by Tanner Kinney
Picture this: you are in a bar with your best friends: Shaggy, Solid Snake, Garfield, and Hank Hill. You are simply talking about life, Hank and Shaggy share a toast to their struggles and Garfield complains about Mondays on a Saturday evening. Suddenly, the bar is invaded by a gang of angry penguins, all demanding typical penguin things from the bar patrons. Garfield attempts to bail, but is taken down immediately. All seems lost. However, the lost Knuckles tribe has arrived to the bar as well, and spit on the penguins harassing their queen, the beautiful Nep-Nep that sounds like a 30 year-old neck-bearded man behind his voice changer. You thank the Knuckleses (Knuckles’s? Knuckli?) for their contribution, and ask if there’s anything you can do for them. Simply, they inquire one thing:
“Do you know de wey?”
This scenario is one that may seem like someone did all of the hallucinogenic drugs at once while watching Boomerang and old commercials for PlayStation games, then documented their thoughts live, but is something entirely possible thanks to the power of technology. The true purpose of virtual reality is to bring back the hit spiritual successor to Second Life, VRChat. VRChat is essentially the O.A.S.I.S. from Ready Player One, except with less shameless pop culture references and features people with personalities. The player takes on an avatar, generally some dumb meme or an anime girl, and just interacts with other people playing characters. That’s about it. The locations vary greatly, and some servers and maps are ripped one-to-one from their source, but really it is just a social simulator.
This social simulator, however, has become an internet phenomenon. Twitch streams are widely popular, with people like Pokelawls, Jameskii, and many more getting huge off of this VR craze. There may not be real money to be made in VRChat, but there’s an economy much stronger than any traditional economy: a memeconomy. The memes flow faster and stronger with every stream, and famous characters like Hank Hill are given a whole new personality that is scarily close to his original appearances. There’s too much going on in VRChat at any time that discussing its history would be akin to writing a brief history of every major event on the Earth, so I’m just going to cover a few more famous characters and happening within this wacky world.
The Loli Epidemic
A very common set of characters that appear as avatars within VRChat are anime girls, voiced by adult males because, as we all know, GIRL stands for Guy In Real Life. Some of these anime girls are your typical fair: tall, angsty looking, scantily clad, and with proportions as realistic as getting a 5-star pizza from Little Caesars. But that’s not the only type of anime girl, those blend into the crowd. The ones that stand out and start fights are the lolis. For those who still have some self-respect left and don’t know what a loli is, essentially it is a girl who looks like she’s 12 years old. The story may say she’s a 3000 year old vampire or an immortal aspect of the elements or some other cop-out but she looks like she’s 12.
In VRChat, they appear in great numbers, generally sticking with generic lolis but some are more iconic. One of those is Kanna, the adorable please-do-not-lewd dragon girl from the anime Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid. She’s easily one of my favorite anime characters because she’s so gosh darn cute. In VRChat, Kanna is essentially like the bait Chris Hansen would have on To Catch A Predator. They solicit and tempt poor unsuspecting weaboos – or ‘weebs’ – and have run rampant for far too long. The Kanna’s are in such great numbers that they even have their own anthem, a parody of “Gucci Gang” called “Kanna Gang.” Some people have even taken to kidnapping the lolis for whatever reason to remove them from society. Truly, the lolis are a danger to society.
Also, to anyone who truly thinks it’s okay to lewd the 12 year old looking girls, and to those stalking the pure lolis on VRChat, there’s only one thing I have to say to you:
People Getting Too Into Character
As someone who dabbled in internet forum usage back before I discovered actual video games, I used to participate in “role-playing” on internet forums. Generally, they were Pokemon themed, text-based role playing games with some actual mechanics, sort of. I never really understood it, I was too young. It wouldn’t be until I picked up playing Dungeons & Dragons that I would understand the power of the role-player. And I hate it dearly outside of its environment. When I play Final Fantasy XIV, I shun all people doing their disgusting role-playing as their trashy cat-girl Miqo’te in my pure, Final Fantasy experience. My avatar Ferah Fuzzybuns specifically hates Miqo’te with a burning passion, yes even the cute ones because they hold higher social status as a majority group while Lalafells aren’t given the proper respect they deserve! Lalafells just get unsolicited petting and aren’t taken seriously because they are small and potato-like, it’s not fair I tell you!
