The trolls she can mute or block. Violations by VRC Kmart employees require more nuanced solutions. The store has its own human resources department and documents complaints, which can be submitted anonymously. If an employee reported a homophobic comment from a co-worker, Carbon would step in to do “a little parenting,” explaining to the employee in question, “That’s why we don’t do this to our friends.”
“That’s one of the differences between us and a real workplace,” she says. “We are here to help you become a better person. We are not a job. We are not your government. We are not the internet’s moral police. We are here to try to get everyone to work together of their own free will.
A Belgian player who goes through ThisMight has found growth through the VRC Kmart job. He stumbled across the store while looking for milk and decided to stay, joining the game’s Discord and then its development team. After training in gaming, he got a job as an associate, stationing in the electronics department behind counters filled with pixelated boxes of movies or games. He’s never seen a Kmart in real life.
VRChat isn’t set up to fully mimic a store experience – there’s no fancy system to verify, for example – so players take their role-playing duties very seriously. Despite a strict rule that customers can only buy electronics from this section, people often came to the ThisMight counter with garden items or food. “It’s electronics,” he shouted, turning them away. “You have to go through the checkouts!”
ThisMight eventually rose through the ranks to manager. Now, instead of being stuck behind a counter, he walks around the store checking on associates and customers who might need help. He helps select items for Blue Light sections that show Kmart sales, like Kodak cameras, because “nobody cared.” Why did he care so much about the Kodaks? “Because every item is special in electronics.”
VRChat’s Kmart officials insist real lives come first, which means players can choose to work – they point – for a few minutes at a time, but ThisMight sometimes takes four to six hours . There are no rules on how long people work because there is no money changing hands. “It would be crazy if you had to pay 200 people for absolutely nothing,” he says. (It also means there are no unions, although people often joke about that.)
The actual gain was worth more for ThisMight, who suffers from social anxiety. “I wanted real work experience in a safe environment,” he says of his decision to accept virtual work. “I thought joining a store would be one of the best steps to stopping social anxiety because I’m compelled to talk to people from then on.” ThisMight previously portrayed itself as a looker, more likely to turn around than intervene. “Now I have the will to speak up and say something about it,” he said.
Clashes occur. It is a community that attracts people with very different politics, religions and life experiences. But it’s also the only place where some people feel validated or free to use their preferred gender expression in a social setting. “There are members in this community where it’s their primary family… people where their home life isn’t so good, so they come to these communities,” Carbon says. “You start to become very dependent on these groups of people.” If Carbon and other senior leaders can’t set a good example of conflict resolution, “how can we expect them to come into life?”