR. In other words, it’s a space for multi-level involvement within a multi-level involvement space.
This is a popular cooperative bank heist game that received a VR update. We have not yet tried it out, but it may be a good candidate for a more detailed look, especially since it’s such a mainstream (read: large playerbase) title.
Below is a list of titles we have access to, but which are either too sparsely populated or too ‘non-social’ to have made it on the above list. Some of the titles on this list may end up being investigated in greater detail later. Some of these ‘non-socialities’ are quite interesting in their own right: how do spaces that were designed to be cooperative become spaces of purely individual action? I.e. how does the social sum end up equaling its individual parts?
- War Dust
- Jet Island
- Stand Out
- Karnage Chronicles
- VR Dungeon Knight