By: Paula Lopez
In my personal experience, I tend to struggle a lot in my quest to get to the point where I feel completely used to interacting with the people I love through a screen. I can assure you, it would only take a couple of seconds of talking with my friends and family about me to realize that I am a total disaster with my phone. I have this really bad reputation for answering texts a week later (if they’re lucky). In short, I guess we could say that my mind subconsciously seems to have some kind of rejection towards adapting to these technological means of communication. If it were not for the instantaneous feature of texts, I would much rather communicate through love letters.
As if destiny was plotting so that I could finally face this issue of mine, my partner and I had to embark on a new adventure of having a long-distance relationship. If you have ever seen a Disney movie, you will know what I mean when I say that love can be magical enough to make you want to do crazy things you never thought you might be capable of doing (in the best way possible). Consequently, at this point in our lives our mission is to explore all the different tools and options that can help us get over the big challenges of long distance. Hence, after visiting Studio X and learning more about Virtual Reality (VR) in general, this crazy innovative tool sparked my interest. Most of all, it made me wonder whether I think VR can serve as a tool to make long-distance relationships easier and better. Therefore, this is what I will be aiming to explore.
Being in a long-distance relationship is not an easy mountain to climb. In your path you come across feelings of anxiety of being so far away, not being able to hug somebody that you love so dearly and actually be with them physically in the same room. After doing some research on VR looking for answers and possible solutions, I encountered some very interesting testimonials regarding experiences with VR and long-distance relationships. Nathan Grayson, in his post “Long Distance Relationships Suck, But VR’s Made It Easier”, shares how he came up with the idea of using VR in the hope that it could replicate physical presence in better way than video calls could, and he concludes by saying “We weren’t exactly reunited, but we didn’t feel so far apart anymore.” (Grayson, 2016). It is true that one can never compare what it is like to have their loved one sitting next to them, or feeling the warmth of their embrace, the connection while holding hands or the magic of a kiss. Nevertheless, when confronting the situation of having to be geographically separated from your partner, having this new opportunity to at least visually live the experience of going out on a date with them can bring so much hope, help relieve the anxiety of being far away, and unite that couple even more.
Grayson shares this during one of his dates with his girlfriend in VR: “While other people were talking, we got close, held hands, and looked into each other’s soulless virtual eyes. My brain filled in the gaps, and for the briefest of moments, it felt like she was there. All her unique motions were there, the familiar little quirks I love.” (Grayson, 2016). Monica Chin, in her publication “Virtual reality might save my long-distance relationship” describes her experience with VR in a very similar way: “Her avatar blinked, her eyes and eyebrows fluidly guided her face as it transitioned through expressions. I didn’t just feel like she was there: She was there, with me, in the glowing virtual wilderness.” (Chin, 2017). This without a doubt shows that for some couples the experience of using VR as a tool has significantly made a difference in feeling closer to their partner; feeling that connection in a much more “realistic” way.
During my visit in Studio X, I got the chance to try out one of the headsets and the different apps that they have. It was a little bit of a shocking experience for me, but in an exciting way. I think the part that striked me the most was when I tried the app called Wander. This is an app that is basically like living the experience of being inside Google Maps—that function where you can look up a place and see your surroundings as if you were there in real life. I played around with it a little bit, traveled to some of my favorite places and also discovered new ones that I had never even heard of. It is genuinely impressive how seeing those places through the VR headset makes you feel so immersed into your surroundings.
This brought me back really strongly to that feeling of how much I wish my partner could be here so that I could take him to all the places I go to every day. To physically make him part of my everyday life. And the same thing the other way around. I would love to see those places where he grabs coffee, visit the streets where he walks his dog, and look at the view that he can see from his window. Today, using VR, this is completely possible! That feeling that it gives you to be able to see and feel like you are in those places where your partner is. Feeling a lot closer, connected and even more involved in his own world at the other side of the Earth. Additionally, exploring this tool or even other fun games inside VR could help keep the relationship dynamic and fun. This is another way in which VR could be a really great tool for couples that are in a long-distance relationship.
It should not be ignored, the fact that it is true how VR cannot mimic physical touch, which carries a lot of weight in romantic relationships, especially for people who have physical contact as one of their main love languages. Ophelia Deroy, in her publication “Why You Need To Touch Your Keys To Believe They’re In Your Bag” introduces a very insightful idea regarding the sense of touch in VR. She talks about the phenomenon of reaching for something with your virtual hands and not being able to actually feel anything, and how “you are left with the ghostly feeling that things are not so real. Impalpable objects are not convincing.” (Deroy, 2017). By using the word “ghostly”, it definitely guides you to think about how this lack of sense of touch could generate a kind of frustration of feeling so close to your loved one—maybe starting to feel a little too inside the illusion—and then realize you cannot actually touch them.
Another very interesting concept to consider is something that for me at first sounded like an aspect of VR that did not sound very inviting for helping you ease your experience in a long-distance relationship. This was actually something that my partner thought about and we found it to be a very interesting hypothetical scenario regarding avatars in VR. If your partner one day asked you that for fun you picked a different avatar, something completely different that what you look like, this could potentially be a situation that created insecurities on the person that is receiving the comment. Nevertheless, after reading something that Grayson said, I realized that it would not necessarily have to be that type of situation. Sharing his own experience looking at his girlfriend’s robot avatar, he said “In front of me was a floating ball robot that I’d taken to calling Ball-E, but in that moment, her robot face was just her face. It was astounding. […] It’s weird how quickly physical form ceases to matter when the voice and gestures of somebody you know is coming out of it. VR is strangely intimate, especially once you start viewing people’s bizarro avatars as, well, them.” (Grayson, 2016).
In conclusion, I believe that VR really can be a wonderful opportunity for couples that are in a long-distance relationship. It is true that this may not apply for everybody, and for some it may be more helpful than others, but overall I feel like it is a very positive thing to consider and try! As Grayson rightfully stated, “[b]reaking and testing the limits of this foreign reality is a great way to bring people together.” (Grayson, 2016). I feel like this is especially true for couples and from personal experience, I can attest to how impactful it could be. Looking for new adventures and trying new things with your partner can keep the relationship very dynamic and fun, and bring them joy and union in discovering new things together—which is something that is sometimes lacking when you are on the other side of the world, in a new place, discovering new things on your own. I am definitely open to trying this and exploring all the different things that VR has to offer—perhaps not on a daily basis because this exceeds my limits of camaraderie with technology, but once in a while, I am indeed signed up to embark on that adventure.
Caruso, M., & Lizardi, B. (2023, June 7). The Best Free Games For The Oculus Quest. TheGamer. Retrieved September 28, 2023, from https://www.thegamer.com/oculus-quest-vr-virtual-reality-free-games/
Chin, M. (2017, December 9). Virtual reality might save my long-distance relationship. Mashable. https://mashable.com/article/virtual-reality-dating-relationships-facebook-spaces
Deroy, O. (2017, November 29). Why you need to touch your keys to believe they’re in your bag (N. Warburton, Ed.). Aeon. https://aeon.co/ideas/why-you-need-to-touch-your-keys-to-believe-theyre-in-your-bag
Grayson, N. (2016, May 9). Long-Distance Relationships Suck, But VR’s Made It Easier. Kotaku. https://kotaku.com/long-distance-relationships-suck-but-vrs-made-it-easie-1775615168
Wander – Oculus Quest Review. (2019, June 27). Oculus Quest Play. Retrieved September 28, 2023, from https://www.oqplay.com/reviews/wander-oculus-quest-review/