You know those gimmick-based dating shows about people going on dates naked, or in the dark, or with some other twist? Someone is doing this for virtual reality now, and while that already may not sound great, I promise that it is worse than it sounds. It’s not that Virtually Dating is dumb about VR, or that it sensationalizes it. It’s just a dating show that’s so boring it tarnishes the concept of dating itself.
The five-episode Virtually Dating is a partnership between Condé Nast Entertainment and Facebook, made for Facebook’s recently launched Watch video feed. (The show itself is not shot in virtual reality.) As you may have guessed from the title, each episode sets up a blind date between two strangers who are wearing HTC Vive headsets, then... well, that’s basically it. If, as many people have suggested, VR is a bit like drugs, then Virtually Dating is like being stuck in a room watching two generic strangers smoke pot.
The first half of Virtual Dating’s inaugural couple is Shelby, a hedge fund office administrator looking for “someone who can make me laugh.” The second is John, a soccer coach who wants “someone to capitalize on my own happiness, and vice versa, whatever that looks like.” Sorry, I don’t really know what that looks like, either. The producers scan both of their bodies to create photorealistic 3D avatars, including molded faces plastered with rictus grins. Then they head into a virtual bar and start the date.
The resulting meet-up might be neat if, say, Virtually Dating were about two lovers bridging a massive geographical gap with VR. But couples are actually in the same location, so it’s just placing a virtual overlay over ordinary physical interactions. (I’m guessing this is why they’re using the Vive instead of Facebook’s own Oculus Rift, since one set of Vive trackers can serve multiple headsets.) The ostensible entertainment is watching people flail around with rubbery limbs, joking about how weird they look in VR. Sometimes the avatars turn into dinosaurs or get whisked to a lunar landscape, and you can watch them joke about how weird that is in VR. This is fun to watch for about 30 seconds, even less if you imagine four more couples repeating it.
The series’ main purpose appears to be reminding people that blind dates — probably including any that I’ve done — are objectively not very interesting. That’s especially true if they’re dominated by bland one-sided witticisms, because women like funny men and men like women who find them funny. I can enjoy a series like The Bachelor because of its competitive elements and carefully edited soap opera drama. And who knows, maybe later episodes will be better. But right now, Virtually Dating sends me into a spiral of self-loathing at the prospect of participating in heterosexual dating ever again. I guess VR’s effects really can be profound.