Trippy Lucifer gives a virtual tour of a colorful metaverse on her computer which has a beautiful two-dimensional garden area, a co-working space, a play area, and a silent zone. While taking a tour of the platform, Lucifer, an avatar chosen by Deepali Lakhanpal, the creator of First Contact, stops in a virtual café and introduces to her partner and co-creator of the application Aayushi Verma.
First Contact (FC) is a metaverse created by two queer women based in Gurugram, India. According to the creators, “the metaverse is a virtual world that is designed to be inclusive and welcoming to people of all gender identities, sexual orientations, and expressions.”
Verma, a queer woman who co-created the platform with her partner Lakhanpal says, “FC is a space where queer people can gather, socialize, and express themselves freely without fear of discrimination or harassment.”
“First Contact is India’s only metaverse for the community which is helping to have a more meaningful bond between people than existing dating sites which are only about hook-ups,” she explains. “Within less than a year we have over 1,500 registered subscribers. Besides India, we have subscribers from Indonesia and Pakistan as well.”
“As a gay man, I couldn’t find any viable platforms to make friends, apart from dating apps, and people primarily don’t use such apps for friendships. Then I discovered First Contact through a social media advertisement which has helped me to find a safe space, a place where I can come and be myself amidst people like me, who don’t judge, are accepting, and always stand by my side,” said Dr. Samrat, a New Delhi based dental surgeon. He has been using the metaverse since April 2022 and proudly claims to be the first and oldest member.
The platform claims to protect the identity and data of its users by following a strict entry registration process. A satisfied user, Dr. Vininisha who is a practicing psychiatrist said she is impressed with the verification process in FC. “It is very professional and secure. They don’t collect any data, but the form we fill out is kept very secure and none of the data is shared with anyone,” she added. The metaverse was referred to Vininisha by a friend and she says it has been a life changing experience which has helped her to accept her sexuality.
According to tech industry experts, the metaverse could potentially change the internet as we know it. This immersive virtual world boasts the features of the real world with the added ability to change the surrounding environment according to the individual needs and requirements of its users. Metaverses are the convergence of virtual reality and physical reality in a digital space. But can the convergence of two worlds be confusing or will it eventually have an impact on the emotional quotient and mental health of its users?
Studies have been done on metaverse and virtual reality and in most studies it has been found that over usage of digital escape could lead to impact on users’ mental health. Dr. Sameer Kalani, consultant psychiatrist in the Department of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences at Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Gurugram says, “The emergence of metaverses like FC is a positive development for the LGBTQ community as it provides a safe and inclusive space for socializing and self-expression. However, it is important to use these digital platforms wisely and not overuse them as it could potentially impact mental health. The safe limit for daily usage of digital platforms like metaverse, VR, or social media is between two to two and a half hours, according to global studies.” It is crucial to prioritize one’s mental health and well-being while engaging with these virtual environments, he warns.
The dental surgeon Dr. Samrat is happy with the virtual world but it has helped him get offline, too. “The metaverse has given the community a space to interact with other members of our LGBTQ community, enabling us to transform these online friendships into real-life friendships,” Samrat says, who gotten many of his friends and his partner to join the platform. “We often hang out virtually and also organize occasional physical meetups.”
Online or leading to offline connections, the metaverse is a thriving community like no other.