Jasper Wannajaroen was first introduced to his partner through the same method as many others: through a group or mutual friends.
It was not a bar or dinner party setting, but it was virtual reality.
Jasper and Jasper began to chat online about common interests including 3D animation and music production.
“We both really liked each other…[and] had a genuine connection,” Jasper told The Feed.
After several weeks of interfacing with one another through their virtual avatars for a while, Aidan asked Jasper out for a date.
Jasper and Aidan fell in love as they interacted in virtual avatars. Source: Supplied
Aidan recalled, “I was really shocked when he replied yes… I felt a spark, and I said, ‘Okay, this might actually work’.”
Jasper, age 18, and Aidan (20 years old) are now in a committed relationship. Although they occasionally meet in person, their lives are far apart. They live 80km apart with busy schedules.
They’re able to go on dates, hang out – even kiss and cuddle in virtual worlds.
“The whole relationship has been the best,” Jasper said.
“I wouldn’t have met Aidan if it wasn’t all for VR…that’s the most powerful thing about our relationship.”
What is the process of dating in VR?
Kate Clark, a VR researcher at Monash University, said romantic relationships have occurred in virtual spaces for as long as they’ve existed – including in online games.
“World of Warcraft is a really famous example where people have a lot of romantic relationships – there have been weddings inside World of Warcraft,” she said.
Virtual reality – sometimes labelled as the buzzy-sounding “metaverse” – offers a far more immersive, three-dimensional dating experience.
Jasper and Aidan met through a social VR platform called VRChat. However, there are many other platforms, such as Horizon Worlds operated by NeosVR, Sansar, and Meta.
Jasper (left) has met Aidan in person and they are now officially dating. Source: Supplied
Thousands of worlds are accessible through special equipment such as headsets and body trackers that mimic your body language and aim to trick your brain into thinking it’s in a physical reality.
You can interact with avatars and simulate traditional date activities like visiting a Phoebe Bridgers concert or painting at a nightclub.
Jasper stated that his VR dates with Aidan often involve him playing a video game, watching a movie, or just hanging out in virtual reality.
“You can go mini-golfing in VR…you can make coffees in VR. There’s many different things you can do,” he explained.
VR nightclubs, such as Loner which also hosts real-life events in Melbourne, are a popular spot for socializing. Source: YouTube / The Virtual Reality Show
Loner is a well-known VR club that also hosts real-life clubs in Melbourne. Loner’s shows were moved to VRChat during COVID-19 lockdowns. They have a loyal following.
Ms Clark stated that VR relationships are just beginning to develop in Australia, as the technology remains expensive and is not widely available. You will need a VR headset to enjoy the full immersive experience. The majority of them cost upwards $600.
“I imagine once the technology becomes more accessible…there will be an increase in romantic relationships in virtual reality environments,” she said.
“Virtual reality will essentially become part of the collection of technologies we use in dating…like dating apps and social media.”
Kate Clark studies VR at Monash University. Source: SBS
VR allows you to have physical intimacy.
Virtual reality makes it possible to kiss, cuddle and even have sex. Virtual reality users often report physical sensations when their avatars touch them. This is even though their partners might be far away. And it’s got nothing to do with the hardware they’re using.
“I can actually feel very much anything in VR,” Jasper said.
“Kissing in VR definitely does feel like a natural kiss…I’ve developed that with Aidan definitely, he always hugs me and we both kiss.”
Left: Aidan (left), and Jasper (right), virtual avatars who embrace in VR. Right: Jasper performing the embrace in real time. Source: SBS
Ms Clark said it’s thanks to a psychological phenomenon known as phantom sense.
“Phantom senses are actually quite similar to something like a phantom limb…because that limb that was amputated…was a part of you and who you are and how you move throughout the world,” she said.
“People can get that same sort of feeling from their avatars, essentially.”
Clark stated that the sensation is different from touching someone in real life.
“Even though you feel a physical sensation, it’s not necessarily indistinguishable from a physical sensation in real life.”
Aidan felt a phantom sense at first, but he lost it after spending more time in VR.
“It doesn’t bother Jasper that Jasper feels phantom sensing.” [more] He replied, “More than me, because that makes me happy that it makes me happy that that with him,” he said.
With hardware companies creating technologies like haptic suits, VR will become more real. These full-body suits allow users to experience physical sensations through electrical vibrations.
Teledildonics is making virtual sex possible.
Companies are creating haptic suits such as this one from bHaptics that allow users to feel touch in virtual reality. Source: Getty / Alex Wong
What are the dangers of dating in VR
Australia’s eSafety commissioner Julie Inman Grant is urging caution to those seeking love in virtual reality.
“Online dating services help millions of Australian adults find that romantic needle in a haystack and explore compatibility like never before,” Ms Inman Grant told Feed.
“But as with all online platforms which enable strangers to meet and communicate online, dangers do remain, particularly for women.”
She stated that online dating can increase in virtual settings, increasing the risk of falling for someone you don’t know.
“We’ve been warning of the possibility of virtual sexual assault in immersive environments for some time, and we are aware of reports of these types of assaults overseas.”
Ms Clark claimed that VR sexual assault is just as common as real-life sexual assault.
“One of the earliest cases was in 2016 when a woman was groped. She said that there was a case last year in Meta’s Horizon Worlds, where a researcher was sexually assaulted while she was in one the metaverse spaces.”
The digital watchdog has regulatory powers that cover early ‘metaverse’ services such as Horizon Worlds, VRChat, Roblox and Fortnite.
Ms. Inman Grant explained that regulations are being actively considered to ensure users’ safety as immersive technologies become increasingly accessible.
“Our advice for people using immersive online environments for the purpose of online dating is the same as we give to those using more typical online dating apps and services: Don’t use your real name, take the time to get to know the person you are talking to, and only add them as a friend on social media when you really trust them.
“If you do decide to meet in person, meet in a public place and tell a friend where you are going. And most importantly trust your gut – if the situation doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.”
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