Action Talks in VR

Semi-Structured Semi-Serious Gabbing

Tom Nickel
6 min readMay 13


Image source: Dezgo, prompt = discussion salon 6 avatars

It’s not cool to care. We are supposed to have given up.

I’m old enough to know better but I’m planning VR Salons because I care enough to keep trying stuff. I think virtual get-togethers can help us share ideas that lead to collective action that could matter.

The first one in this series took place this week, 5/10/2023.

  1. Six participants were invited and told we would be discussing VR and social change, using the Engage VR platform. They all accepted.
  2. I sent several emails to them in the week before the event, one of them suggested that they introduce themselves by telling a story about some large or small social change project they’ve been involved in, however they want to define social change. I asked for permission to do a volumetric recording of their introductions in VR.
  3. I also sent a link to an article about VR worlds created to increase awareness of environmental issues and asked, ‘is this social change with VR?’

Supposedly we learn more from failure than success. The initial VR Salon had some of both. There were aspects which succeeded, in my opinion, and aspects that did not.

I also know I could have made the plan and the intentions clear to the participants from the outset, but I chose not to. Not knowing was part of the experiment.

I wanted to see how far we could get in about one hour discussing VR and social change among people who sort-of knew each other or did not know each other at all.

The reason I would like to learn how to have talks like this is that I expect to be introducing new people to VR and I would like to have a regular program of on-going conversations in progress to invite them to.

In addition, I intend to be more proactive in my overall use of VR. I feel that for the past three years I have functioned mostly in a palliative mode, helping myself and others reduce the suffering we felt during this unexpected and challenging period.

I’d like to get out ahead of the dynamics of social change and do more than react to our unending crises.

What was Successful, More or Less?

We had seven men and women from three continents together for an hour in the same VR place.

Everyone made it in and stayed for the entire event.

Some were using mobile, some were in headsets. It didn’t seem to matter that much for this type of event.

Author’s Pic: Titanic Wheelhouse in Engage VR

In VR it is possible to change the setting, where our avatars are all together, very easily. No one has to do anything tricky or technical. The Host makes one selection and the location changes in a few seconds for everybody.

This capability makes it possible to change venues in an event, dramatically, in order to set a mood — in almost no time.

For the foyer, or initial waiting room area before we all entered the event, I chose the Wheelhouse of the Titanic. The metaphor is not subtle. Our icebergs are just as visible as the one on the virtual horizon.

When all six of the participants were in, we moved as a group to a beautiful old-fashioned Library, which, like the Titanic, is a ready-built world available for use. I did not create it. I just selected it.

Author’s Pic: Bodellian Library in Engage VR

People did a pretty good job of introducing themselves with a story, but it’s not easy, not what we’re used to doing.

Although most of the people there are natural talkers, they were also good at keeping their intros to around 4–5 minutes. Even so, it was more than I had unrealistically planned on.

It was fun listening to each other. Some themes came up multiple times. People spoke more about counseling and taking care of other people than more direct or confrontational action.

Author’s Pic of Recording, which includes audio

I didn’t realize it at the time, but our intros were the high point of this VR Salon. I thought they would be an appetizer but reality had other plans.

All six intros are recorded and the recording worked!

I have played them back and found them unusual and compelling partly for that reason. The entire scene is recorded and can be replayed and even scaled — so that we could have watched a doll-house version of ourselves doing our intros.

I don’t know yet what a collection of these might be used for.

Author’s Pic: Engage VR Cofee Shop

We all made it to the next venue — a nice Coffee Shop, where people could talk more about projects that worked, in two three-person groups.

Questions were posted on the walls to prompt the discussion.

We also made it to final venue, the Zen Garden, where I had hoped to end with reflections.

Author’s Pic: Tripp, Inc. Zen Garden

Even though the last two steps in the design were clearly not working as intended, everyone stayed engaged and positive.

My sense was that even though it was brief and a bit confusing, everyone at least saw a glimpse of what I was trying to do.


I knew it is easy to be too ambitious but I still was.

I thought intros were essential and would be quicker. I was wrong, maybe on both counts. Sufficient background can easily be provided in advance. Maybe not-knowing about the others before the event doesn’t matter.

We did not have the brief but substantive conversations I was hoping for in the Coffee Shop because:

  1. the intros took up way too much time, and
  2. I did not properly set up the environment to enable two separate conversations in the space.

I didn’t want to be problem-focused in this VR Salon. The Coffee Shop questions were based on an approach to change called Appreciative Inquiry, that begins with exploring what it’s like when things go right.

From an appreciative foundation, concrete plans emerge. We barely scratched the surface.

Reflections are an underrated part of the learning process. I was hoping to get immediate feedback on some of the design choices at the end of the event in the Zen Garden, but we were too close to the end of an hour and people knew they had to leave. There was no chance of having a deep reflection.

Next Steps

I will keep hosting VR Salon events and the format, the name and maybe even the goal will keep changing.

I think I will explain the overall intention and design at the start with everyone together, then move to a different location that is suitable for three sets of two-person discussions.

Instead of any introductions, we will move right into questions about lessons learned over the years. With five evolving 8-minute conversations over five related questions, everyone can speak with everyone else.

I will use digital clocks placed in the virtual space to keep the talks on track.

There should be a bit of time left at the end for people to at least share how they’re feeling after the experience.

I will follow-up with a brief questionnaire.

Image by David Denton

Tom writes about new media technologies and other topics he has little if any standing to write about.

He holds a Black Belt in Learning and loves writing. More here.

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Tom Nickel

Learning Technologist focusing on VR, Video, and Mortality … producer of Less Than One Minute and 360 degree videos