Social VR and the 2016 Presidential Debate (Round 2) aka Waiting for President Watts

While the harsh and nagging stings of disappointment over this new brand of presidential politics intensifies, members of the VR community were gifted with a live set by the comic and musician extraordinaire Reggie Watts. It was a joyous and much needed interlude between the V.P. and 2nd P. debates for which I’m forever grateful [if you just want the president stuff, you can scroll ahead].

Waiting for Reggie

Myself and several guests began in the lobby of AltspaceVR and, at the appointed time (6:00AM EEST), people began transporting to the event hall for the VR concert. However, when I tried to follow them by clicking the Reggie Watts icon on the menu, I didn’t go anywhere. I could zap from event space to event space but, as the guest count kept rising in the Reggie Watts room, I was repeatedly frustrated by my attempts to join them. I finally went to the help center where I found myself in a group of avatars, probably the largest group to be in mountaintop lodge at one time. Like me, the avatars here were invited as VIP guests. I didn’t know exactly what that meant prior to coming but, in practice, it seemed to mean we were barred from the event. I also didn’t know how they came to be VIPs, but I found them to be a hilarious group of people — one of which sounded suspiciously like former celebrity Altspacer Justin Roiland. This was my first time exploring this place in detail and I found a spinning globe with locations on it tagged with the names of avatars. Outside of the US, there were guests from Denmark, England, Bangladesh and Turkey (me).

In our despair for missing the event, someone suggested we jump off the mountain cliff simultaneously. After our mass suicide selfies, we all walked off the mountainside and, as we fell, watched as the Unity landscape faded into the distance. When we all re-spawned, an Altspace employee was there, so we invited him to watch us kill ourselves again and again. Finally, an announcement came that Reggie Watts was late and the non-VIPs were just sitting in the concert hall and waiting, which meant we were probably having a better time at the help center than they were in the concert hall.

Mass Suicide Selfie

We were finally allowed into a room with a square concert stage beneath a centagonal dome. The now familiar Lisa was trying to appease the crowd during the long delay, reassuring us that Reggie was on his way. When his avatar did appear, it murmured and slowly sank through the stage like a spirit descending into the NetherRealm. But he did eventually rise again to give a performance that was moving beyond words. It was an hour-long set befitting his truly unique musical style and comic prowess. Which is why I hereby nominate Reggie Watts as Commander and Chief of Virtual Reality.

President 0f Virtual Reality Mr. Reginald Watts

The President Stuff: In the intervening days between the Watts performance and the second debate, a video of Trump surfaced in which he bragged of acts described (by supporter Rudy Giuliani, among others) as sexual assault. Trump responded by inviting to the debate a select few of the women that former-not-future president Clinton sexually exploited. It might have been instinctive election season bloodlust, but the leaked tape and Don’s response made me especially eager for the evening’s event. Upon returning to AltspaceVR and Democracy Plaza, I immediately felt guilty about that emotional investment into a contest that’s much about personality and less to do with policy.

Newcomers to VR go through a novelty phase in which the omnidirectional projected space brings a seemingly heightened state of being, but this soon wears off and forces us to find new terms of engagement with the environment or give it up entirely. When I’m at home surrounded by possessions I willingly brought into my life, my mind is caught in a web of thoughts built upon the self-made domicile. I don’t keep religious texts or an altar to Chairman Mao because they are rejected artifacts from ideologies that fail to speak to me. But as of now, Virtual Reality is either cluttered and cramped or sparse and spacious, as with AltspaceVR. It may be an experience unique to me but, while I’m present en digitum, the cobwebs are cleared and the clutter is brushed aside; I’m less distracted by the lies and misdirection of political candidates and the social media landscape.

Them again!

As with the VP debate, the attendees were there to observe more than participate. Perhaps like me, they find it more reassuring to watch the ugly events unfold in VR— a lot like listening to your parents argue from the opposite side of a wall rather than in the same room.

Quicksand! Stop the debate!

After the candidates walked off stage, we were invited to the ice rink where we could share our thoughts on the so-called winners and losers of the debate. Clinton supporters were asked to talk first and a robot named TROWSERS (@ptrowe on Twitter, writer for VR Today Magazine) told us about Trump’s utility of Neurolinguistic Programming in his speeches, using the acronym NLP. I wanted to argue that the acronym NLP is more commonly attributed to Natural Language Processing, but he was out the door before I could do so. Anyway, it’s moments like this and statement like that that make me love social VR.

Next, Steve from NBC asked a Trump supporter for their opinion but, like the first debate, there weren’t any Trump supporters to give one. At that point, I zipped to the Debate Block Party where a green robot DJ was playing EDM. I jumped on a table with red, blue and green glow sticks and began hurling them at other avatars like an escaped chimpanzee.

Glowstick Table

Quote of the Day: Before you take off your headsets, remember that now you’re in virtual reality and there is another realty and it’s also a simulation. — Reggie Watts