A few weekends ago, I went to a birthday party for a buddy of mine. The theme was “Lord of the Rings.” When I arrived, I could see that many of my friends were already there, bunched up in groups of five or six, as the host circulated among them. I said hi to the birthday boy, ran into acquaintances I hadn’t seen in a while and avoided others I didn’t want to talk to. No one wore masks.
That’s because the party was held on Gather.town, a new platform for online meetings. Instead of a fixed grid of floating heads, as you get in Zoom calls, there was a virtual map — a grassy hill, the Shire — and participants moved around it by hitting their arrow keys. Just as they do at real-life gatherings, people came together in clusters and broke apart. The farther you walked away from them, the softer their voices got.