“For 2,000 years, the Christian church has used the tech of the time to transform reality and sell itself better. But their first attempts at virtual reality have been soulless and creepy.” Captain Cassidy
Many of those virtual churches really DO look boring. And creepy. It’s a good question. I have a few answers.
Another related question came last week from Tobias in London, who is only ten years old but he is quite astute when it comes to video games and the metaverse. In fact, it turns out we are BOTH creating a game inside Roblox.
So . . . . Tobias asked me why the avatars at virtual church meetings don’t have legs.
Well, the leg question is quite easy to answer but a little harder to explain to a ten year old. What I told him about people getting nasty and abusing others . . . like kicking them . . . is mostly true. Of course I did not go into detail regarding potential humpings and crude unwanted sexual acts or the fascination with certain body parts in the VR world.
But back to the original question. Why do metaverse churches look so boring and creepy?
A few months ago Captain Cassidy asked this question in the post entitled “Virtual reality church: This tech isn’t just for gaming anymore”
A few quotes of interest:
“Despite the nearly limitless possibilities of VR, churches are using the tech to create the least inspiring places imaginable”
“A VR church could look like Christians’ conceptualization of heaven itself. The creators could rival anything the designers of cathedrals or flashy modern megachurches could dream of making. They just don’t.”
“Despite these glorious possibilities, every church I visited in VR was—for lack of a better word—soulless.”
“ . . . it was really hard to imagine anything more bleak and emotionally-impoverished than what I wandered through. It’s like their designers feared they would be accused of sinning if they produced anything actually pleasing to attend.”
OUCH! Those quotes would not be so painful if they were not so true. Here are a few responses from me regarding why so many churches in the metaverse look so boring and creepy:
- Because current technology struggles with internet speed, computer processing power, the various VR demands which are only increased with realistic-looking avatars, eye control and haptic gloves, and the fact that potential action choices online are not preloaded like much of it is on gaming machines. However, Second Life has had pretty good graphics for many years and people don’t seem to mind waiting a while for it to load up. But still the churches in Second Life have also looked a bit boring.
- Because the tendency for online churches, at least in the early stages back in the 2000’s, was to use traditional church architecture, even if those church communities creating the online spaces had never actually owned or used such a building. And since they could create anything, they created cathedrals out of pixelated stone. It was much cheaper. And it seemed to work by creating the illusion that this online spiritual community was actually a real church. With a bell tower and a clock. Even though bell towers have been obsolete for hundreds of years.
- Because Christians are really good at creating spaces to talk to each other and holding church services but not many have really thought through what those spaces might look like inside a video game environment. I read an interesting article from my English friends who launched their first avatar-based church in 2004. The article, which was published about 15 years ago [Can’t seem to find it right now . . . sorry] was entitled “Should Dragons Lead Worship?” Good question. I might add a few related questions. “Can you come to church as a banana?” “Is it OK to be baptised by a panda?” Video game environments are inherently fun and interactive. If someone has just slayed a dragon in a castle or escaped imprisonment from a dungeon or won a 4×4 drag race through the Sahara, how will they be interested in suddenly turning up to someone’s online church service where the greatest challenge is to sit quietly on a pew while the pastor talks for 30 minutes without getting shushed by a virtual grandmother in the pew in front of them???? A test of endurance perhaps?
- Because most people, upon entering the metaverse and creating a new virtual space, draw upon their own experiences in the physical world and attempt to recreate those worlds online. Some of the earliest metaverses were created this way. Second Life creator Philip Rosedale was inspired by his visit to the Burning Man festival in 1999, a space in the Nevada desert which starts with nothing and ends with nothing, “a temporary metropolis dedicated to community, art, self-expression, and self-reliance”, but in between those moments, people create engaging environments. And so he created Linden Labs and then Second Life in 2003. By the time I hosted the Cyberchurch Symposium in London (2009), there were over a hundred churches in Second Life. Another example: Habbo Hotel started out as a communal chat site in 1999 for fans of the Finnish band named Mobiles Disco but it soon went on to be Hotelli Kultakala, or Hotel Goldfish. And then Habbo Hotel in 2001. Habbo is probably the longest lasting metaverse space in the world. Over the years, 320 million Habbo avatars have been created. My kids loved it! The idea was it was a virtual hotel with lots of available rooms for games or chatting or creating your own space to invite your avatar friends. This is the platform where I created, with the help of my kids, the space called Suddenly Seminary back in 2004. It is still there but has been developing more of a gaming flavor. And getting less boring and creepy.