Wait, where was I? Right, role-playing. Disgusting. The thing about VRChat is that, when you take an avatar, you have two reasons for it. One: You liked how it looked or it is a favorite character of yours. Two: You want to embody that character with your entire being. Voice, personality, movements, memes, you name it. There are people who get really, really into their characters in an attempt to grandstand on Twitch streams and, those who execute properly, can bring something new to the experience.
The most famous of these is probably the guy who role-plays as Hank Hill. You know the one, Hank the Hill, the guy who nails the voice perfectly and rarely drops accent. There’s only one clip I’ve seen where he dropped character, and that takes serious talent. He sings, plays guitar, basically he’s the Hank Hill of every anime girl’s… dreams? Maybe? Other than him, I’ve seen some very talented Vegetas, Garfields, Shaggys, one or two Solid Snakes, and probably some others I’m forgetting. I’m dead serious when I say people get into their characters. It’s truly shocking how hardcore these people are. If you get a chance and stumble upon a VRChat stream in the dark of the night, you’ll find these people living it up in their dream world. Filthy role-players.
And of course… Ugandan Knuckles
It wouldn’t be an article about the mess that is VRChat without discussing the meme that transcended the game into normie territory: Ugandan Knuckles. The 3D model is based on a drawing of Knuckles in a video done by Gregzilla about Sonic Lost World. This drawing is funny of its own, just a dopey looking Knuckles. A 3D model of the art was made, then transferred into Unity to be in VRChat. At this point, it’s relatively harmless. Then, thanks to Forsen and the Ugandan memes that spawned from his chat, potato Knuckles evolved into the proud Ugandan Warrior Knuckles. This little avatar would gather in large groups, trying to find the way, spitting on non-believers and respecting their “queen,” aka the closest anime girl.
I assume through the power of the internet it spread like wildfire, starting with a couple of videos, then a couple tens of videos, then hundreds upon hundreds popping up on YouTube, Twitter, Twitch, Instagram, Facebook, and Tumblr I assume. There were people out in real life that were spouting the Knuckles memes, and that’s when you know things are scary popular is when the normies grab a hold of it. There was so much supersaturation of Ugandan Knuckles overflowing into various, non-VRChat Twitch streams that they were considered cringe-worthy memes within like a week of their inception. Here we had a dead horse that wasn’t just getting beaten, it was getting destroyed with various guns, blades, gunblades, hammers, shields, can-openers, basically anything that could be used as a weapon bludgeoned the poor horse. I know, for my money, I got tired of it very quickly. It was still very funny at first though.
— Sonic the Hedgehog (@sonic_hedgehog) January 11, 2018
This isn’t to excuse Ugandan Knuckles for being a tad, well, tasteless. Borderline racist, sometimes stepping into overtly racist, but definitely questionable. Once the funny voice and meme starts to dull on you, and you really think about it, Knuckles using a comedy accent, talking about Ebola, acting tribal, and other bizarre activities starts to be less funny. Imagine pulling this out into real life, where people are actually doing this. That would not fly in anyway, shape, or form. Yet, in VRChat, it becomes possibly the definitive meme of the game. And that, my brothers, is not the way.
I’m definitely missing a lot of VRChat’s insane community. A game that came out of nowhere becoming this hub of insanity and possibly the greatest killer app VR could ask for is cool to see. The world itself is a little hard to follow for someone who isn’t entrenched in it, but I’ll click on VRChat videos in my feed and enjoy myself for what it’s worth. I’m sure I’d enjoy playing it too, if I had a VR headset. Then I could finally, truly role-play as my avatar Ferah Fuzzybuns and bring upon the inception of the Lalafellowship! A new age is upon us! Praise the Lalafell!
Tanner is a Film and Media Studies major and a Digital Media minor. His Neo Yokio review won a second-place CSPA Golden Circle award for the 2017 semester. He enjoys playing JRPG’s of any variety, regardless of how obscure and strange it is. Tanner is also the host of Byte at the Movies, the premiere movie discussion live-stream.