The Relaxing Surreality of VRChat Furry ConventionsRead time in minutes: 11
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It is no secret that I am a furry. The main way that a lot of my friends and I meet up is at conventions. COVID has lead to a year without cons for my friend groups. It's gotten bad enough that in one server the convention coordination channel had its name changed from
#cancelled. These conventions are expensive (flight/hotel/badge/the dealer's den), tiring and weirdly recharging all at once.
Last thursday, I found out that there was an online furry convention happening this weekend in VRChat: Furnal Equinox. The concept intrigued me. Obviously, it won't be the same (there's only so much VR can do), but I decided to try it out and pinged a few friends about it. We jacked in and loaded up VRChat to see what it was all about.
A VRChat furry convention, in selfie essay format pic.twitter.com/5PsjteS79I— Cadey A. Ratio 🌐 (@theprincessxena) March 22, 2021
It was a blast. Furry conventions usually have this weird but wholesome vibe to them. There's this feeling of community as existing friend groups meet up and as these groups mix together, new friendships get formed as well.
When I registered for the convention, there was an option to donate to the convention organization itself and to Hobbitsee Wildlife Refuge. I kicked over some money and then hopped in the Discord to get the supporter badge prop to glue onto my avatar. After a few rounds of testing, being confused by Unity, having that golden moment of understanding and then actually getting it to do what I wanted it to do, I managed to get the badge to a place where I was happy with it (and where it wouldn't clip through my body when I sat down).
Let's play with textures to see what we get pic.twitter.com/1soAuNSllk— Cadey A. Ratio 🌐 (@theprincessxena) March 20, 2021
I think this event was the catalyst for Unity really starting to actually make sense to me. My avatar model is pretty complicated as is (at least 79k polygons, 30 materials and several props that I can toggle on and off at will) and I think I now know what I need to do in order to simplify it a bit. I may not know how to actually do it yet, but I do know what I need to do.
Let's see how these shader changes work out: pic.twitter.com/ggzzNbXZTs— Cadey A. Ratio 🌐 (@theprincessxena) March 21, 2021
When I arrived in the con hotel world, one of the first things I noticed was how much it felt like an actual hotel. I entered the world pretty early on friday, so at first things were fairly unpopulated (just like how it would feel if you got to the con a day early). Slowly people started filtering in and I just talked with people. The main hotel lobby was kinda janky, if you weren't careful you could teleport halfway across the map into a chair. However I had some good conversations where we talked about VR tech, some things that we'd each like to do at the convention and more.
Something that ends up happing at furry conventions is that you will talk to some people and then end up forgetting to get contact information for them. Then they just fade into the crowd at the end of the convention like tears in rain, and if you're lucky you may be able to see them next year. One of the main differences with a con in VRChat is that you're able to select that person and send a friend request to them in-game. Then you have a way to keep in touch.
As the day went on some trolls got word that there was a furry convention happening in VRChat. There seems to be this weird underbelly of people that will go into VRChat worlds and intentionally ruin other people's fun by using avatars that spawn a bajillionty particles to crash the game. The convention staff reacted quickly though. Due to the fact that they weren't able to totally control who came into the convention (it being a free event in a free to download game without the best moderation tools means you kinda have to roll with the punches), they ended up creating a blocklist in a channel on the Discord. Thankfully VRChat offers a web panel for users to manage settings online, so I was able to block all of the crashers and continue having fun at the con.
One of the main staples of these conventions is the vendor's hall/dealer's den. The staff managed to make this adorable dealer's den map that had at least 60 stalls (one for each vendor). There were traditional artists, digital artists (including the person I had just gotten a sticker order from), VRChat avatar makers, a novel author that I had a lovely time talking with, and more. I didn't end up buying anything (though I may end up doing another sticker order), but it had that same feeling that the vendor hall usually does. It would have been a lot more enjoyable if it wasn't so bright and laggy. In most of the con worlds I got around 70-72 frames per second, but in the vendor hall I regularly dipped down to 30-45. My VR setup over wifi insulates me from lag spikes (my headset is set to render at 80 FPS internally and the VR stream gets multiplexed onto it, so if I get a huge lagspike I don't actually feel it for a moment or two), but it got pretty bad.
Another staple of furry conventions is the room parties. These room parties usually have disturbing amounts of alcohol available and are a blast for everyone involved. They had a few room models to pick from including a penthouse suite with a little bar-like alcove. With a bunch of people in the same instance, I had a terrible idea and suggested everyone hop into the bathroom so we could take a pic. I ended up with this:
Something else my friends and I end up doing is a run to restaurants like Nandos or Taco Bell. Obviously this is very difficult to coordinate in VRChat (some of the people I was chilling with don't have taco bell in their home country), but there is actually a VRChat Taco Bell map! I plunked down a portal and everyone jumped in. We explored around the world and a few people played a confusing looking game that appeared to be some kind of recursive tic tac toe. Unsurprisingly, they ended up in a draw.
I'm definitely going to go to conventions in VRChat in the future, even after COVID abates and the borders re-open. There is just this unique feeling to VR conventions. Everyone is wearing avatars that allow them to express themselves in ways that are difficult or expensive in person. There are a number of people fursuiting at any given convention (though I'm not sure how they do it, it must be an oven in those suits), but at this convention everyone was in fursuit. It was hard to look around on the con floor and see anything but an outpouring of creativity and passion for their characters. I later found out that this con was a lot of people's first furry convention. I can't think of a better introduction than this. The only thing it was missing was that one person that sits at the hotel piano and plays video game music all day.