In 2022, we can buy virtual land, participate in digital music festivals, and make money as video vixens in the metaverse. Are we on the verge of the greatest technological revolution of all time, or are we just the subject of the next Jordan Peele film? Whatever your thoughts are, don’t deny the fact that this technology is here and here to stay. But the question is what really defines the Metaverse. Where do we draw the line between virtual reality and the real world?
Let’s start by understanding what the word “metaverse” means: Webster’s dictionary defines it as “computing: a persistent virtual environment that allows access to and interoperability of multiple individual virtual realities”. Based on this definition alone, the metaverse does not fall under the Web3 category. For an element to be considered Web3, it must be built on blockchain technology, but that is not a requirement for a metaverse.
The conflict over how to define this new, emerging reality has sparked debate throughout the Web3 community. Especially after the recent announcement of Walmart’s move into the parallel virtual world via Roblox. Many members of the Web3 community have eyed the news from the site as Roblox is not based on blockchain technology or decentralized and has no tokenomics aspect.
To get more perspective on the topic, I asked Black Meta creator Tina Bonner and Metaverse consultant Don Allen Stevenson about the true definition of a metaverse. Bonner responded with, “A digital experience where the same things you do in the physical realm, you do in the digital realm. So a digital environment where you interact socially and handle all the things that you do in the physical world. Another important point of the metaverse is where the experience is – on the web – as opposed to the web2 realm where you’re just on the web…scrolling social media, for example.” Stevenson defines the metaverse as “a moment when people Value their digital selves more than their physical selves. I also see it as the future of the internet and digitization. The Metaverse is platform, hardware, enterprise and agnostic.”
The origin of the word comes from Neal Stephenson’s science fiction novel Snow Crash, which was later popularized by films such as Snow Crash Ready player one and The Matrix. The Metaverse was created to provide characters with a virtual escape where they could escape from their harsh reality.
The creation of the metaverse didn’t begin with the description Stephenson gave us, it actually began with virtual reality technology first developed by Morton Heilig in 1956. He built a VR machine that simulated the experience of riding a motorcycle Brooklyn, New York. It was the basis for the first virtual reality headset, developed by Ivan Sutherland in 1968. Technology provided the basis for Stephenson to conceive the metaverse in his novels.
The first computerized metaverse evolved from the term “cyberspace” coined in 1982, which is defined as “a notion of an environment distinct from the real world and concerned only with communications over computer networks. In a way, this is like a very simple metaverse. It creates the idea that our online activities take place in an environment separate from the physical world.” But in 2000, Gartner fleshed out this concept with the term “Supranet”, defined as “the fusion of a digital/virtual world with the physical (real ) World”.
The version of the metaverse we know today was popularized by the gaming industry. In 2003 the world was introduced to Second Life, a virtual game where users could create an avatar and curate a fictional life in a parallel world, and many consider this to be the first metaverse. Since then, the development of gaming computing experiences like The Sims has afforded people the ability to curate not just fictional characters, but full-blown storylines that would unfold like a human’s.
But in recent years, the new “metaverse” game Roblox has emerged and taken over the masses — particularly among the Gen Z generation. I asked expert Bonner if Roblox should be considered a metaverse. Your Answer? “Roblox is absolutely the metaverse because the features of the metaverse are a shared experience where you can interact with people virtually and do the same things in the digital realm as you can in the physical realm. If Roblox didn’t have a component that allowed you to interact with other people, it would be considered a game, not necessarily a metaverse. Not every game has to be in the metaverse, but if it has a social aspect or a connectivity aspect, then it is,” she explained.
Regarding Web3, metaverses built on blockchain technology – Decentraland and Facebook’s Meta – have become popular developments, but none of them have surpassed Roblox in user engagement and popularity.
What is the future of the metaverse? Bonner told REVOLT, “I see the metaverse as a way of life. I imagine that sometime very soon, within the next decade, when Apple releases its new headset, everyone will eventually have virtual headsets or augmented reality glasses in their house, just like everyone had a DVD player in their house. It’s not meant to take away from the experiences we’ve had now, it’s meant to help.” Stevenson added, “I see the metaverse becoming more relevant than the internet in the next 10 to 15 years. I think it will allow for an enhanced user experience that is not limited to space, time, or 2D. Our next generation of social media will involve the virtual world in more ways than we have seen before.”
Whether it’s concerts or virtual shopping experiences, the metaverse is here to stay and it’s being integrated into our daily lives sooner than we think.