Unlike my previous posts on the Metaverse, this one will take a more personal turn. It’ll be the first of a series where I will expand my own experiences touching on the Metaverse and how they led to my interest in the topic.
I’ve been creating my own worlds since I was in kindergarten. I wrote picture books from kindergarten through 2nd grade, then moved on to writing chapter books. In 6th grade, I finished writing a roughly 200-page fiction book that I self-published on Amazon (I took it down a few years later. You couldn’t have expected a story I started at 9 to be good). Later on, my genre of interest became sci-fi, and my preferred format became short stories — all the better to experiment with ideas in a quick and flexible way.
I’ve learned that writing is one of the most direct mediums I can access to sketch out a concept, a society, or a world. It puts me through the paces of really thinking about how things would work and helps me discover my own hopes — as well as the limits of my own imagination. Through it, I can build a world on my own terms. In a matter of words, I can conjure up cities, societies, and worlds that can range from realistic to surreal, unrestricted by the laws of reality.
Just like how writers have freedom to visualize and create their own universe, the builders of the Metaverse also have freedom to shape it with their own hands. I’ve grown up in the era of Web2; the chance to make significant changes to it has largely passed. The Metaverse, on the other hand, is a chance to create something not tied to the existing restrictions and limits of what I’ve seen in Web2, most notably the walled gardens (closed ecosystems) of the tech giants and the user expectations of an internet that wasn’t built for a blending of virtual and real. It is far enough out in the future that it’s still a nebulous concept, with no standards or even a universal definition for it, yet close enough to the present that people are already building for it. What I hope for, then, is the chance to be a builder, to be a part of shaping it based on my own standards and values.
The word “Metaverse” was first coined by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 book Snow Crash, though he has since revised his initial framing of the Metaverse from avatars “going to bars on the [virtual] street” to become much more gameplay oriented instead. At the time of Snow Crash, he knew that 3D imaging graphics hardware was “outrageously expensive,” and he thought if it were to become affordable, then “there would have to be a market for 3D graphics as big as the market for TV. So the Metaverse in Snow Crash is kind of like TV.” Instead, history shows that the driving factor behind 3D graphics affordability became games, so the actual Metaverse became grounded in gaming.
In this case, it would be little surprise that my interest in the Metaverse was formed through games.
Starting from middle and high school, I played a few games that deviated from mainstream genres. Some, in the perceptions of others, might not even count as games. A better term for what they were to me might be “virtual worlds.”
What drew me into these virtual worlds wasn’t traditional hack and slash gameplay, but rather the concept of player-driven communities and content. In the virtual world ourWorld, players determined the value of the items they traded and bartered over, and they would wear these items to parties at other players’ virtual houses — the rarer the better, as social status was the backbone of the world. On the dragon breeding platform Flight Rising, players set up their own dragon or art shops, and organized their own roleplaying scenarios or lore-based breeding projects with the help of others in the community. In the life simulator Elnea Kingdom, players become citizens who can attend school, buy houses, adventure in dungeons, tend crops, and participate in a myriad of other daily life activities.
These worlds will pale in comparison to what we could build once technology progresses further. Even so, they already demonstrate how virtual worlds can simulate societies in parallel to those in real life, while also extending beyond reality in ways that highlight the benefits of their virtual nature. In later posts for this series, I’ll expand on how these virtual worlds gave me glimpses into what the Metaverse could offer.
However, I always found myself falling out of love for each of these worlds because of what I felt they were missing. I always came to the realization that my actions in these games mattered little outside of them. No matter how much time I spent in one, my achievements and assets would never transfer into the real world, or even to other platforms. Each did their specific function well, but failed to extend beyond what they ultimately were — individual, siloed instances. What I was seeking was not a singular world, but a shared immersive universe.
A world can usually only cater to one facet of my expectations without wildly overshooting its original purpose. Sometimes I do want to adventure together with teammates, but other times I want to hang out and build a house or a shop to call my own. Sometimes I want to engage in strictly solo content, but other times I want to interact freely with real players around me. I don’t want to just be a trader on one platform, only able to sell and buy items within that platform — I want to trade items between platforms, and while we’re at it, I want to bring those items out into the real world, either in physical or AR form.
I want to have a shared universe across these worlds, so that my different profiles can be united under an overarching identity, instead of fragmented across instances that have nothing to do with each other. I also want my virtual and real life data to blend together, such that the Metaverse is an extension of reality, while free of the privacy and security problems plaguing Web2. The rules for making all this happen are already in hot debate within the conversation of building the Metaverse, but — as aforementioned — are only in the beginnings of their formation.
Worlds today are also limited by current technology. Sometimes I want to meet up with my friends or family across the globe, but see them like they’re in front of me instead of through a 2D screen. Sometimes I want to practice speaking in front of thousands of people or travel to remote corners of the world (or to space, although I’d like that particular experience to be less realistic). The expectations for all this coming to life in a safe and accessible manner are also taking shape in the form of the Metaverse.
Virtual worlds offer experiences that are impossible or harder to find in the real world and allow personal growth because of it. A virtual immersive universe enriches and extends this growth far beyond what one can get from individual worlds today, and allows for virtual benefits to extend to tangible reality. If built right, the Metaverse holds the promise to not only merge virtual and real together, but also to merge virtual and virtual together. Because it is man-made, it allows its builders to will it into existence, and because it is virtual, it allows possibilities extending beyond the laws of reality. My hope is to be a part of building this new universe, which I believe will be an indivisible part of people’s lives in the future.