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VRChat Kmart is an eerie metaverse time machine

Forget Stranger Things and Kate Bush - a trip to a working Kmart store in VRChat is the most potent dose of early '90s nostalgia you'll ever have

VRChat Kmart: An anime Kmart customer haggles with an anime Kmart associate at the check-out aisle, while an anime catboy stands behind a blue Kmart shopping cart

VRChat Kmart recreates the feeling of actually being in a Kmart store to such a degree that you have to experience it to really understand. Once a big box fixture across the United States, Kmart has all but disappeared from America – only three stores remained open as of April 2022. But even if you don’t live near one of these last few locations (there’s one in Long Island, one in Westwood, New Jersey, and one in Miami), you can still experience the true heyday of Kmart thanks to a dedicated group of VRChat roleplayers.

The fluorescent lighting, the odd modular shelving, and the blandly specific Kmart music remind me more of my own experience of the early 1990s than anything else I’ve ever watched or played.

The main difference – and this is a big one – is that this version of Kmart is typically packed with anime characters.

There are three VRChat Kmart stores. There’s the more modern VRChat Super Kmart Center, which includes a full-service grocery section. Then there’s the regular VRChat Kmart, which is reportedly a 1:1 recreation of the store creator Ericirno worked in back in 1992. There’s also a Kmart Express, which is about a third the size of a standard store – and more compatible with the Meta Quest headset. It even includes a Little Caesar’s pizza station, for maximum authenticity (although you’ll have to supply the Crazy Bread aroma yourself).

The stores all have items to buy and working “state of the art, IBM point-of-sale systems” at the registers, where associates will be happy to scan your items and check you out – or you can do it yourself at one of the new self check-out stations.

These are all periodically staffed by a brigade of VRChat Kmart roleplayers, who organise shifts and duties on a dedicated Discord server. If you’re so inclined, you can even apply for a job as a store associate there (don’t worry, there’s a series of training videos for new hires), or just hang out in the Kmart voice channel and listen to an endless stream of treacly department store muzak.

Again, the level of dedication to the bit has to be seen in order to be believed. Here’s Ericirno starring in a VRChat version of a classic Kmart television spot (shot in 4:3, just like the original):

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VRChat is currently facing a player backlash over its recent implementation of Easy Anti-Cheat, which users say has impacted or flat-out broken many of the mods that make VRChat accessible and fun. The VRChat team has said that it’s taking that feedback on board, but currently has no plans to roll back the security update – instead, the studio says it’ll be “reprioritizing, reorganising, and changing our internal development roadmap to focus on the feedback you’ve given us.”

In the meantime, you can find out more about VRChat Kmart over on its delightfully Web 1.0 site, which also contains a link to a hazardous ‘alternate timeline’ Kmart.

“This location is permanently closed and undergoing investigation,” the description reads. “Further details will not be disclosed as of now. Contact VRChat Kmart’s Security Team in case of emergencies.”

Maybe there’s hope for the metaverse after all.