Social distancing brings us closer to a virtual universe

(BPT) - It’s unlikely anyone could have predicted all the effects of social distancing on our lives — especially our social lives, friendships and relationships. One thing is certain, however. Human beings crave connection, so people worldwide who have been forced to limit their social activity are turning to technology to recreate that feeling of social connection everyone needs.

What's missing from social media and communication apps

We've been sheltering in place for long enough that social media and video chats are no longer satisfying the human need for real connection. Despite many attempts to connect online, from casual get-togethers to in-depth conversations, you probably know how unsatisfying it can be. You can see the person on a video chat, you can talk to them in messages, and you can keep up with their daily lives in photos — all of the same ways you've connected with them before. But access to your friends isn't the issue — what's missing is feeling like you're with them.

But what are the alternatives?

Welcome to the metaverse

Escaping through virtual worlds — otherwise known as metaverses — has a very strong appeal right now. The ideal of a metaverse is a virtual domain that is free of physical constraints and societal status, filled with endless possibilities limited only by our imagination. The metaverse enables you to navigate virtual worlds with your avatar, which empowers your real-life self to explore and get closer to the sensation of "being there." You experience your avatar ride a Ferris wheel and feel the physical sensation of the drop on a roller coaster, and then look over and realize you are not alone because another avatar is sharing that experience with you. In a metaverse, it's called "presence" — the feeling of being next to someone as if you're physically together.

Presence within a metaverse is just the beginning, but add conversation and shared experiences to that and you get closer to the connection you're missing in traditional forms of social media — connection that, at its best, becomes friendship. IMVU, the largest avatar social platform with over seven million monthly active users, is leading the development of this friendship-focused metaverse. On IMVU, people have found community, fun, friendship and more in a non-competitive environment.

When you enter the platform, the fun starts in creating an avatar, which is an idealized version of yourself. You can get really creative when choosing your appearance, and you can alter it as often as you change your moods. Then you explore IMVU's 40,000+ unique chat rooms to find a place to hang out, an adventure to explore or your ideal escape for the day. Maybe you say hello and strike up a conversation with other avatars in the room from around the world. Someone shares a personal story that you can relate to, which triggers an emotional response of empathy — and then you're hooked. You feel it.

"I can see the reaction from my avatar friend when I say something witty," explains Daren Tsui, IMVU CEO. "I feel the elation of a high five, and I sense the warmth of a hug."

Over one million people are daily active users on IMVU. As you engage with old and new friends on the platform, you share experiences like going to the park or hanging out at a coffee shop. As you bond over conversations and interactions, you're much more likely to make truly meaningful connections, leading to genuine friendships or even romantic relationships. This process of friendship formation is backed by science and makes intuitive sense. After all, this is what people would normally do with friends in real life — hang out and talk, dance and shop together. IMVU is such an effective friendship platform that many regular users have become friends or even married IRL (in real life).

The metaverse in the time of coronavirus

Not surprisingly, virtual worlds have seen a huge uptick since the global pandemic began. For example, daily registration on IMVU's desktop, web and mobile platforms combined is up 76 percent.

When you miss going out to a club or bar, restaurant or coffee shop to hang out with friends or meet new people, IMVU is the next best thing — and for some, it’s even better. You can meet people from around the world — beyond the limits of physical location. If you’re a little shy or uncomfortable in social settings, your avatar gives you a sense of protection and anonymity, letting you experiment with socializing in a way you can't in real life. You'll feel bolder about approaching someone, starting a conversation — or even asking them to dance. Fortunately, your avatar’s dance moves are pre-programmed, so don’t be afraid to get out there!

Virtual creative expression

Beyond the potential for social experimentation and connection, you also have an outlet for your creative impulses in the metaverse. You can have fun customizing your own avatar as well as designing destinations to hang out in and experiences to share with friends. Many IMVU users have even created virtual products like furniture, art and fashion that other users can buy — and for real money. This collaborative economy is yet another way people can meet new friends as they work together to build something special.

So next time you’re wondering how to meet your social and creative needs while maintaining safe social distancing, look no further than your phone, tablet or computer.

Explore all the virtual possibilities at IMVU.com.

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