In the not-too-distant future, we may all be living in a society similar to the world of Ready Player One. Virtual and augmented reality technology is rapidly advancing and increasing in popularity. It’s no surprise that anime such as Sword Art Online, .hack, and Summer Wars continue to show people occupying alternate virtual realities that may provide more fulfillment that the real world.

In Japan, the trend of people creating virtual personas with 3D characters representing themselves is becoming particularly popular. There has been a dramatic increase in the number of virtual YouTubers, who are usually moe girl characters with hidden true identities, since December. However, looks are not always what they seem, and average-looking men are actually behind some of these popular online personas.

The trend is not limited to virtual YouTuber video channels. Apparently, an increasing number of roughly middle-aged Japanese men are choosing to become cute girl characters in the world of VRChat. With the help of media artist Teruaki Tsubokura, The Asahi Shimbun‘s Yoshinobu Tanji recently explored this realm of Japanese men appearing as female characters in the game.

The free-to-play massively multiplayer online virtual reality game designed by Graham Gaylor and Jesse Joudrey lets players create their own worlds and interact with other players’ avatars. Although it has yet to fully launch, it became available for PC via Steam in February 2017. Many people use various VR headsets to play and communicate with each other online through the platform.

After introducing himself in a virtual room of Japanese men appearing as cute girls, Tanji asked why they choose to appear in such a way despite being men. One man responded through his avatar, “Because. Think about it. Do you think I want to come to this kind of place in the form of a filthy man?” Members of this community seem to feel that appearing as young, cute girls makes them more approachable and overall makes the VR experience more enjoyable.

According to the third-party website SteamSpy, Steam users had installed VRChat 165,000 times as of December 10. That number had skyrocketed to 3.69 million installs by March 10.

Source: The Asahi Shimbun‘s With News (Yoshinobu Tanji) via Otakomu