The metaverse isn’t just about gaming any more: we’ve moved beyond platforms like Club Penguin, Minecraft and Fortnite. Now, pioneers including the multisensory social platform Raspberry Dream Land (RD Land) are hosting spaces for people looking for something solely “adult” in the digital realm.
So far, RD Land has been following a path of awareness and education, organising virtual and IRL workshops and talks that have brought like-minded adults together with the aim of debunking the stigmas associated with online adult interaction. But now it is being taken to another level: the platform is creating a safe space for intimacy, relationships and sex in the metaverse.
Having amassed about 2,000 users in its closed alpha group alone, RD Land is presenting the opportunity for people to have the emotive, profound and arousing experiences that they may not otherwise be able to have in the real world or elsewhere in the metaverse. Currently you can explore the virtual world alongside 8-year-olds and 50-year-olds, and RD Land’s founder, Angelina Aleksandrovich, feels strongly that this should be better managed. She believes that spaces like her platform, the idea for which was born in 2018, are needed so that adults are separated from children in the metaverse. It sounds like a positive move, but tell that to the leading virtual platforms that have been censoring the activities of her adult safe space at every turn.
“We created a project on AltspaceVR to attract people who were already on the platform, called Unsensored Chats, with an ‘s’ instead of a ‘c’ because it’s all about senses,” Aleksandrovich says. “It was a group of people getting together in a virtual space and talking about things that are taboo. And even that got censored. It was just adults being vulnerable and talking about things that matter.”
The futurist creator has faced a barrage of resistance to creating spaces that appear to be violating platforms’ community guidelines, leading to the plug being pulled on virtual camps, talks and events. However, Aleksandrovich is invested in bringing sensible regulation to the metaverse. For example, the minimum age for attendees of RD Land events is 25, but platforms such as Meta (Facebook) and AltspaceVR only see these as one-dimensional digital spaces for “adult” behaviour.
What Aleksandrovich wants to create isn’t just rooted in sex either. It’s also a space where individuals can come together to create, explore, educate and build bonds with others who want the virtual world to be an extension of the physical world. She isn’t trying to turn the metaverse into the real world – we already have one of those – rather, she wants to help build another layer of existence on top of the one we already have. Here she talks us through her hopes and dreams for her alternative world.
How did Raspberry Dream Land come to be?
We were running an open art collective called Raspberry Dream Labs, but when Covid-19 started, we moved our operations into social VR. We were doing events to educate people about using technology and how it can help to expand and extend ourselves and the relationships we have with other people. People require certain headsets and hardware to be able to enter VR experiences, so we wanted to build something more accessible – anyone who has a web browser can join our platform.
We wanted to build a space for content creators, and we are also welcoming sex- and body-positive content creators who can come in and take what they already do to the next level and offer multisensory experiences to their clients – and a space for people to be able to build connections and deep relationships online, as right now not many platforms support adult relationships. I’m not only focusing on sexual interaction but also what makes us adults. If you go to a bar in the real world, you’re not going to be surrounded by eight-year-olds or teenagers, you’re going to be surrounded by like-minded individuals of a similar age. In the metaverse that doesn’t really exist yet, so we want to be that space that’s reserved for adults. We coined a term for that – adult safe space.
So how do relationships and sex work in RD Land – and the metaverse in general?
At the moment we’re still a closed alpha, so we have things that are still being worked on. However a lot of it has been dependent on what technology you have. If you’re wearing a headset and you have a teledildonic device, it will be a different experience from the one people who don’t have these devices have. Even if you do have your devices and you have a partner you want to play with, there’s still a lot left to the imagination to do that, because obviously you have to convince yourself that you’re there with this person.
We created this experience for the launch of our closed alpha called Sense Magick, where we had a guided cyber tantra, we had a facilitator who was driving couples into this heightened state of consciousness where they were building up their sexual energies. They were then led with their partners into private rooms to continue it one-on-one. The purpose of this was to show people how multisensory involves being immersed in a virtual space, having certain visuals, having certain sounds, working together to create that sexuality and arousal, then given the right partner and the right toys, showing them how they can take it further.
So what anxieties and levels of intimacy are removed in RD Land, and the metaverse in general, to make sex different and/or more enjoyable?
