Meta also asks Horizon users to consent to having their audio recorded. (If they refuse, they can’t talk in Horizon.) Audio is stored on a user’s headset, according to the company, and sent to Meta only if someone files a report, about harassment, for example. Users can be barred for a few hours or even for a month, based on those captured conversations.
Rather than heading into safe mode or filing a report about the guys who surrounded me, I laughed off their behavior and told them that I was a reporter, recording them (and not just their audio). This had a civilizing effect.
Wide-awake after the encounter in the Plaza, I went to the Soapstone Comedy Club, where a woman was stumble-floating around and slurring her words. A guy in a suit and a red, MAGA-style baseball cap was onstage asking if anyone wanted to hear racial or ethnic jokes. The crowd groaned, and his avatar went into sleep mode, potentially booted by a club moderator for violating the house rules against derogatory jokes.
The Soapstone Comedy Club was created by Aaron Sorrels, who goes by the handle Unemployed Alcoholic. After quitting a marketing job to deal with his alcoholism, Mr. Sorrels became a comedian. When the pandemic hit, and he could no longer perform stand-up in his home state of Michigan, he was adrift until hearing that Mr. Zuckerberg was spending billions on the metaverse.
“This is going to be something, and now is the time to get involved,” Mr. Sorrels recalled thinking. He bought three Quest headsets with plans to beam in comedians, but he found more success building a world for amateurs to take the stage.
His club now gets up to 13,000 visitors weekly. He accepts donations from supporters, who get access to a private lounge, and he is among a small group of creators who Meta allows to monetize their worlds. Mr. Zuckerberg recently name-checked the Soapstone during an appearance on Joe Rogan’s podcast, which has millions more listeners than Horizon’s last confirmed tally of millions of thousands of users. Mr. Sorrels said running “a cartoon comedy club in a pretend land” was now his full-time job.
I started chatting with a man sitting next to me in the club named Malefic, who had a goatee and earrings, though his real-world self, Joe Cronin, had neither. Six hours earlier, Mr. Cronin, 30, a married programmer based in Pennsylvania with two small children, had been playing video games online with friends. When they went to sleep, he came to Horizon, his headset plugged into the wall, to decompress and socialize after an adrenaline-filled session. Horizon is where gamers go to chill out, like skiers at an après-ski bar.