“Thank you so much for coming to the concert,” Brad said to the gushing fan in front of him.
Sonder flashed a notification in the corner of his visual heads up display (HUD). ‘Smile!’ Brad gave an awkward, toothy smile that was a bit off-putting. Sonder’s robotic voice spoke into Brad’s ear.
“Your smile is awkward and does not look genuine. Try showing only the teeth on the top half of your mouth. Soften your gaze and slightly close your eyes until they wrinkle up.”
Brad followed the instructions and his smile looked more genuine and was met with a glowing smile back from the fan in front of him. He wondered how many more premium fan meets he had to do; his dealing-with-people-energy was running low. His HUD started blinking a yellow eye indicator. He wasn’t making good eye contact. He refocused his gaze in the fan’s eyes. The word ‘joy’ showed up on his HUD.
“Can I give you a hug?”
“OF COURSE!” Brad yelled. The HUD flashed red with an audio indicator. He was talking too loud, he took a breath.
“I’m sorry, I meant, of course you can,” the red indicator switched to a blue checkmark indicating he modulated his voice to the correct sound level appropriate for his response.
Sonder’s hug program initiated and placed a visual indicator on the fan’s virtual body showing where he should stand and where he should place his hands and arms around the fan. He followed the guide placing his arms around the gleeful fan. A timer showed up on his HUD showing how long the hug should last before being awkward.
3…2…1, he started to let go, but the fan interjected, “just one more second.” 5 more seconds were added to the timer. Brad was extremely confused at that moment, she said one second, why did it add 5?
Sonder responded, “one second is a common figure of speech for a short amount of time and does not literally mean one second.”
They finished hugging and Brad started loading into the next fan’s virtual space. He whispered to himself, “ok, one more fan to meet.”
Brad took things literally, didn’t know when he talked too loud, where to place his feet or hands, constantly avoided eye contact, but he thrived in virtual reality. When his parents put him in VR therapy it helped him immensely. Growing up he was immersed in his tablet and technology and did not want to play with any physical toys. He particularly loved music making apps and became skilled at making his own music. When he dived for the first time he was scared, but the VR system he used was equipped with Sonder, an AI program that would help him develop social skills. Virtual reality became second nature to him, and he loved his virtual persona. He grew his confidence and even became a somewhat popular musician able to virtually perform in front of others.
On normal days he survived high school. Some of the lessons transferred and he was able to go to a normal public school, but he did not feel confident in the real world. He was shy when talking to real people, and still had trouble making friends and eye contact. He felt uncomfortable in his real body, it felt big and awkward. He was tall for his age, but he wanted to be smaller, as if to hide his presence. He also grew his hair long to hide his face, and always wore clothes two sizes too big. He felt like big lego blocks stuck together and his body didn’t move the way he wanted. In virtual reality that was all different. He made his avatar shorter, to a height he felt comfortable. He had short hair and did not hide his face. He wore fitted clothing that was stylish too. More importantly, his virtual body moved the way he wanted it to move. He felt free.
He felt the program finish loading his body into the final fan room. Brad did not know when it happened, but he grew a crush on a girl at school named Alice. She sat in front of him in human geography class, and was now standing before him. The last fan to meet at the end of the day. He couldn’t believe it was her at first, but the avatar looked exactly the same and the name on the ticket was hers too.
“Close your mouth, you’re gawking at the girl,” Sonder whispered into Brad’s ear.