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Hong Kong virtual social platform offers escape from reality

Buying train tickets, karaoke with friends, feeding ducks by a lake, or visiting art exhibitions. Those are some of the activities that “Siubak” and “Winter” enjoy with each other, not in reality, but in a virtual world. Both of them are young men in real life.   They are administrators of LIHKG VR (連登VR群), a Hong Kong VRChat Telegram group. They organize online activities regularly through instant messaging. Members log in to the virtual world to hang out with each other’s avatars and chat on the audio channels.     But there are no regulations on how users portray themselves in the virtual world. A middle-aged man can appear as a young girl, or a teenager can become a superhero. The origin of VRChat and virtual social platform  The first avatar-based social platform was launched in 2003 by the San Francisco based online multimedia platform, Second Life. Similar products have since appeared, such as Roblox and Mole Manor in the US and China respectively.   Created by Graham Gaylor and Jesse Joudrey in Texas in the US, VRChat started in 2017 as early access. Similar to Facebook and Instagram, avatar based social networks like VRChat enables users to build social connections online through a video game platform “steam”. In 2020, Siubak rallied for people from LIHKG to join VRChat in a telegram group . Since last year, he has been administrating a chat with 1700 users. Today, LIHKG VRChat has an average of 200 daily users. The identity crisis Siubak and Winter manipulate an avatar of a white-haired Japanese anime girl. A male character with purple hair speaks in Cantonese, asking the girl to make cute poses. In the virtual world, users can be anybody they can imagine.    Clinical psychologist Adrian Wong believed some users gain self-esteem in virtual reality when they fail …