We don’t have facial tracking and expressions. I don’t see that as a disadvantage because what we’re doing now is developing a new interaction map, where people can still be able to translate their feelings and emotions through different methods. A lot of people try to recreate physical worlds inside a virtual one, but that’s something I’m against because we already have a physical world. In the virtual space we have this limitless potential of new opportunities and possibilities that we can use to our advantage and create different experiences where we don’t have to remove the physicalities of our intimacy but can create alternative options and extensions of what we already have. That’s why we’re developing the language of interaction.
How can the metaverse help break down the taboos surrounding sex?
Firstly by creating a safe space for people to be able to explore, learn and try new things. There are many people who can benefit from it – obviously people who are just curious, the hedonists and those who want to have fun, that’s one category. On the other side we have people with disabilities who are not able to perform certain functions in the physical world – they could be physiological, they could be psychological. Some people may be looking for something they consider unethical in the physical world, they may not engage in threesomes for whatever reasons, but in a virtual space, all of a sudden, it has a different impact on them and their partner. It opens up more possibilities and taps into other ways of existing.
What other opportunities does RD Land offer that real life doesn’t?
You can be in any environment, be any character and live any fantasy. In the virtual world there could be dreams or fantasies that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. I can meet my partner over long distances in a virtual space, we can have a nice interaction on a beach that wouldn’t be possible, for example. Or we can go to Mars and have a date there. Or we can turn ourselves into Lego bricks if that’s what we’re into. There’s a whole spectrum of taking fantasies and kinks into a surreal domain that would not be physically possible.
Why do you think more and more people are becoming interested in cybersex?
It’s a means of connecting with people. You may not have the possibility to get physical with somebody who lives in a different part of the world, especially during this current scene that we’re in, with restrictions that are changing on a daily basis. So the pandemic led to a big rise in teledildonics and virtual sexual experiences, regardless of whether people go all the way and use sex toys, or if they maintain a level of flirting and interactions. It allows us to connect with others and get closer when the physical may not be an option.
Beyond the impact of the pandemic, do you think there’s something more enticing about virtual sex and relationships nowadays?
If you look back at the evolution of technology, sex workers and sexuality were always at the forefront of bringing new technology into the mainstream. Even Tinder, for example – it got so popular initially because of sex workers using the app to make arrangements, and then it became mainstream. All the other web-based chat and cam sites have also been brought into the mainstream through sex workers. People then pick up [the technology] and use it for other purposes. It’s the same with virtual reality and haptic evolution and other multisensory tools that are being created – sex has always been at the forefront of introducing new technology to people. Even though people were considering these ideas way back in the 20th century, because of the evolution of technology the hardware has become way more affordable and powerful. Generally the idea of virtual reality is to be able to create fantasies and live them out and that’s what we’re heading towards – the idea that we can hop between bodies, hop between identities and have different versions of ourselves for different purposes.
Has sex work been implemented in RD Land?
Not at the moment, simply because we’re still a closed alpha. But we have had interest from a number of worker communities and they’re very excited about being able to work in the metaverse, simply because of safety and the comfort of being paid in a cryptocurrency. It gives them the flexibility to serve their customers’ needs and the kinks and fetishes – without having to do certain things [physically]. There are so many possibilities for sex workers in the metaverse, and for us it’s something we’re supportive of. Again, RD Land is not only a sex platform, and that’s not how we want to be seen – we’re an adult platform and sexuality is just one part of it.
Where do you see the future of relationships in the metaverse going?
It’s going to be interesting because I believe the metaverse is not going to be solely virtual – I believe that the future is mixed reality. The metaverse is going to become a layer on top of our existence and we can decide how immersed we want to be in it. When it comes to relationships and hardware and technologies, we’re going to be able to have holographic partners that are actual physical people, and we’ll be able to sense them through a hologram that will have ultrasonic haptics embedded in them. So we’ll be able to be with someone who is miles away but still physically present and be able to feel and sense them.
What do you often see creators building? Have you noticed any common shared fantasies?
A lot of things are going quite abstract. People aren’t trying to create physical instances. There’s a lot of connection to the body but in other forms of it. It’s nice to see that people have a desire to see how bodies will transform into other new visual languages, shapes and forms in the metaverse. What I want to inspire in people is seeing sensuality and sexuality and abstraction in different ways rather than, “This is a beach, these are the palm trees.”
Are the opportunities limitless?
I’d say your imagination is the limit, but it’s also dependent on the technology that’s available at the time. When it comes to world building, it can literally be anything – as wild as you can imagine. Obviously, when it comes to certain interactivity, it’s still a little limited, but these are technical issues that will be solved in time. But with regard to experiences, imagination is the limit.