Imagine yourself at your annual company holiday party. The music is loud; people are in their little circles laughing and chatting. Many are busy playing games and having fun. Oh, and this is all in a virtual reality setting.
As virtual reality (VR) and its tools become more mainstream, more and more events are being adapted to fit a virtual setting. One company, Next Insurance, took their annual office party to new levels as their employees strapped into their Oculus headsets. From avatars listening to CEO Guy Goldstein speak to playing games on a virtual mountain, employees from Kfar Saba in Israel, Austin, and Palo Alto could all be together. Next Insurance’s virtual party showed one way to beat Zoom fatigue and celebrate the holidays in a virtual style. It won’t be a surprise to see this trend continue for other companies. This allows a company-wide holiday gathering without worrying about social distancing or mask requirements.
I think we can all agree that no more “you’re on mute” is a good thing.
Other holiday celebrations are using virtual platforms to overcome COVID-19 complications and regulations. From Kwanzaa to Christmas to Yule, there are many occasions to gather in this season. VR gives a new safe space to come together and celebrate.
Going to church in VR…hallelujah?
One surprising place is using the benefits of VR to its advantage: church. VR churches are beginning to gain traction, as avatar members can watch virtual services and gather together. The oldest of these, called VR church, is run by a former megachurch pastor, D. J. Soto. Soto began the church about five years ago and has found an increase in attendance thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and the trending metaverse. While VR church is Christian, it considers itself “non-denominational,” not following strict regulations of a specific denomination. Soto has helped plant other virtual churches whose values range widely, offering more options for any VR user. For Christmas service, VR church plans to have its avatar members walk the road to Bethlehem, where, according to the Bible, Jesus was born. Soto is excited for this more immersive service, as his avatar can also join in the journey.
Other Christmas VR services won’t be as immersive. The VR version of the Sun Valley Community Church, based in Arizona, held more of a traditional Christmas Eve service. Their church and others are advertised in billboard listings within Meta’s Horizon Venues, a VR platform for live events.
While a VR church service or holiday celebration may be off-putting, it may only be the beginning of what is to come. Already Meta is reaching out to religious groups worldwide to encourage more VR events. The future may hold virtual Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Easter, or other holidays for many global organizations, with some obvious questions needing to be answered. However, while the holidays are in full swing, many can now participate in a way that seems like something out of a science-fiction novel.
Kenna Castleberry is the Science Communicator at JILA and a staff writer at The Quantum Daily and The Deep Tech Insider. She has written various pieces on diversity in deep tech, covering stories from underrepresented communities, as well as discussing how science fiction contributes to the reputations of deep technologies. Follow her on Twitter @kennaculture