How VR is Affecting Long-Distance Relationships

Long-distance relationships in VR

While being hundreds or even thousands of miles away from someone you care about is never easy, thanks to innovations in communication technology such as Skype, Facetime, and instant messengers, people are able to keep in contact in ways that past generations could only have dreamed of.

After all, it wasn’t that long ago that the only way to keep in contact with someone on another continent was through the postal service.

There’s another option out there now, though, that’s going to make life a lot more enjoyable for those who are trying to keep relationships alive over great distances. Virtual reality makes interacting online more intimate and believable, and as VR grows in popularity, it’s going to become an increasingly common way for people to stay in touch.

Virtual Presence in VR

Even though virtual reality is still fairly new, plenty of early adopters are already using the technology to stay in better contact with far away loved ones.

One reviewer for Kotaku, Nathan Grayson, detailed his experience of using VR to enjoy more intimacy with his long-distance girlfriend while the pair lived on either side of the Atlantic Ocean for several months. Using a program called AltSpace VR, the two went on virtual dates, wherein they could enjoy each other’s physical presence in a way that’s not possible over Skype.

Long-distance relationships and VR
Romantic evenings in virtual reality can be very intimate, even if your partner is a floating robot ball. Image source: Kotaku.

While obviously the pair weren’t able to physically touch each other and feel feedback, there was a simple joy to being in the same digital world together, as they drew comfort from each other’s bizarre, fairly abstract avatars (even though, it’s worth noting, there are more traditional VR communication tools out there now that let you look like a human).

What’s perhaps most telling of how real this experience felt was how the pair reacted when things went wrong. Having chosen their own digital faces (nothing realistic—Grayson was a cartoon character, after all, and his girlfriend was a floating robot), they quickly began associating one other exclusively with their online avatars.

Grayson himself put it best:

VR is strangely intimate, especially once you start viewing people’s bizarro avatars as, well, them. Any time my girlfriend assumed a form other than ball robot, it was jarring, upsetting, even. She wasn’t herself anymore. Or at least, not her VR self. My brain didn’t like it one bit.

Apparently, for the sake of spending time together in VR, the brain doesn’t mind what form a loved one takes, as long as it’s consistent.

Etiquette in Virtual Reality

The way that people use VR to get around the challenges of long-distance relationships is an important subject, especially as it will influence the way that gamers interact with their favorite games.

VR comes with its own set of rules, language, and interactions. The fun part is, not all of these rules are written yet. Instead, they’ll grow organically out of the needs that VR users discover in their communication with others.

Personal space, for example, is very important in VR, despite the fact that it’s all a digital illusion. People still get uncomfortable when they perceive that their personal space has been invaded—even though players can’t physically harm one another—and getting too close can result in phasing in and out of each other’s avatars, which can be a nauseating experience. What’s more, it’s very possible to feel jealousy in VR when two people seem to be sharing affection in an inappropriate manner.

Long-distance relationships and VR
Spending time together in VR comes with its own unique rules of behavior. Image source: Destructoid.

There will be other rules that develop, though, which can’t always be anticipated. VR users will find ways of showing affection, empathy, or even frustration, that use the limited input options available to them. A specific movement from a motion controller or a tilting of the head will gain new meaning that players will instinctively learn to associate with certain behavior, whether intimate or impolite.

These rules will give meaning to VR interactions—such as virtual substitutes for kissing or holding hands—and, thus, improve connectivity and understanding between separated lovers in a way that other long-distance communication methods simply cannot.

Authentic Interactions

Programs like AltSpace VR are just the beginning of opportunities for those engaging in long-distance relationships.

There are already options, like vTime, that provide more believable character models for interactions and environments which are perfect for creating intimate romantic opportunities in virtual reality. These more grounded visuals help to build immersion for users and make spending time with a loved one in VR feel deeper and more real than simply playing a video game together.

Long-distance relationships in VR
Planning a date? The more realistic the view, the more romantic it can be, as seen here in vTime. Source: Hypergrid Business.

In addition to intimacy and the option to relax and chat together, there’s also a potential for VR users to take each other on dates.

The key to making the spaces in which these dates take place feel truly immersive is ensuring that players can relate to both each other’s character models and the non-player characters that fill the environments. It’s important that VR spaces build a narrative that feels like a real world experience—incidental presences like waiters, bartenders, and even entertainers help to sell virtual dates as truly authentic.

Emotional Investment with Alice in Loading Human
Alice in Loading Human is a great example of the kinds of experiences players can have in VR.

Characters like Alice in Loading Human stand as an example of the kind of immersion players will look for. Alice looks, acts, and responds to the player like a real human, selling the immersion of the game and helping players feel more at home.

Bringing People Together

It’s exciting to see how this communication method will develop as VR becomes more commonplace. There are plenty of ways to improve the technology, but it’s heartening to know that even now, VR already offers an effective way of maintaining relationships over great distances.

After all, if people can keep passion alive through mail and telephones, there’s no telling what we’ll achieve with the immersive experience of virtual reality.

Loading Human is a VR adventure game with strong, believable characters, and an immersive, engaging storyline. To try the game for yourself, order it today!


Michelle Peniche

Pokemon catcher, coffee lover, part time road tripper.

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