The Rice Digital Friday Letters Page, April 29, 2022 – VRChat makes anime girls real

The Rice Digital Friday Letters Page

Good afternoon everyone! It is not only the end of another week, but it’s also my birthday. I am emphatically Old Enough To Know Better, and yet I still love me some anime tiddies and related paraphernalia. You are as old as you feel. In terms of the things you enjoy, I mean; my numerous joint aches would probably beg to differ on that front, but still. I like what I like, and I have no intention of changing.

For today’s Rice Digital Friday Letters Page, our regular correspondent Tama has been in touch once again, and as always she has some very interesting insights to share. So in the absence of any other letters — come on, the rest of you, let’s hear what you have to say! — let’s jump right in to this week’s topic of discussion.

Letters page fanart
Fanart by Okita氷 – original source here

Anime girls are real

Dear Rice,

Sorry, but it’s true. And I can back that up, because I am one.

The thing about being a girl is that it’s absolutely not something you’re born with. Having female or ambiguous genitalia at birth doesn’t gift you with the knowledge of how to use cosmetics, or coordinate fall fashion, or cheer people up, or listen attentively when they’re talking about the depression and anxiety they’ve been feeling of late.

It doesn’t even make you look like a girl. Natural beauty is a myth, or at best just a starting point. Femininity is a product that’s sold to us girls, a lifestyle of consumption just like gaming is. And being a girl is a performance that every girl’s judged by how well they perform, whether we like it or not.

Some of us who enjoy that performance go all-in on makeup, studio lighting, gamer chairs, and boom microphones, in order to be a girl live on Twitch. But some of us use a virtual avatar instead, whether because we don’t feel like we can perform being a girl with our physical bodies or because we prefer to be seen as an anime girl. And when both streamers are done, and the makeup and grime are washed off, and they’re curled up in fluffy pajamas, have they stopped being the girl they present as? In what way?

Letters Page: VRChat

Going beyond even that, there’s a growing cultural phenomenon in Japan of “babiniku”, which is short for “virtual anime girl reincarnation.” Nem-chan is probably the face of this group, and was interviewed in an English-language publication at least once. But there are a lot of Japanese VR hobbyists for whom becoming an anime girl is the obvious use of social VR. And as Nem-chan and Mila-san’s academic research have shown, they’re really throwing their whole selves into this virtual “performance,” starting clubs and going to Vket and even falling in love with other anime girls in VRChat.

Did you know that you can do interesting things in bed with full-body tracking and phantom sense?

Do you have any idea what it’s like to look up at your reflection and see wide moe eyes, or down at your hands and see cel-shaded skin with a visible outline?

Reality is that which doesn’t go away when you stop believing in it. So even if I’m having an awful day and have trouble believing in myself, I can still go out to the shrine or a dance world, and be seen as an anime girl.

I don’t agree with Nem-chan that this is the next evolution of humanity, and we’re all going to upload our brains to the metaverse and become virtual anime girls. For one thing, not everyone wants that. And for another, there are too many Westerners who hate female pleasure and agency, think anime girls exist solely for the “male gaze,” and want everyone who likes us to be either shamed into their basements or wiped off the face of the Earth.

But as someone who already physically transitioned genders, who’s dreamed of something like this being possible, and who realized that she would give anything to be an anime girl in real life for even a single day, actually getting to do so is an experience like nothing else. Especially around others.

I recommend Japanese VRChat Twitter and YouTube, if you want to enjoy our performances. I hope that they help to improve our increasingly bleak reality. I like to think that’s the whole point, of being an anime girl.

tl;dr “Anime is real” — Undertale (2015)

Tama


Another great contribution to the letters page, Tama, thank you. VRChat is definitely a thoroughly fascinating place that has grown hugely in popularity over the course of the last couple of years in particular. The combination of the global pandemic keeping everyone indoors and the increasing affordability of home VR gear has made it an appealing prospect for a lot of people — though it is possible to enjoy the software without a full VR rig too, of course.

I can well believe what you say. While I haven’t (yet) delved into VRChat myself, the experience you describe is immensely appealing to me — were it not for my own social anxiety, which I still feel even when confronted with the prospect of interacting with others using an avatar in a virtual space. That’s something that people I know and respect have said VRChat can particularly help with, but I haven’t quite plucked up the courage to test the theory for myself just yet!

I do have some experiences elsewhere, though. Mock it all you like, I spent some time in Second Life back in the day, and that virtual world was immensely valuable to me about a decade ago when I was going through an exceedingly rough patch in my life. I’ll spare you the details, but suffice to say I was extremely lonely, isolated and cut off from a lot of things that had previously been important to me, and Second Life proved to be a lifeline in terms of interacting with people.

In retrospect, the virtual world was also a good place to express emotions that were hard to confront in reality.

I noticed a few things, though. Firstly, while interacting with people in the form of an avatar which resembled my real-life self, I felt like myself — including my real-life anxieties and hesitance to get close to people. Just like my real self, once I was welcomed into a friendship group, I would be perfectly comfortable, but actually striking up those initial conversations was difficult.

One day, one of those friends I’d managed to become a bit closer to said that she was going to “give me a makeover”. So she did. I got a new skin, new body model, new hair model, new outfit, new animations — the works. My avatar didn’t look like me any more, but rather than feeling a sense of disconnect as a result, I felt a sense of empowerment and unfamiliar self-confidence. While it’s by no means that easy to change your appearance and very nature in reality, in the virtual space you absolutely can use technology to explore different identities. And it can be very surprising what an immediate impact it can have on your mental state.

In secret, I started a second account and decided to exclusively play that avatar as female, just as an experiment. I invested heavily into quality models, animations and virtual clothing until I had created an image that was not only desirable to me, it was the image of a person that, given the opportunity, I would happily… just be. I wouldn’t describe myself as having gender dysmorphia or anything, though I have had a lifelong fascination with the eternal question “what if…?” in terms of gender identity. Second Life provided me the opportunity to explore that.

That’s me, that is.

Since VRChat is, from what I understand, essentially the new Second Life in many ways — only people seem to think it’s cool rather than sad — perhaps I should check it out, because as noted, the things you’re describing there are immensely appealing. Of course, there’s expense involved in being able to explore things to their fullest potential — particularly if you want to get a bit more “physical” with your virtual world interactions — but I don’t doubt for a lot of people that is an eminently worthwhile investment.

I have a friend on Twitter who suffered some debilitating physical setbacks a while back, and I know that they have been finding VRChat — including body tracking, premium models and suchlike — a real lifeline during a particularly difficult time in their life. It’s allowed them to make new friends, interact with others, express their sexuality, explore their gender identity and all manner of other things, all without having to leave their room and put their health at risk.

I mean, okay, I’m sure there’s plenty that can be said about technology that makes it easier to stay inside permanently connected to the Internet, but there’s definitely value here — whether you want to use this sort of tech for exploring your own identity, expressing yourself better or simply overcoming your fears! Just be careful not to lose “yourself” in the process… we’ve had plenty of cautionary tales about that sort of thing, after all!

Thanks as always for sharing your thoughts.


And we’re done for another week. Your Editor is off to go and enjoy his birthday presents now — which, among other things, include a new Kindle, a flight yoke controller, an A500 Mini, some bath bombs and a lovely warm sleeved blanket that allows one to simultaneously be cosy and pretend that one is a wizard — and all of us here at Rice Digital hope you have a thoroughly lovely bank holiday weekend!

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