More than 40,000 people celebrated New Year’s Eve 2020 together in virtual reality. It is that of the VR Chat video game, which is actually an immersive platform, whose consumption worldwide has skyrocketed since the pandemic. During the forced confinement, many users began to spend most of their days there, establishing long-distance relationships while camouflaging their real appearance behind an avatar. It is the new reality. Only one of the dating applications, Tinder, accumulates (as of December 2021) more than 75 million active users in the world. 60% of them are under 35 years old, according to the study carried out by the publication Business of Apps. These are data that show that, in the 21st century, social relations can be perfectly possible in a virtual way, although we are still guessing if they are also optimal.
The British Joe Hunting is a filmmaker specialized in productions that are shot within this digital universe. We Met in Virtual Reality (HBO Max) is one of his recent documentaries. In it, he sneaks into the lives of some of those faithful users of VR Chat. Some fall in love, others find friends or simply have parties that they would never have imagined in real life, even without confinement. Or they decide to give themselves a new opportunity to have life and the emotional circle that they have not achieved. The gaze oblivious to the director’s prejudice opens a window to the rest of the spectators, those who have not yet decided to go beyond the screen.
With the same open-mindedness, the presenter Luján Argüelles (Who wants to marry my son, A prince for…) decided to reinvent the dating shows that made her so famous for a whole decade on Cuatro. For this she devised Who likes my follower? and Netflix decided to broadcast it this year. The initial phase of the program is the novel part of the format. Three singles meet a number of suitors of whom they can only see a profile photo, as would happen in mobile applications, which does not fully reveal their physical appearance and hear a phrase read aloud that defines the candidates. Almost blindly, they have to decide whether to block him or decide to take the step of meeting in person.
Mariano Tomiozzo, producer of the space, explains the bridge to the future of television that this project establishes. “Our children flirt on Tinder and Instagram much more than they do in the clubs; What’s more, the first step that guys take when they flirt in person is to go through Instagram, ”he says. “When linking in networks, the information that is obtained from the other is always gradual, one only sees what the other wants to show. That leaked information seemed interesting to us at the television level and that is why we reflected it in our mechanics, ”he continues. Consensus is fundamental in it: just like in networks, both parties “have to mutually consent to each step they take, nobody rules over anybody.”
Jonan Wiergo, Jedet, Aroyitt and Luján Argüelles, in ‘Who likes my follower?’.
Singles are mentored by social media stars: Jedet, Aroyitt and Jonan Wiergo. All of them come out in this program “from the security that virtuality provides them and face the spontaneous,” says Tomiozzo. Being so used to recording and being recorded with their mobiles, “the presence of the cameras does not intimidate them, just the opposite, it empowers them and they show themselves as they are”.
Other international programs go even further than this Spanish format. The American The Circle, also from Netflix, revolutionized the reality television genre a few years ago. With a mechanic similar to Big Brother, the participants do not know each other in person, they just chat. Each one can choose to show their own profile picture or a fake one, which can also be accompanied by a personality other than the real one. The idea has been exported to several countries and the Spanish content creator UY Albert! He reformulated the idea to adapt it to his YouTube channel in Muuuy connected, which used tools such as WhatsApp and Instagram.
Love is Blind (Netflix) separates the participants and places them in booths. They get to know each other two by two without being able to see each other, although they can hear each other. Once they are sure who has fallen in love with them, they go out into the outside world to live together for a few days with the plan of getting married. At the time of the wedding, they have to decide if what they experienced in real life met their expectations and continue with the marriage or not.
Tomiozzo assures that BoxfishTV, the producer of Who likes my follower?, would not mind continuing to take steps forward towards virtuality. “In this program we have touched on themes that are very normalized in generation Z, such as polyamory, heterocuriosity or the deconstruction of toxic masculinity. Perhaps by stripping people of their real appearance we could go much further in connecting with the other, without paying attention to the labels they wear. Surely there is much to learn from the new ways of relating”.