Why you should care
Because we’re looking for love in all the wrong places.
Martin Shervington and his fiancée, Elisa Evans, are one of those couples that make you want to gag. The kind that finish each other’s sentences, that secrete adorable when they hold hands, that decide between a beachside or a cliff-top setting for their gorgeous wedding in May. And as Shervington and Evans recite their perfect marriage vows, whether by a pebbled shore or atop a grassy bluff, their pink and blue avatars will probably gaze lovingly at each other, deep into those oversized robot eyes. Bow chicka wow wow.
You’ve likely heard of skydiving weddings, underwater weddings and themed weddings, but here’s one ceremony that’s completely out of this realm — virtual-reality weddings. Picture something out of Star Trek: holodecks in place of altars and clunky Oculus Rift headsets instead of dainty veils. That’s the context for Shervington and Evans’ unorthodox plans to tie the knot on a virtual-reality social network called AltspaceVR. And while other couples have been hitched with the help of futuristic technology — live streams and postscript 360-degree films that allow friends and family to attend remotely — Shervington and Evans plan to join a tiny but growing group of duos who are choosing to utter “I do” in sci-fi-like virtual-reality venues. “It will change people’s view of what’s possible,” says Shervington, as he snuggles next to his future wife in wintry Cardiff, Wales. He’s winnowed down the guest list to 150 attendees in the virtual-reality venue and 30 people in the real world who will don headsets with him and his wife-to-be.
Evans’ biggest wedding-day worry is that her [virtual-reality] ceremony will crash. After all, rebooting could ruin the jubilant mood.
It may not be long before Vegas starts offering all-inclusive virtual-reality elopement packages in the Amazon rainforest or atop the Swiss Alps. Much better than those dodgy chapels with gaudy Han and Leia costumes. The awesome power of virtual reality is poised to shake up the intimate spaces of dating, romance and sex, says Julie Spira, a cyber-dating expert in Los Angeles. According to “The Future of Dating,” a 2015 report from eHarmony and the Imperial College Business School in London, dating via “full-sensory” virtual reality is expected to become the norm by as early as 2040. With digital simulations that incorporate all five human senses, the dating pool will become global. Already, people have “wed” in online communities like Second Life and even “married” a video game character. But virtual reality, Spira says, “is the next outpost for the industry.”
The market for virtual and augmented reality is expected to reach $150 billion by 2020, up from $3.7 billion in 2016, according to San Francisco–based Digi-Capital. With the popularity of Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear, Google Daydream and the forthcoming Apple Bridge, analysts from CCS Insight predict that more than 12 million virtual-reality headsets will be sold this year, which means more hardware in the hands of couples who want to go beyond the usual pomp and circumstance on their special day. Besides, many VR experts say that in order for the industry to skyrocket, virtual reality needs to go from a lonesome, bucket-on-your-head experience to a social interaction with meaningful human connections. Who knows? That tipping point could be your wedding. As for Shervington, he and his fiancée are most excited about their decked-out after-party in Echo Space, a virtual-reality dance party. At least they won’t run the risk of guests getting too sloshed.
However, Shervington and Evans won’t be the first to hold their wedding in virtual reality. In 1994, Monika and Hugh Jo pioneered the cyber-wedding trend in San Francisco when they exchanged vows inside a Greek temple on the mythical island of Atlantis. The couple decided on a “quirky,” custom-coded VR marriage after dismissing the idea of eloping, since Monika worked for a virtual-reality company called CyberMind that agreed to create the entire ceremony for free. Good thing too. Otherwise, it would have cost the couple a steep $1 million. A fanciful chariot brought Monika to her beloved Hugh before they finally shared their wedding smooch in cyberspace, although they were about 12 feet apart in the physical world. Then a fireworks display exploded in the digital sky. “I think it’s the ultimate elopement, because you’re eloping into another world,” says Monika, who’s still happily married to Hugh more than two decades later. Unsurprisingly, in the coming years she plans to renew her vows in virtual reality.
These days, the costs are less prohibitive, but the same problem that vexed Monika all those years ago still exists today: the risk of technical difficulties. Evans’ biggest wedding-day worry is that her ceremony will crash. After all, rebooting could ruin the jubilant mood. There’s also a bajillion other details that couples must consider when they opt for a VR wedding over a traditional one: the limitless choices for venues, the endless array of sound effects, the appearances of the avatars. Ironically, “we’re putting far more thought and preparation” into the virtual wedding than the real-life ceremony, which will take place at the same time, says Shervington. Still, while virtual reality weddings may be on the rise, “nothing will ever replace the chemistry you will have once you meet somebody in real life” and forge a long-lasting commitment, adds Spira. “There will always be a place for traditional weddings.”
What a relief. Because with a virtual-reality wedding already so fantastical, how would we ever take the honeymoon to the next level? Perhaps Shervington and Evans can go spelunking on Mars or will hike the moon to kick off their newlywed life.