“When I’m hanging out with my friends we’re like, ‘we should make this into a VRChat world, all these stupid things,” says Coopertom, a New Jersey-based furry.
Two nights ago, one of his friends tipsily tweeted, “Four Seasons Total Landscaping needs to be a VRChat world. Okay I'm going to bed.”
It seemed like a tossed-off joke, but inspiration had struck. After working through the night, Coopertom was ready to unveil his gift to the world: A fully realized virtual reality version of the parking lot where Rudy Giuliani held the world’s stupidest press conference. And because it was built by furries, for furries, in a year when every furry con in the world had to go online, furries flocked to it for an instantly-viral video of unbridled purity. Four Seasons Total Landscaping is now a furry.
So who’s Coopertom and how did this silly situation come together so quickly?
Well, let’s start by explaining VRChat, which is one of those Extremely Online™ phenomena that, to the outside world, seems like a joke someone made up about furry trash. It’s a blob of software that allows users to enter into highly customizable 3D worlds and hang out, much like Second Life promised many years ago but at a somewhat higher level of fidelity. It can be played (if that’s the right word) on any modest desktop computer, or with face-hugging VR headsets for a truly immersive experience. And of course it’s like catnip for furries.
Coopertom’s been in the fandom for about a decade and has tinkered with virtual reality throughout that time. When he first joined VRChat a few years ago, it was a bit of a mess. He didn’t see the appeal. “Then with the pandemic, I’m stuck at home,” he says, “and I was like, ‘Let me pop on to VRChat. And all my friends were there.”
As a child of the ‘80s, Coopertom could recall the stupid promise of VR going back to Neuromancer days, when futurists predicted that we’d soon strap into a new form of experience that would overtake reality. And ohhhh boy, did VR fail to deliver! For years, the technology served up clunky headache-inducing polygons, pointless tech demos, and “games” that were infinitely more frustrating to play with a giant suitcase strapped to your face.
“We got Virtual Boy and that was crap, and Magnavox Scuba and that was crap,” he says. “We were promised virtual reality for decades. And then the technology rolls around five years ago, and I’m like, ‘This is it. This is what I’ve been waiting for.”
It’s no holodeck, but in the last few years virtual reality has managed to approach something like usability. Coopertom and many of his friends have full body tracking, so they're able to stand in rooms thousands of miles apart, moving their arms and legs and head, and they’ll see each others’ avatars move accordingly. The software understands speech and animates mouths accordingly. Fingers articulate, hips swivel, and animation triggers make tails waggle and noses twitch. It’s real … ish.
Despite having no experience working with 3D, Coopertom liked what he saw. Starting in April, he began poking around with Unity, a widely-used game dev platform, and hacked a Kinect so his rig could mimic his movements more closely. Before the pandemic hit, he would attend around five furry conferences every year, and the virtual hangouts were the best replacement available.
“Going from that to an entire year where we can’t do anything or hang out our see friends—everybody kind of migrated to VRChat,” he says. He built an ‘80s-style mall where he could hang out with friends and spent time frolicking on a talk show set. His latest project was a recreation of Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood, but then the Four Seasons idea fell into his lap.
In the delightful video of its unveiling, furry avatars careen around the VR world, their pilots giggling in delight at the environment’s highly specific attention to detail. (At one point, Coopertom points out the coiled hose that he painstakingly attached to a wall while someone operating a Bonkers the Cat character gestures to it like Vanna White revealing a vowel.)
This is actually Coopertom’s second brush with viral fame; a few years ago, he became infamous for appearing in a cursed photo of two fursuiters crouched around a birthday cake in a creepy attic. He’s also the official fursuiter for Furaffinity’s mascot, Fender, and makes frequent videos about his VR adventures.
In a touching update video, Coopertom thanks everyone for the attention, for expressing their enjoyment of his creation, and for the people who have—unbidden—sent him some cash for his creation. (Initially resistant to accepting money, he eventually set up a KoFi, and donations from strangers allowed him to pay off a dental bill that had been stressing him out for months.)
Today has been such an incredible day. I never expected this would happen. I'm sorry, I get a bit choked up towards the end of the video. You're all beautiful people. pic.twitter.com/50Fc3w7voK
— coopertom (@thecoopertom) November 10, 2020
With his latest few moments of viral fame still chugging along, Coopertom says that now “people are asking me to add the porn store and the crematorium, so I think I might have to focus on that while it’s hot.” He laughs—“I’ve just gotta figure out a tasteful way of displaying it.”