It’s 11 a.m. on a weekday, and I’m at Club Ruby, a virtual reality strip club located in a shadowy corner of the metaverse. Like a real dive, it’s dark inside save for the fluorescent red lighting, which illuminates the matching polyester sofas and cascades across the crimson curtains that garnish each private room. In the corner, there’s a bar, and a stage with two poles on either side. Really — it’s just like any other strip club. Then I start meeting people.
Immediately, I’m welcomed by a shirtless man in a gimp mask, who says he’s stripped down because he’s in Brazil and “it’s hot.” Across the room, someone gives a petite, dark-haired anime girl in a maid’s outfit some tips on how to move around in VR. I turn to watch a tiny frog dance on the stage, and hear an American dude behind me say: “She was asking me to fuck her. She got Butterball naked in front of 30 other people. Then, yeah, she added me on Discord.”
As I explore the rest of the club, I almost bump into a terrifying-looking man who’s floating, cross-legged and mute, in a black and gold suit of armor. By now, there’s about 10 people in the room, dancing and occasionally talking. Our ranks include a giant hot dog who’s grinding on one of the poles, a twerking stick-figure robot, a guy in devil horns who claps whenever the robot shakes its ass and a girl with Steve Harvey’s face and SpongeBob’s body. I watch as she tries — and fails — to shake hands with a giant red chili pepper on legs. Bass-heavy club tunes thump in my ears as I wander toward a big group of people standing fairly close to the entrance. “Motherfuckers wild in here,” one says as I pass by.
An hour before this, I was standing in my living room in an Oculus headset, trying to draw a “guardian circle” around myself to prevent my body from bonking into furniture as I flailed around in VR. After finally creating a “safe space” and finding my way to the metaverse, I did what any newly minted virtual reality citizen would do: went to VRChat, typed “strip club” into the search bar and hunted for a darkened establishment where I could get into trouble. Club Ruby, which I carefully selected for its sexy gold silhouette of a busty pole dancer, was by far the most appealing.
As soon as I landed in the club, I was greeted by a sign that warned visitors that they mustn’t engage in any “overly sexual behavior” or harassment, mustn’t have NSFW avatars and must be over 16. This latter stipulation recently hit the headlines, when a BBC journalist posed as a 13-year-old, but was still able to enter an (unnamed) virtual reality strip club. There, she allegedly witnessed “grooming, sexual material, racist insults and a rape threat,” was shown sex toys and condoms and “approached by numerous adult men.” The photo used in the article appears to be of a virtual club called Banana Strip Club, which I couldn’t find on VRChat. Someone on Reddit speculated that it’s been made private “because of that stupid misinformation-spreading article.”
For those of legal age, Banana Club Strip sounds like the place to be — minus the grooming, racist insults and rape threats, of course. Club Ruby, on the other hand, was kind of boring — there was very little, if any, sexual material, nobody approached me and I didn’t see any sex toys. This could be because I spent just a few sporadic hours in the metaverse in the morning and middle of the day, which, to be fair, isn’t prime strip club time for most Americans or Brits. Still, it was surprisingly empty and tame. There was some light “touching” between players — which just involves moving your avatar next to someone else’s — and pole dancing, which was more funny than sexy. There weren’t even real strippers — the club has no employees, no shows and the poles are just there in case any curious users want to try them out. In that sense, “strip clubs” don’t really even exist in the metaverse yet — they’re just darkened rooms with themed decor and vaguely sexual undertones.
People do take advantage of this, though. After a quick peek in the private rooms, which are mostly empty, I make my way back toward the entrance when I see the sexy anime girl “shagging” a banana in the corner. When they spot me, they move back toward the group still standing by the entrance. This is when I hear people making kissing noises — please bear in mind, they are literally doing this in their bedrooms, on their own — and see two other people writhing about on the floor. An Australian guy puts it nicely: “This is fucking weird.”
This kind of thing has become par for the course at virtual parties, which have soared in popularity in recent years thanks to COVID. Alongside Zoom sex parties and livestreamed DJ sets from empty clubs, virtual reality clubbing became a staple for many during quarantine — and, as the metaverse continues to grow, revellers are still flocking to these clubs today. While the virtual strip clubs don’t yet appear to enable actual sex workers to earn money (virtual reality porn and camming, on the other hand, do), it seems that development may not be too far off. Adult NFT platform xxxNifty says it’s launching the “first legit adult metaverse,” in which users will be able to “build, work, play and earn in the virtual world.” Even Playboy’s getting in on the action, with plans to launch a virtual version of its infamous mansion, and I’m sure an anime girl boning a banana won’t be the strangest thing that happens there.
But, as I can’t yet try my luck as a virtual Playmate, I head to two more VRChat strip clubs: Just B Club and Club B88 — neither of which are as interesting as Club Ruby. In Just B Club, I seem to be the only one there, aside from a sexy hostess with pink hair, huge tits and a black and white corset. I walk around anyway — it’s much bigger than Club Ruby, and arguably more tastefully decorated (it’s all black, with some hentai-esque posters on the walls). There’s a huge entrance with a reception desk, then another big room behind that, with two poles at one side, followed by an outdoor terrace. I find some cocktails sitting on one of the tables, and, to my amazement, realize I can pick the glass up and drink from it. Cool! Then I wander outside, where two people are having a seemingly intense chat, which they quickly stop when I arrive.
There’s not much to see here, so I head to Club B88, which is also very dark, and more similar to Club Ruby in its setup. A big group of people are looking at themselves in a giant mirror, laughing about something. At the back of the club, there’s another room, where people seem to be getting down to it. A topless, giant cat is straddling a small man in a suit, as another, slightly smaller, topless cat twerks next to them. I do a lap of the club, and when I return, they’ve all switched positions, and now the two cats are humping each other. As I go to leave, an enormous squirrel appears and starts throwing tomatoes at the group in front of the mirror before an avatar in an armored suit shoos everyone away.
I make one last return to Club Ruby, where some of the same characters are still wandering about. A squat ginger man says hello as I walk past, and I hear two people having a conversation about COVID. For a minute, I forget that I’m not actually in this strip club (that, yes, I’ve grown kind of fond of), but actually just standing in the middle of my living room with electric goggles on, watching pretty freaky avatars grind on each other from the comfort of their own living rooms.
Oh to be young, dumb and perpetually plugged in.