I was first introduced to the idea of a metaverse when I watched the anime Sword Art Online (SAO) in 2012. SAO was part of a genre of anime called ‘isekai,’ where the main protagonist is transported into another world, usually a virtual or fantasy world. The idea of being able to put on a headset and become an entirely different character, a superhero, in a fantasy video game, where you can control your character and do things that aren’t possible in the physical world, all with your conscience. The idea of being able to fully immerse yourself into a video game, a hobby I’ve enjoyed since I was 6 playing Pokémon on my GameBoy, utterly fascinated me, and I dreamed about the day that virtual reality might be a possible reality. I just didn’t know what that meant at the time.
In 2018, Hollywood was more properly introduced to the idea of video game metaverses through the movie Ready Player One. A brief summary of the movie:
‘The film is set in 2045, with the world on the brink of chaos and collapse. But the people have found salvation in the OASIS, an expansive virtual reality universe created by the brilliant and eccentric James Halliday (Mark Rylance). When Halliday dies, he leaves his immense fortune to the first person to find a digital Easter egg he has hidden somewhere in the OASIS, sparking a contest that grips the entire world. When an unlikely young hero named Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) decides to join the contest, he is hurled into a breakneck, reality-bending treasure hunt through a fantastical universe of mystery, discovery and danger’
Now with the recent announcement of Facebook rebranding as “Meta,” the fantasy worlds displayed in SAO and Ready Player One don’t seem so far off anymore as technology companies are realizing these ideas – and certainly could arrive sooner than 2045.
So what exactly is a metaverse? The type of virtual reality control showcased in SAO is certainly a bit ambitious – being able to control your character in virtual reality with nothing but your conscience while laying down on your bed is a bit ambitious right now. But the foundation is the same.
Entering the metaverse through VR, at its current state, is more like what is shown in Ready Player One. A headset is put on to transport what you see in a virtual world. However, to control your character (yourself), you still need to physically move, and so you usually have handheld sensors or equipment on your body to relay movements. Think of the metaverse as playing Wii boxing, where you have one remote per hand to stimulate your punches, while also having special goggles that simulate being actually in the boxing ring. So instead of watching your character on a TV screen fight someone, you are the character on the screen, and you see what it sees.
The metaverse is how technology companies are looking to transcend the physical world into the virtual. It is a combination of virtual reality and augmented reality to create virtual immersive 3-D environments.
And although my initial interest in the metaverse was to be transported into a video game to immerse myself as a superhero character, the metaverse can be (and is being) applied to many industries in creating more frictionless transactions from the comfort of your own home, not limited to the following:
Virtual showings of real estate properties and homes
Virtual attendance at a concert (to avoid another Travis Scott disaster?)
Virtual shopping with augmented reality to simulate “trying on” clothing
One company, Unity, is even moving robotics design and training to the virtual metaverse.
Right now my biggest excitement is the development of the metaverse in video games. Although there are some games with VR capability, there is still a long way to go to make the technology more accessible, improve UI/UX experience and lagginess, and be user friendly.
And in the metaverse, there will likely be a virtual economy, just like in many role-playing games. This is where NFT’s and digital tokens like Ethereum will come into play. Other companies in the space of the metaverse include software companies such as Unity, which allows users to build video games on its platform, and Matterport, a company that builds, designs, and plans 3-D designs of the real world into the virtual. Of course, many technology companies are utilizing VR and AR technology as well – from Tesla car models to Amazon and Ikea allowing you to virtually test out products in your home. But the metaverse, at least the way I see it now, is specifically more like a virtual escape fantasy from the physical world. Video games (imagine being able to be Frodo or Gandalf in an adventure game of LOTR) and immersive experiences (think virtual sky diving, or climbing Mount Everest without the physical risk but all the virtual and scenic beauty) are where this technology will thrive.
I have both excitement and fear of the possibilities of escaping into the metaverse. On the one hand, I am hopeful for the ability to transcend the physical world into the virtual and have immersive experiences with friends. On the other hand, I have seen how the online world can foster toxic behaviour when given the ability to be anonymous through a keyboard.