What Is the Metaverse?

Chelle Louren
Feb 19, 2024
Players actively participating in the virtual metaverse

With all the hype surrounding it, the metaverse almost became 2022's Oxford Word of the Year. Many are calling it the future of the internet, and billions of dollars have already been spent on creating it. But what exactly is the metaverse? What does it look like, and why are companies in a race to create it?

The word "metaverse" was first used in the 1992 sci-fi novel Snow Crash to describe a fictional virtual world where the main character, a hacker living in a dystopian version of the United States, would go to escape the problems of real life. The same concept appears in the 2018 film Ready Player One, where virtual reality is the only form of entertainment in a future society destroyed by global warming. The story revolves around the players' avatars embarking on a quest to find a golden egg.

In this sense, you can think of the metaverse as an alternate dimension created and maintained by technology, where you can experience things as if you were inside this world, through an avatar that represents your virtual self.

Think of it as a hybrid between simulation games like The Sims, multiplayer role-playing games like League of Legends, social media platforms, and digital workspaces. A place where the immersiveness of gaming meets the wide reach of social media. A space where people can interact with each other within an immersive virtual environment that looks, sounds, feels, and maybe even smells like the real thing.

What does the metaverse look like?

Here comes the tricky part: no one knows for sure how the metaverse will turn out. And no, it's not exclusive to whatever Mark Zuckerberg is creating right now. 

Every tech company working on the metaverse has a different vision for it, ranging from what kind of hardware you will need to get in, to the rules governing how you can contribute to the virtual economy. Some, like Meta, are developing VR headsets and controllers that can represent the poses and movements of all the limbs of your body. Others are crafting realistic experiences such as trying out clothes or redecorating their homes that can only be viewed through special apps or devices.

How many metaverses will there be?

In a Medium article, virtual reality pioneer Tony Parisi outlined seven rules for the metaverse. The first one states this:

"There is only one Metaverse."

If you've been keeping up with the latest Web3 developments, you may be confused. Several companies have already built their own metaverses. How, then, can there be only one metaverse?

Think of it this way: all these are not metaverses per se, but simply parts of the metaverse. Someday, they may all be connected with each other, allowing avatars to travel freely through portals from one virtual world to another.

A player seeing virtual creatures and universes in the metaverse.

What can you do in the metaverse?

The metaverse will be everything from a tourist's paradise to a one-stop shop for e-commerce brands. It will be a social, business, manufacturing, gaming, and education hub all in one. Here, users can buy and sell virtual real estate, and cities will build digital clones of themselves. Artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and the internet of things will join forces to create immersive, shared experiences through virtual and augmented reality.

Ideally, you'll get to choose whether or not your virtual and real-life identities will be connected. Unless the metaverse requires identity verification, it will be possible for you to own an avatar (or multiple avatars) with a completely different gender, background, race, or species.

What does the metaverse have to do with Web3?

Without blockchain technology, a true metaverse cannot exist.

First, although the metaverse environment itself exists off-chain, the NFTs and cryptocurrency you will use are connected to the blockchain (on-chain). Second, the blockchain is what makes decentralization possible. If one central authority monopolizes the whole metaverse, they can control and erase anyone's digital identity anytime they want. That's too much power in the hands of too few people; any technical flaws on their end or any wrong decisions they make will affect the whole system. Third, for you to have a cohesive digital identity, the blockchain lets you keep permanent records that you can access across virtual worlds as well as in real life.

Currently, the technology we have still has a long way to go before the metaverse can be a reality. We need more compatible blockchains, less volatile tokens, and more efficient energy sources to sustain these systems. In a fully established metaverse, expect to spend your days crossing through different layers of reality: fully physical, fully digital, and that sweet spot where the two converge.

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Chelle Louren
Web3 writer

Chelle is a freelance writer exploring where emerging tech and real world problems converge. Everything is a story, and she’s here to show that.

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