The term “metaverse” has been gaining traction recently and for good reason. With so many people around the world spending the better part of the last two years stuck inside, enhancements to virtual experiences and digital gatherings have been coming out at a rapid pace.
So what exactly IS a metaverse? Well, explaining it can take some time as there is no singular definition that is agreed upon to refer to. In essence, it’s the next progression of the internet in regards to how we can interact with each other without physically being around one another.
Where Did Metaverse Come From?
Neal Stephenson is credited with coining the term in his novel Snow Crash. The 1992 novel told of a world where the inhabitants actually spend their time in a virtual space in order to interact. Each person has an avatar or representation of themselves.
Stephenson isn’t the first to build a world around this idea but was the first to bring life to the term metaverse. A more modern piece that uses a metaverse setting is Ernest Cline’s novel Ready Player One which came out in 2011 and was later adapted to the big screen in 2018.
If It’s All Sci-Fi, Why Is It Being Talked About in Real Life?
Since the metaverse hasn’t been realized in our reality, discussion around it can change viewpoints as to what actually constitutes a metaverse. It’s more than just chat rooms and MMORPGs that let you make a player character to quest and socialize with other players.
An example of a tiny metaverse that exists in real life would be a convention where guests are cosplaying meaning they dress up as their favorite fictional characters from games or TV. During these events, everyone is essentially their own chosen avatar and can interact with others in a sort of altered reality.
Obviously you can tell the person you’re talking to is real and not a video game character who jumped out of the screen, but during the event these guests create their own kind of metaverse.
The metaverse that companies like Facebook and Epic Games are referring to when they bring it up in interviews is a fully immersive digital landscape. Imagine you put on a headset and suddenly you’re in a different world where you can talk with others, pay your bills, get drinks with friends and express your creativity in a seamless experience.
Wait, What Does That Last Part Mean?
Think about how many different apps you have on your phone and streaming services you’re subscribed to. You have to have an account for each one and swap between them depending on what you want to do or watch.
A metaverse would be a virtual world that combines all of it together. Web-based services would mesh with real-world activities. You can meet up with friends and go to the movies but the screen is pulling a film from Netflix’s servers that you buy a ticket to watch and get the movie experience.
It’s a separate sort of existence without being fully detached from reality. For example, if you’re jacked into the metaverse and decide to paint a virtual painting, you could sell that to others in the metaverse for actual money. Imagine The Matrix but everyone knows they’re in it and is there on their own volition, able to change their world to what they deem best.
Hasn’t This Been Done Before?
It has but to a less-immersive extent than we’re looking at achieving in the future. Possibly the largest example is the game Second Life which allowed players to create entire worlds, buy and sell property, start businesses and even families within the game. All of this linked to their bank accounts making the virtual real estate and property management an actual source of income and it started way back in 2003.
What separates the metaverse from just being the internet is how it’s used. The internet of things connects all of our devices together using data servers and connections. The metaverse uses the internet to inject us directly into these data streams where we could manipulate the world around us as we wish.
If someone wants to make an avatar and create a racetrack to test drive a car they always wanted to in real life, they could! If it’s good enough they could even charge others to use the course and turn it into a business. This concept of virtual business is also where NFT’s come into play. Without diving into how NFT’s work, just know they are digital stamps that show something is the original copy of a piece of digital media.
Will We All Be in the Metaverse Eventually?
For some of us, the metaverse is already here in one way or another. Virtual reality headsets let users create their own avatar in order to talk to others over a headset at a bar or go bowling together. Think The Sims games but you are the sim and in full control of the world around you.
The reason why the metaverse is becoming such a heavily pursued idea is that we’re honestly getting to the next phase in digital evolution. Science is decades if not centuries away from being able to explore the far reaches of the universe. What we can do in reality is coming to a halt but progression never loses its drive.
Right now games like Roblox let users make different servers or “experiences” as they call them to create a tailored world around them. Each user can bounce between these worlds at will with their avatar and profile coming with them. Fortnite has done digital concerts within their game with some of the biggest names in entertainment while making lucrative deals with big-name companies to put various superhero costumes in game.
Both of these start blurring the line between virtual and actual reality. Imagine you’re playing a game and get a text. The metaverse would allow your in-game avatar to pull out THEIR phone and check your messages then and there. In between matches you can virtually scroll through your real Facebook feed.
Is the Metaverse Going To Replace Reality?
Not necessarily. For one, not everyone is keen on the idea of spending all of their time in a virtual world. This alone will create a portion of the population that still exists and lives in the real world. For someone who grew up experiencing things like Second Life and the advent of virtual reality, it may be a welcome change to get away from what can be a chaotic world.