Augmented City

New paper on VR in COVID-19 pandemic

We have published a new paper: Rzeszewski M. Evans. L: Virtual place during quarantine – a curious case of VRChat

Abstract below and You can access full text here:

Abstract: During the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic many governments imposed forced lockdowns and implemented social distancing measures. At the same time there was also a large increase in gaming sales, which was particularly pronounced in the Virtual Reality (VR) sector of the market. We hypothesize that this is no coincidence since VR immersion and the capability of inducing embodiment and a feeling of presence can mitigate the loss of contact with outside world. VR has social and spatial potential to provide space and place for human interactions in time when physical contracts are restricted. To investigate this, we analyse reviews of VRChat (a social VR game) posted on the Steam platform, both before and during the pandemic. Among several themes that were identified, we found indications that spatiality plays an important role in the players’ experience. Users describe virtual worlds of the game using emotional language that suggest bonding and presence of place attachment. In the reviews made during the pandemic there is a strong theme of safety associated with virtual places of VRChat – a replacement of physical space that is no longer accessible or is perceived as unsafe. At least for some users, VRChat has provided a sympathetic and comfortable environment during the pandemic to act as a surrogate for social interaction during social distancing and isolation. Future interviews with users are needed to extend and validate this preliminary research.