Welcome to the world’s first virtual reality batmitzvah

Borehamwood couple organise two-hour pixellated simcha for their daughter, with 100 guests appearing as avatars


After the pandemic forced them to postpone their daughter’s simcha, Neil and Natalie Rosen marked Annie’s coming of age in an unconventional way last week: the world’s first fully immersive avatar-based batmitzvah.

Their 100 guests were avatars, but for the 42-year-old couple from Borehamwood, the two-hour computer-game like experience was almost a simcha celebration like any other. 

“It was literally everything that we could have possibly wished for. It covered everything that a normal function has apart from actually physically being there,” Mrs Rosen told the JC. 

The format was more affordable than a physical event, did away with hassles like “achy feet and having to schlep back in the car at the end of the night” and was more interactive than a Zoom celebration, they said. 

Live music and pre-recorded speeches were broadcast on a big screen, while guests interacted with one another in a large virtual hall. “Most of the night, the whole dance floor was literally buzzing,” Mr Rosen recalled. 

Around 250 people tuned in while approximately 100 guests logged onto their computers to control their avatars - a cartoon character in their image able to dance, talk and put in song requests to the DJ. 

“You could do anything from a robot dance to salsa to break dancing. Like in any other normal club you also had private tables where you could go and have a chat with someone,” the dad said. 

Annie’s maternal grandparents were both “dancing away”, while her paternal grandmother also logged on, doing something “she would never do before, play a computer game”, he said. 

“I turned my entire lounge dining room into a studio,” said organiser Adam Phillips, director of Uptown Events.

“I had a DJ, electric violinist and four decks here. We kept cutting into the electric violinist, the slideshow of the family, and lots of funky visuals that we put on the screen.”

Mr Phillips said the event format was addictive. “You lose all concept because people are so used to being self conscious on Zoom, worried about people seeing them.

“With Zoom barmitzvahs people are just observing, whereas with this platform, yes you’re watching the speeches and seeing the DJs but you’re involved.”

As the world begins to reopen, there will be “loads of hybrid events” amid lingering uncertainty over travel, he predicted.

“We've got lots of clients with families in places like South Africa and there’s no way they’re going to be over here celebrating in person any time soon,” he said. 

According to the firm behind the software - Ido Virtual - prices for avatar-based events start from £7,000 depending on the number of guests and other costs. 

Ian Dobrin, a partner at the firm, said he hopes the model, also being used for company events, represents the future.

“A lot of people are talking about hybrid events at the moment, where it could be 50 per cent real and 50 per cent at home. I think that’s the future and all covid has done is bring forward the possibilities of bringing people together even if they can’t be,” he told the JC.  

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