Jeffrey R. Vadala PhD
Alissa M. Jordan PhD
University of Pennsylvania
This research explores the emergence of the Ugandan Knuckles online virtual reality cult. We do this by using the case study of users of a meme-avatar, known as the Ugandan Knuckles, that dramatically “took over” a virtual reality social platform, VRChat. After its introduction, this meme rapidly transformed the futuristic VRChat social sphere into something many users considered entirely “unusable.” Historically and ethnographically exploring how this happened, we characterize the emergence of the Ugandan Knuckles phenomena as an assemblage of multiple interconnected components and flows of social power, technology, virtual embodiment and representation that eventually came to reiterate deeply problematic media depictions of african culture, religon, and black masculinity. We also explore the social processes that contribute to constituting virtual reality platforms like VRChat into both the what some call the “future of online socializing” but also commonly an “infested” “trollfest.” We are preparing a peer reviewed publication for release in 2020.
Screenshots of VR Ethnographic Work: