One year into the Covid-1p epidemic, the widespread availability of vaccines and a return to some normalcy in sight, film festivals and technology conferences have taken on a more virtual reality than ever before. At Sundance, we Jump on the custom VR platform To chat with other films and explore mixed media art projects. An immersive VR keynote at Microsoft’s recent Ignite conference, as well Mesh’s debut, The company’s new platform that could strengthen our future AR / VR meetings.
But I stood like that VR Entertainment on Congress Avenue in Austin, The main attraction of the iconic SXSW festival has come to me as a wave of emotion. It’s the best virtual presentation of a conference I’ve ever seen, but it felt like an affordable trash can, it basically lives on digital detritus and brand sponsorship. Virtual reality can be a good stop-gap solution when we can’t meet in person, but it’s by no means a replacement.
Gallery: SXSW 2021 at VR | 11 photos
Gallery: SXSW 2021 at VR | 11 photos
Perhaps I was feeling the effects of my epidemic lockdown anniversary. But when I explored SXSW’s VR playground, which shows spectators commuting, flying drones, and touring various places, I find myself feeling a lack of human communication. This may be due in part to cultural differences in SXSW; It’s a film festival, a music celebration, an art show and a technology celebration (often anxiously so). SXSW is a mashup of everything I like in one place: you can chat, listen to the filmmakers you admire, go to the boker of your favorite comedians in the crowd bar. In VR, the magic of SXSW disappears instantly when you remove your headset and find yourself back home.
Social mixed reality company VRRum has created the virtual experience of SXSW at the top of VRChat for a large number of multiplayer games for Virtual Worlds. Like AltspaceVR and similar offers, it lets you customize avatars (I chose a nude gray alien), and happ in different places. After befriending a few VR administrators at the festival, I pressed a button and moved them directly to Virtual Congress Avenue. At first glance, it looks like Austin through Disney World. I got to see the iconic locations of the city like the Paramount Theater and the charming bar but it was all filtered through the aesthetics of a neon theme park. Visiting these places was especially annoying. The VR Paramount Theater was so perfect, I was able to seat in my usual midnight screen porch.
I’m not going to make an aesthetic choice, and I think the SXSW team really deserves credit for creating an immersive VR experience. But the sheer size of virtual maps can work against them. During my visit, I have only ever seen a few VR assistants. They rarely stop to chat. Instead, everyone wanted to take a VR selfie on VRChat’s built-in camera (in this case, I don’t think so. Too Different from Real SXSW, with social media influencers trying to take beautiful pictures of each other with)
I imagine the SXSW VRT would be more fun if I toured with friends. Then it’s not just about climbing into my go-kart, or checking out a crypto art museum on their own. The sheer size and scope of the SXSW feels a bit isolated even in a typical year, but like many spooky pop culture events, it’s not so hard to run a conversation with a complete stranger that you’re stuck in a line together for hours. Honestly, the epidemic broke me so much that I even missed waiting in this intermediate line. (In 2019, the Angadat crew spent two more hours waiting for Jordan Peel to premiere Us, Only to be removed when Paramount reaches maximum capacity. It was frustrating at the time but it was definitely a bonding experience!)