This Couple Just Got Hitched In A Surreal Virtual Reality Wedding

Avatars gathered to witness the first couple to legally say "I do" in their headsets. It got a little awkward

Photo Illustration: Diana Quach
May 26, 2017 at 10:42 AM ET

The bride is a sleek white robot with accents of pink on her shiny exterior. The groom is identical, except with blue trim around his head and body. They are standing in front of more than a dozen guests — some robots, some cutesy human avatars — on a platform built over a churning red lake of lava. Glowing clouds loom in the distance of this strange space, as guests unleash smiley face and heart emojis to register their joy, and a disco ball spins overhead.

Welcome to one of the first-ever virtual reality weddings.

On Thursday, Elisa Evans and Martin Shervington, a couple from Wales, did just as so many couples do on their wedding day. She slipped on a white wedding dress, he donned a suit, and then they headed to a local wedding venue.

It was all very traditional, really — except that when they got there, there were no guests or officiants present. Instead, they each put on a VR headset and entered a virtual “futuristic disco,” as Shervington put it. Their officiant, a community manager from the virtual reality company AltspaceVR, beamed in from San Francisco. Guests gathered from all over the world using the AltspaceVR app — all of them sitting in their respective homes and offices, connected only by their headsets.

More Robot Brings The Feeling Of Touch To Virtual Reality

The very first virtual reality wedding of this sort happened in San Francisco in 1994 — back when people were still earnestly using the term “cyperspace.” The bride, an employee at an early virtual reality company, and groom, used crude headsets and graphics, with gear totaling an estimated $1 million. But Shervington, a business consultant who recently helped launch a VR company’s app, stakes the claim that he and his bride are the first to get virtually hitched in this new age of accessible consumer headset technology — and in a legally-binding ceremony.

Companies are just beginning to capture weddings with 360-degree cameras, so that couples, along with family and friends, can relive the big day in immersive VR. A truly virtual wedding like this one, though, has a bizarre, niche appeal — which is, perhaps, why Evans and Shervington are likely only the second couple to do it.

Shervington proposed to Evans in November, after just a few months of dating, and a friend was quick to suggest that they do it in VR. “It was fun,” he said of the idea. “That was where it began. It’s also been a challenge conceptually. With new technology, I enjoy exploring, so it’s been an experience going through and putting together the pieces. Along the way, though, we just want to laugh.”

Plus, Shervington — who has done stand-up comedy, including in VR, about things like “the singularity and artificial intelligence” — is a bit of a sci-fi and tech geek. Evans not so much, but she’s gamely gone along with the plan. “I thought it sounded like a lot of fun,” she said. “It’s so different, and we knew we didn’t want to have a conventional wedding.”

During the ceremony, Evans and Shervington stood several feet away from each other with a wall in between them to avoid any audio feedback from the mics in their respective headsets. In VR, their avatars stood next to each other in front of a large screen that Shervington used to display a Powerpoint-like presentation that took up most of the hour-long ceremony and could easily have been mistaken for an awkward standup routine. He told the story about how they met and fell in love, peppering his speech with inside jokes, random YouTube clips, many of which took a painful amount of time to load, and snippets of music — Queen and The Rolling Stones made appearances.

It was an indulgent, self-involved affair rife with technical difficulties — in other words, a whole lot like a regular wedding. And, just as with any wedding, there were a lot of details to decide on. Only, in addition to the usual questions around things like the guest list and music, they also had to design their avatars, choose a virtual venue, and work out a bunch of technical challenges. In fact, as he put it, “the virtual has had much more attention than the real world” in the details.

Some of those challenges were unsurmountable. When the officiant instructed the couple to seal their vows with a kiss, their avatars leaned in toward each other, not quite touching — and, of course, Evans and Shervington were physically separated and wearing bulky headsets in the real world, none of which exactly allows for that picture-perfect moment.

For guests, too, it was a somewhat awkward experience. To prevent total chaos, only a limited number were allowed to attend with a physical avatar, while the rest could watch a YouTube livestream of the virtual wedding. Our avatars milled about at will, with nowhere to sit. I would try navigating in front of another guest for a better view, only to have someone else step right in front of me. At one point, as the couple was preparing to exchange vows, I accidentally directed my avatar to stand right in between Evans’ and Shervington’s avatars — embarrassing. (I wasn’t the only one either — it was as though we’d all already gotten tanked at the open bar.) Also, forget showing up in the same dress — try discovering that you’ve chosen the exact same avatar as another wedding guest.

But, most notable of all, my VR goggles kept fogging up, as they tend to do over prolonged periods of use. So, instead of the usual periodic wiping of tears at a wedding, I was routinely cleaning my headset.