What is the Metaverse? Love it or loathe it

The metaverse, a term coined in the 1992 science-fiction film ‘Snow Crash’, is a digital, augmented and – one can argue – better version of our reality today.

What is the metaverse?

Once just a sci-fi concept, the metaverse is quite real now. It is a fusion of our physical, augmented (AR) and virtual worlds (VR), emerging as a shared place for all of us to join at will and where we are spatially arranged as we are in the real world. The metaverse is meant to be an open world, accessible to everyone. It is ‘decentralised’ as no one should be able to ‘own’ it, just like no one owns the physical world. Part of the metaverse today is – guess - called Decentraland.

Imagine the metaverse as a much, much-enhanced Zoom experience, but instead of everyone seeing the physical you and your messy background (your unmade bed for example) they see an embellished 3D cartoon version of you. The customised avatar you create for yourself jumps (because your digital self can) from your phone or laptop into this virtual and augmented reality and in that digitised, 3D, version of the real world you interact with others (i.e their avatars) as you would in the physical world. So, a Zoom class or lecture could become a ‘real’ class in a digital classroom where all students’ - and the teachers’ avatars converge for a lesson. One could wonder if for the transfer of knowledge, the metaverse would not be a better option than a brick-and-mortar school with its physical restrictions.

Endless possibilities

The metaverse is in fact amazing. It will allow you to do things that you would be unable to do in the physical world as it offers you/your avatar an unbound freedom and possibility, because you are unhinged physically. You can literally fly around the universe and flit from one situation to another and meet up with anyone, wherever they are in the physical world. The metaverse makes it possible for you to watch content AND to be in it, to be part of it and to do this with others.

Of course, you can virtually meet with anyone, anywhere via Zoom, Skype of Facetime today, but in the metaverse you may decide – for example - to all meet up for a virtual game of basketball or to go to a concert or go dancing on a tropical beach, all of which will feel totally real as you are in a 3D environment. The real, physical world may start to feel stunted and one-dimensional (literally) in comparison to the metaverse and we may actually prefer to live more or our lives in Decentraland

The metaverse; going beyond the video game boundaries

Video games of course already offer you the opportunity to meet and hang out with friends inside the game, but the boundaries are set by each separate game you are ‘in’ and there is no seamless transfer from a game to other parts of the metaverse. Neither can you (yet) transport goods (stuff you buy for your avatar) from a set video game to another reality. The skins you buy stay in the game.

But as the metaverse expands, the video game boundaries will become much more fluid. In Decentraland, video game ‘areas’ may be cordoned off like amusement parks or paintball-areas, with entry via pre-booking and payment, leaving the rest of the metaverse free to roam.

The Metaverse: arts & concerts

Other than video games, the metaverse today is actively used by designers and artists, who sell and trade their artworks by means of non-fungible tokens, NFTs. OMG. Out of Nowhere into Everywhere, in digital galleries in the metaverse. The famous auction house Sothetby’s has already opened a gallery in Decentraland, a clear sign that digital art has ‘arrived’. NFTs are possible due to the advent of blockchain and crypto currencies, allowing monetary value to change hands in the digital world.

Concerts are another fantastical phenomenon of the metaverse. Last year Fortnite staged a concert with Travis Scott within its game and it was roaring success with almost 46 million views. Earlier this month it was the turn of a digitalised Ariane Grande with her Rift Tour on Fortnite, whilst Ava Max debuted her new album on Roblox with a digital launch party attended by 1.2 million people, many more than would or could attend an album launch party in the physical world!

The metaverse and all its possibilities is developing more every day. It is like building a completely new, inclusive, world where we all free and mobile and able to explore whatever we want, whenever we want.

Often the real world imitates science-fiction. In ‘Snow Crash’ Neil Stephenson dreamt up a world that has become a reality 30 years after imaging it.


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