Trolls she can mute or block. VRC Kmart employee infractions require more nuanced solutions. The store maintains its own HR department and documents complaints, which can be filed anonymously. If an employee were to report a homophobic comment by a coworker, Carbon would step in to do “a little bit of parenting,” explaining to the employee in question, “This is why we don’t do this to our friends.”
“That’s one of the differences between us and an actual place of employment,” she says. “We’re here to help you be a better person. We’re not a job. We’re not your government. We are not the moral police force of the internet. We’re here to try to get everyone to work together willingly.”
A Belgian player who goes by ThisMight has found growth through VRC Kmart employment. He stumbled across the store while on the hunt for milk and decided to stick around, joining the game’s discord, then its dev team. After going through in-game training, he got an associate gig, posting up in the electronics department behind counters filled with pixelated boxes of movies or games. He’s never seen a Kmart in real life.
VRChat isn’t set up to fully mimic a store experience—there is no sophisticated system to check out, for example—so players take their role-playing duties very seriously. Despite a strict rule that customers can only buy electronics in that section, people often came to ThisMight’s counter with garden shop items or food. “This is electronics,” he would yell, turning them away. “You have to go into the checkout lanes!”
ThisMight eventually worked his way up to manager. Now instead of being stuck behind a counter he walks through the store to check on associates and customers who might need help. He helps select items for the Blue Light sections that denote Kmart sales, like Kodak cameras, because “no one cared about them.” Why did he care so much about the Kodaks? “Because every single item is special in electronics.”
VRChat’s Kmart heads are insistent that real lives come first, meaning players can choose to work—they clock in—for just a few minutes at a time, but ThisMight sometimes put in anywhere from four to six hours. There are no rules to how long people work because there’s no money changing hands. “It would be insane if you have to pay like 200 people for absolutely nothing,” he says. (This also means there are no unions, though people often joke about it.)
The actual payoff has been worth more for ThisMight, who suffers from social anxiety. “I wanted some real-life work experience in a safe environment,” he says of his decision to take a virtual job. “I thought that joining a store would be one of the best steps to stop social anxiety, because I am forced to speak with people from that point onward.” ThisMight described himself previously as a bystander, more likely to turn tail than intervene. “Now I have the willpower to speak up and say something about it,” he said.
Clashes happen. This is a community that draws in people with wildly different politics, religions, and life experiences. But it’s also the only place where some people feel validated, or free to use their preferred gender expression in a social setting. “There are members in this community where this is their primary family … people where their home life isn’t that great, so they come to these communities,” Carbon says. “You start to become very reliant on these groups of people.” If Carbon and other higher-ups can’t set a good example for conflict resolution, “how can we expect them to go into life?”