Introverts In VR
There are many reasons why introverts find it exhausting to be around other people, and many of those reasons are diminished or completely dissolved by the freedom of Virtual Reality.
I am an introvert.
I am also a gamer. I love the world of video games, I enjoy spending time playing online multiplayer games. I like listening to players call out enemy positions, coordinate attacks over coms, while I leave my mic muted.
It's not that I don't want to participate in the banter, it's that I often trip over my words, or my witty remark is about five seconds too late, or I'm talking while I laugh at what I'm saying, which often sounds, to me, really awkward.
In 2017 I started playing Echo Arena, a VR game that resembles ultimate frisbee in zero gravity, where two teems of three try and score points by throwing a disc through their opponent's goal. I grew up playing sports, and Echo Arena was the most sports-like video game I had ever played, offering a new level of physicality in movement and muscle memory. I quickly realized that I was good at the game, very good in fact, a lot of my knowledge of organized sports transferred directly over into Echo.
As an introvert I wasn't quick to make friends in VR. Often I chose to be quiet while others chatted about the games they had played and goals they had scored. While we all waited in the lobby for a new game to begin, I would just hang out there in zero gravity passing the disc to other players, nodding my head at the things they'd say, or making some gesture in response.
Then something strange and unexpected started to happen.
Because all of my gestures were being tracked in VR, people started to respond to that non-verbal communication. All of a sudden, I was making people laugh with a shrug here and a sarcastic head tilt there. I was making friends without saying a word.
Before long I had joined a team, we were ranked number three in North America, and were being flown to San Jose, California to play in the first Echo Arena tournament at Oculus Connect 4. I got to meet dozens of players, people I had spent hundreds of hours with in VR, in person for the first time. At the event, I would spend three days trying the latest and greatest VR apps, hear Mark Zuckerberg give a presentation about Facebook's goal of putting a billion people in VR, and all my expenses were paid for be the ESL.
None of this would have happened if I didn't put myself out there. An introverts nightmare is putting oneself out there, but the truth is I didn't put myself out there. I was just having fun playing a game. VR put me out there from the comfort of my own living room.
What VR offers gamers, and especially introverted gamers, is the ability to express themselves physically. Non-verbal communication makes up the majority of how we express ourselves as people, which is why VR is such an amazing place for introverts. Even without facial expressions, body language in VR gives introverts the voice they need to participate in the gaming world like never before.
I'm excited to see introverts express themselves in VR, without feeling the need to come out of their shells, but simply be themselves and be recognized for the amazing people they are.