What is the Metaverse and How Does it Work?

Chris Burns - Nov 15, 2021, 1:08pm CST
What is the Metaverse and How Does it Work?

Wondering what the Metaverse is? Chances are you’ve already been there. There is no one perfect description for the concept, but in general, we’re talking about digital interaction and human decision making in a few key ways. The term “Metaverse” comes from the Neal Stephenson science fiction novel Snow Crash, released in 1992 – but it’s come to mean so much more since then.

The Metaverse is Second Life

There were games before it that were similar, but the release of Second Life really struck a chord with pop culture in a way that still rings true today. As Dwight said in The Office, “Second Life is not a game. It is a multiuser virtual environment. It doesn’t have points, or scores, it doesn’t have winners or losers.”

Dwight does a decent job of explaining Second Life as it represents a very rudimentary doorway into the metaverse. Incidentally, the second bit about how he plays Second Life is important to explaining the difference between classic games and the metaverse.

Dwight says he created a version of himself in Second Life that was exactly the same as he was in his real life, except he could fly. The metaverse can be as simple as that, it doesn’t need to be anything as wild and crazy as we see in Ready Player One.

The Metaverse is Ready Player One

The story and movie Ready Player One present a future in which the idea of the metaverse has become so pervasive that people care more about their life in the machine more than they do in real life. In what the book and movie call The Oasis, we see a hosted metaverse with an idyllic (and potentially impossible) sense of freedom and openness.

At the same time, this representation of the metaverse suggests there’ll be one all-encompassing, all-accessible piece of software that’ll host everything and anything. Aside from the reality in which we live today, we’re crossing our fingers and praying that no other singular universe like this dominates our digital world in the future. The implications would be nightmarish.

The Metaverse is Minecraft and Roblox

The first time you play Minecraft, you realize you’ve entered a new realm of “gameplay.” You’re represented by an avatar that has the ability to dig holes, harvest materials, build things, and live a life as you see fit. You can also play games and go fishing.

In Minecraft, creativity comes from a careful balance of limitations and functionality. You control blocks, and you get a sense of accomplishment from achieving goals within an environment that has a clear set of rules. Minecraft was created as a game, and became a platform once its potential was revealed.

Roblox was built as a platform, and is a game platform for creators from the get-go. Roblox was created as a place where content would be generated by users with very few restrictions.

Despite what the very fantastical trailer above shows, the Roblox platform is not as immediately aesthetically pleasing as Minecraft. Because of the relative lack of curation done by those in charge of Roblox, it is not difficult to find glitches and games that are effectively non-functional.

The important bits of both Roblox and Minecraft are in creative potential. Both titles are immersive, and both allow you to create and modify the environment in which you exist.

The Metaverse is not new

The basic building blocks of the metaverse have been around since the early days of the internet. As soon as we started giving ourselves personalized usernames, using fun icons, and building our own webpages – we’ve been in the metaverse for a while, really.

It’s just now that we’re getting to a point where describing these creative environments has become necessary. We’ve entered a point at which an all-digital environment can host more than just a game – it can be the place where we do work, socialize, and effectively live an entire second life.

The Metaverse is Mixed Reality

As Niantic describes the Real-World Metaverse we see the phase we’re entering now. Non-fungible Tokens (NFT) represent one way in which digital goods can be seen as “real” as physical goods. An experience like Pokemon GO shows us how attaching digital goods to our real world can make a platform feel like more than a game.

The potential for the metaverse is massive. Metaverse apps will generate billions in consumer spending from this point forward. Companies that successfully accept and secure their place in this creative digital landscape will find monstrous room for growth.

There is no one metaverse

As an individual, it’s important that you stay aware of the dangers of this new reality. As it is with any phase change in our human experience, there’s room for profit and power, but there’s also room for malicious actors and all manner of people with bad intent.

There’ll be plenty of liars. Lying liars why lie about how their take on the metaverse is the end-all, be-all platform for said metaverse. There is no one single “metaverse”, even if a company has branded their ecosystem as such.

Just as it has always been with the internet, so too is it true of the metaverse – there is on one single authority, only entities. There are plenty of entry points into the ephemeral environment that is the metaverse, and not all elements within this future are compatible. Whatever avenue you choose, and with whomever you choose to interact, be careful – and have fun!


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