Chicago – Editor’s Note: This review originally ran as part of our coverage of the Sundance Film Festival 2022 on January 26, 2022. It has been republished in light of the film’s debut on HBO and HBO Max on July 27.
While the COVID-19 pandemic forced us all to take to the internet to find community (largely through Zoom and/or more traditional social media), VRChat offers a more immersive, creative experience: users of the online virtual world platform can create their own avatars and worlds, allowing them to invent a digital self with infinite possibilities. Want to look like a busty catgirl? Just try. A spiky-haired anime character with rippling muscles? More power for you. Kermit the Frog? You do, boo.
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But the heartwarming key to Joe Hunting’s inviting, humanistic documentary “We Met in Virtual Reality” is the utter lack of condescension he displays towards his subjects. Hunting follows a number of communities in VRChat, including several couples who met on the platform and are now in long-distance relationships. Hunting focuses on the freedom that these kaleidoscopic virtual worlds give their inhabitants. We see neurodivers seeking the comforts of a community, queers using the freedom of their avatars to discover their true selves, women exploring their sexual freedom in the anonymity of digital space, and so on.
“We Met in Virtual Reality”: Virtual Institutions, Real Connections
Photo courtesy of HBO
Tucked away in these manufactured worlds, Hunting’s subjects have found a place to call their own – to fall in love, to explore themselves, to spend a few short hours and leave the tribulations of the workday in one place. where they are not judged. Yes, there are giggles to be had at the sight of glittering avatars of increasing ridiculousness talking to each other in fantastical environments or the shaky physics of VR pool games.
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But the sound of the restrained tears in one’s voice as they walk down a virtual aisle to marry their loved one, or the sight of a deaf user saying goodbye to a brother lost to suicide before sending their souls to rest in a virtual lantern ceremony — those moments tell a very different story. As virtual as the location is, the love and connections formed within it are as tear-jerkingly human as they come.
Rated TV-MA. 91 minutes. Documentary. Directed by: Joe Hunting. “We Met in Virtual Reality” debuts on HBO and HBO Max on July 27.
About the writer: Clint Worthington is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association. He is the Founding Editor of The Spool and Senior Writer at Consequence. You can find his other work on Vulture, Nerdist, RogerEbert.com and elsewhere.
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How to watch “We Met in Virtual Reality”
“We Met in Virtual Reality” premieres on HBO on July 27 at 9 p.m. ET. It will also be available to stream on HBO Max.
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