When Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg announcement in the summer of 2021, as his company changed its name to Meta and set its sights on becoming a metaverse, the term “metaverse” became a buzzword.
Soon Zuckerberg was joined by other tech giants like Microsoft, who also claimed that they plan to create their own metaverses. The mass media immediately picked up the topic and boosted the hype. It feels like some big companies want the idea of the metaverse to sound like their breakthrough in the future. But what if this breakthrough has already happened?
The problem with the word metaverse
The term metaverse is confusing. A metaverse is generally defined as a virtual space where people can come together to play games, chat, or even have business meetings. It sounds like something we read about in Ernest Cline’s sci-fi novel “Ready Player One” or seen in its film adaptation by acclaimed Steven Spielberg. It’s a vague concept of a second life in the digital space provided to humans by tech companies through VR sets. With all this speculation, it’s no wonder the idea of the metaverse has become a samebecause technology managers usually don’t bother to say much about the practicalities.
Zuckerberg uses the term metaverse, but he can’t explain exactly why we all need to delve into it. It’s probably because he just uses it as a marketing tool. It’s a known fact that Facebook’s rebranding came after the company was widely critical by the public. Today, many media and marketing technology experts see the Meta situation as the company’s attempt to distance itself from the negative aura of Facebook.
Another problem with the current use of the word “metaverse” is that it erases decades of VR innovation history long before Meta. The truth is, metaverses already exist, whereas Zuckerberg’s metaverse at this point is a fuzzy concept in the making. Technologically, existing metaverses may not yet be ideal versions of a metaverse, but they are likely to evolve faster than Meta’s project and achieve better results because they have spent time on a goal unique, while Facebook was trying a variety of things.
The metaverses we already have
If a metaverse is a virtual space where people can lead second lives similar to what they have in the physical world, we already have it. Take video games, for example. They are immersive digital worlds where humans can socialize. Consider Epic Games’ popular Fortnite collaborative battle royale. Its gameplay requires communication between the users themselves, but there is more to it. Fortnite has been a gathering platform for a few years now, even before the pandemic had people looking for new ways to communicate online.
In February 2019, Fortnite tenuous the first-ever virtual concert live on its platform with electronic dance music (EDM) star Marshmello headlining. In April 2021, Travis Scott successfully hosted a show in the digital world of gaming, and later Ariana Grande tried his hand to create their own version of the same experience. In the summer of 2020, there was a series of conversations inside Fortnite devoted to the Black Lives Matter movement.
Virtual reality parks add more detail to the picture of what visiting a metaverse could be like in the future. Immersing yourself in a VR attraction means using more interface tools than a typical non-VR player. It allows for full body interaction and provides a much more robust experience. The experience of virtual reality parks is more like that of the physical world, compared to the traditional video game experience.
With today’s video games, you can explore virtual worlds, including fantasy ones. Can virtual reality provide a use beyond that? Yes he can. Besides entertainment, virtual reality allows us to make progress in education, medical training, mental health and research.
Virtual reality is becoming increasingly popular as a training tool for medical specialties. Moreover, it shows prospects for use in medical examinations. For example, surgeons at George Washington University Hospital utilize VR to inspect the lungs of patients with COVID-19.
Virtual reality is a promising educational tool, placing students in immersive learning environments that are more engaging than a regular classroom or reading a textbook. For example, students can explore architecture or historical events in digital spaces without geographical boundaries. Museums became familiar with the possibilities of virtual reality for some time now, hoping to make their exhibits accessible anywhere in the world, and there is great potential for this type of experience to become a full metaverse in the near future.
The metaverse concept seems novel, but that’s mostly due to its newspeak nature. In fact, the virtual reality and gaming industries have been working on different metaverses for quite some time. Of course, to get the perfect metaverse experience, we’re always going to need better gear, but there seems to be a lot going on in VR and gaming that deserves attention.