Inside the cozy but creepy world of VR sleep rooms

Feeling safe is crucial for relaxation and sleep, even if you are alone in your own bed at home. 

I entered a sleep room one day and immediately heard the voice of a child in my ear. The kid, who had a robot avatar, tried and failed to engage me and a medieval knight in conversation. (My avatar was a stick of butter with a tiny top hat, because why not?) Exasperated, the robot floated over to the corner where about seven avatars were peacefully lying together, seemingly asleep. The child’s voice then taunted them: “I will kill you. I will literally kill you.”

It’s well known that the metaverse is full of underage users, and my journey through sleep rooms confirmed that kids pop up disturbingly often in these adult spaces. Another sleep room I visited was overrun with childlike voices speaking Spanish and French. I took an elevator up to a “roof” where I found a corner illuminated in red lights with plush, velvety couches. “Hi, I like your avi [avatar],” a kid’s voice said behind me. I swiveled around to find another robot avatar talking to what appeared to be a scarecrow. “I like yours too,” a man’s voice said. “Wanna cuddle?” The child floated away and I followed suit, unnerved.

Schwerd told me that he’d seen kids in sleep rooms, too. “You definitely get underage people being a nuisance,” he says. But he insisted that most sleep rooms were quiet and “respectful.” 

As I roamed around, I mostly found this to be true. Some sleep rooms I stumbled into were empty and silent. Others had avatars nestled against each other, fast asleep. Still others had groups of avatars huddled together, awake but quiet, some whispering, others just relaxing. I often felt the need to mutter “Excuse me” and tiptoe, forgetting that since I was a drifting stick of butter in a room full of avatars, few would hear me or care.

I couldn’t fall asleep in VR. I was extremely aware of my surroundings and found the headset on my face uncomfortable. But while I found some rooms to be disturbing, I did discover sleep rooms that were hushed and peaceful, places to simply sit and be. In the real world, I struggle to find quiet places to relax in, and if nothing else, virtual sleep rooms offered me space and time to lie back and stare at the stars.

Source: MIT Technology Review

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