GIPHY, the company whose endless repository of GIFs cured you of saying “Hey” on Tinder and “happy birthday” on work Slack, spends a lot of time just making cool shit. They do GIF art shows, screensavers, photo booths, and much more. Their latest experiment is a virtual reality video game where you use GIFs to build infinitely customizable worlds. It’s kind of like Minecraft but with over a billion different kinds of blocks to choose from. I got to try it earlier this week, and it’s addictive as hell.
The game is called GIPHY World. It’s like Tilt Brush for the very online. Players can choose one of three surreal locales as a canvas: an idyllic island, a minimalist chess board, or forested campsite. Then, just add GIFs. From iconic Friends moments to reaction GIFs and really out-there art loops, the search bar is the limit. The whole landscape can be transformed into a bustling metropolis, a winding corn maze, or a scorched earth apocalypse. My creative aspirations tended toward the latter.
Designer Ralph Bishop told me the idea for an app that lets people draw with GIFs came from two of GIPHY’s previous VR experiments, the Museum of GIF Art and Sticker Time. “It just didn’t exist,” he said, and he needed it to. GIPHY let him team up with engineering lead Laura Juo-Hsin Chen's New York-based developer Planeta to build the game. As a GIF company, it's in GIPHY's interest to shepherd the format through the shifting technological landscape. “If we can bring the GIF along though new tech and keep it relevant—and bring artists along for the ride—then that’s a cool place to be,” Bishop said.
He and GIPHY producer Jason Clarke taught me how to stamp, spray, draw, and sculpt with GIFs. They taught me how to shrink and grow my body to make bigger and smaller GIFs, and how to smash my creations into oblivion with a digital hammer. In essence, they taught me how to be a god in this tropical paradise. I could create infinite friends to party with, draw fantastic structures into existence, and light it all on fire when I was done. There’s a camera feature for taking selfies with your masterpiece, which is a feature every VR experience should include. This feature alone could cement GIPHY World’s legacy, even if it weren’t so trippy and fun to play. Here's a video of me fucking around in the app.
As I explored the different tools and snapped GIF selfies with the incredibly intuitive assistant bot, I found myself wishing I could graft my face onto the squishy, smiling avatar. Bishop said they’re planning to develop new features for GIPHY World after the launch, one of which might be the ability to graft GIFs directly onto the digital body. Another possibility is a smartphone version of the app that will allow people to explore their creations sans-headset.
When the demo was over, I reluctantly took off the headset and wiped my cursed creations from the computer’s memory. It's supremely addictive! The game is out on Oculus Rift and HTC Vive today.
Download GIPHY World on the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and Steam.
Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.