9:37 AM ET
Weddings are increasingly high-tech affairs, with everything from homemade photo booths to LED lights to drones getting in on the nuptials. But one recent ceremony might go down in wedding history as a real sign of the times.
Elisa Evans, 46, and Martin Shervington, 44, got married in a futuristic dance hall underneath a glittery disco ball as red lava filled the skies overhead. At least, that’s how their virtual reality wedding took place on May 25.
Modern and relatively affordable virtual reality technology made the novel approach possible for the Cardiff, Wales couple, who say they wanted something personal. “Who wouldn’t want to be a time traveling robot with the opportunity to revisit their own wedding? The choice seemed the only way to go,” Martin, a writer, told TIME.
The pair decided to partner with VR company AltspaceVR to make the red lava-filled wedding of their dreams happen. They spent $2,531 a piece on the computer and headset.
When it was time for their first waltz as man and wife, this never-more-hip couple in headsets swung their arms and danced at the Cardiff cafe-bar Sunflower & I. But the 40 guests at the groom’s apartment passing the VR headsets around just saw two digital avatars busting a move, one royal blue and the other hot pink.
Two particularly early adopters had the when virtual reality was a much more rudimentary concept in 1994. But they couldn't move their hands around their virtual world quite like the Wales couple could, thanks to modern high-tech controllers.
Not everyone knew how the mind-bending plan would come together until the wedding day. “Some people were expecting us to be dressed up like robots and didn’t quite understand that we were the avatars,” Martin said.
The guests had avatars, too. They watched as the groom played host with a heartfelt presentation peppered with jokes. As he got down to thank you's in between funny clips from The Office and Inception, the modern set-up gave guests a way to get in on the action remotely: emoji. Streams of hearts and clapping hands bubbled up from the guests’ avatars within the experience.
The pair fell in love with each other’s humor one year ago, and these two have been laughing a lot since. “When you know it’s right, it is right,” Elisa, a business owner, said. A community manager for the company, Lisa Kotecki, beamed in from San Francisco to officiate the legally binding affair.
Martin's vows: "I promise to keep on loving you, make you laugh at silly things and allow you to be free to be yourself,” he said as his avatar swiveled to face hers.
Elisa's: "I promise to love you, to make you happy, and to laugh with you every day. I promise to try not to be funnier than you," she answered. "That's going to be difficult,” he added.
The playful ceremony went off mostly without a hitch, though the kiss was tricky with the bulky equipment on their heads. Lucky for them, there was another chance. “In real life, the kiss was fine,” Martin said.
Skeptics questioning the whole practice will be be happy to know the cutting-edge wedding didn't totally replace the real thing. After guests sent the couple off in style by streaming neon purple firework-like animated "interactables" into the venue using "glow sticks," it was time for guests to leave the groom's apartment and join the couple at the cafe-bar across the street, Sunflower & I. The affair was structured to reflect the virtual reality experience, right down to the bride's walk down the aisle to "Hamburg Song” by Keane and the Beatles classic “All You Need Is Love."
This party, however, had food. Along with some face time, guests enjoyed a custom cake with toppers they recognized — mini pink and blue robots. But the most interesting difference between the simulated event and the one they had for real may have been the emotional landscape.
“We didn’t get to see a sea of heart emojis from the guests in the real world, but there were a lot of smiles,” Martin said.
The now popular 360-degree wedding video is one way to immortalize the memories, but this next-level couple can throw on a headset and relive their special day whenever they want. That's not even what invigorates them most.
"Marriage is in the heart," Martin said. “We have the memory of getting married in parallel, virtual and real world in our minds."