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A new VR game wants us to escape the metaverse

Virtual Virtual Reality 2, coming Feb. 10, asks what happens to our freedom when the owners of the metaverse change their minds.

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Virtual Virtual Reality 2 is an absurdist adventure through a metaverse out of control.
Tender Claws

The dream, or nightmare, of the possibilities of metaverses seem to be everywhere at the start of 2022. A new VR game on the Oculus Quest 2 (and also Steam VR and Rift) explores these questions, and the unsolved problems of metaverses spun out of control. It's called Virtual Virtual Reality 2, but it's not even an online game: The metaverse is simulated and scripted as a dialogue-heavy absurdist experience.

Tender Claws, the game's developer, got a head start exploring the deeper questions surrounding VR, AR, and immersive AI. The developer's original game, Virtual Virtual Reality, toyed with the broken promises of simulation, and was one of the best experiences on the Oculus Go, Google's Daydream View and other early mobile VR headsets. Tender Claws also explored social spaces and live performance in its follow-up game, The Under Presents

Virtual Virtual Reality 2 is a single-player experience, not a true online space. But it simulates the feeling of entering a social metaverse -- called "Scottsdale" -- which unravels after losing VC funding, shredding and rebooting a whole universe. Many questions on the nature of metaverses appear to be raised along the way. Some of them, like consciousness-uploading, are reminiscent of ideas wrestled with for years in science fiction.

The game's use of the metaverse was dreamed up well before Facebook's name change to Meta last year; the game's been in the works for years, and the timing has just become lucky. But as social worlds start emerging more rapidly, throwing the term metaverse around with increasing frequency, Virtual Virtual Reality 2 looks to be a commentary arriving at the right time.

Samantha Gorman and Danny Cannizzaro, Tender Claws' co-founders and creators of Virtual Virtual Reality 2, were inspired as much by previous abandoned virtual world metaverses like Disney's Club Penguin, and people's sense of abandonment after those worlds closed down. The game examines the existence of social spaces owned by big companies, and asks where our data goes when those spaces fade away. 

Tender Claws' previous VR and AR games wrestled with what Cannizzarro identifies as a messy divide between utopian tech dreams and disappointing reality. Tender Claws' previous AR game, called Tendar, toyed with the way companies try to simulate sympathetic AI companions. The Under Presents explored ideas of what it means to have real living virtual social spaces, and it played with time, performance and identity.

Virtual Virtual Reality 2 also looks like a genre-hopping, reality-bending type of game, a toybox of weird ideas. In a world of VR that seems like a place full of copycat genres and ideas, maybe it's also the type of inspirational strangeness the still-not-quite-mainstream world of VR needs right now -- before big tech tries to lock it all down all over again.

Virtual Virtual Reality 2 arrives on Feb. 10. I'll be reviewing it before its release.