Saying Goodbye to AltspaceVR
As of August 3rd 2017, we’ve had to bid a premature farewell to AltspaceVR, a forerunner of social VR. While it lived, I’ve often spoke of its virtues as a social space since AltspaceVR environments were bare enough to promote long-form conversation, but also interactive enough to give users the sense of shared presence within that environment. AltspaceVR also provided the greatest event space in social VR, routinely bringing entertainers and thinkers together to share their gifts with the virtual masses, also presenting events of social relevance within the realms of science, culture, and politics. In my year and a half as a registered user, I’ve attended:
- Three presidential debates
- A vice-presidential debate
- Election Day 2016
- Three Reggie Watts performances (one with Justin Roiland)
- A meditation session
- A real-life wedding
- A film festival
- A Spanish lesson
- A Space-X launch
- A Visit from Bill Nye
Beyond these experiences, others benefited from professional workshops and fantasy role play sessions. It became a platform for expressing creativity and social values. And more. For me, AltspaceVR was the place where I first used VR to meet and speak with other people, thus realizing the medium’s potential to facilitate communication. And as the first it will always be special.
Saying goodbye to a virtual space is uniquely different from a real place or, for that matter, a person. It’s as though a place housing fond memories and containing real human sentiment has vanished. Before the servers go down, AltspaceVR held a farewell party in which users and staff could share their experiences of the space and one another. Users shared testimonials of overcoming social anxiety, starting real world romantic partnerships, and holding support groups for the LGBTQ community. Through the words of parting, there was an overwhelming sense of gratitude, towards the members who showed such mutual grace and personality, and towards the developers who made it possible.
As of posting, AltspaceVR is still operational but, barring some surprising turn of events, the servers are running on borrowed time. Indeed, shortly before posting, I caught AltspaceVR avatars migrating into other customizable social VR platforms, a sign — one hopes — that their indomitable spirit of community will live on.