The metaverse wants to be free!

The metaverse wants to be free!

We’ve been asked to step into a project that wants to “provide a standardized global framework that enables the interoperability between virtual worlds and the real world”, backed by some huge corporations and universities. Yes, it’s the popular metaverse dream again! With the succcess of web 2.0, the number of players in World of Warcraft and the appeal to the press of Second Life, the old VRML fantasy is raising its ambitious head again.

For some reason, the engineers and marketeers that build this technology, cannot resist the idea of replicating the real world in cyberspace. This particular project, in which we’ve been invited to participate, mentions “sensors, actuators, vision and rendering, social and welfare systems, banking, insurance, travel, real estate and many others” as desirable things to link to this virtual world, examples of which are “Second Life, World of Warcraft, IMVU, Google Earth and many others”.

As a player, I am also excited by the thought of being able to connect virtual worlds. I’d love to play Grand Theft Auto in my Sim City, ride through The Endless Forest on my Chocobo or take my Level 40 Dwarven Warrior into Second Life. As a developer, the thought gives me nightmares. It’s one thing to allow people to mess with our games, it’s another to have to develop for that. Some standard coding practice would seem like a proper solution for this. But I happen to not be a great believer in standards.

The thing that bothers me the most, however, is this unrelenting desire to connect our virtual worlds to the real one. In the nineties, the whole of MIT was jumping up and down at the thought that a fridge would order cheese by itself or you would send your toaster an email before brunch. And now this: VRML 2.0: a virtual world where you steer an avatar around to do mundane real-world things. Apart from the fact that a virtual world seems like an excessively cumbersome method of going about this, I am also saddened by the extreme lack of imagination that this testifies of.

We have this incredibly sophisticated technology in our hands, a new medium, really, capable of expressing things that have never been expressed before, allowing us to have experiences we have never had before, learn things about ourselves and our world through a new form of art. And all “they” want to do is reproduce the real world and even connect both.

I say: the metaverse wants to be free! Let imagination reign in the virtual worlds! Don’t limit this potential to a dumb replica of our planet: create new planets, entire solar systems, galaxies of stories, billions of characters, avatars and autonomous ones. Let’s visit countless destinations where strange things happen, different from anything you could experience in real life.

When I go online, I don’t want to go to a shopping mall, or do my banking or arrange my insurance. I want to get away from all that. And experience what life is really about: emotions, ideas, stories, communication.

There’s nothing wrong with reality. There’s no need to “augment” it with technology. The sun on my skin, the smell of rain, the pages of a book in my fingers. All perfectly fine experiences. And there’s nothing wrong with virtual worlds. It’s quite alright if we can do things in them that we cannot do in real life. Imaginary worlds have always had their place. They help us find a balance, a harmony with existence. Let them be free. Don’t shackle them to this little planet.

8 thoughts on “The metaverse wants to be free!”

  1. Once again I find myself nodding at almost every word of this. That level of creative, emotional, and story-telling interaction–true meaningful interaction between individuals–is what I’ve dreamed of since I first sat down at a computer with a blue screen and 64k of memory 25 years ago (damn; old ^^; ). And quite frankly, I believe I found myself a lot closer to that ideal pre y2k, with simple IRC commands and HTML code than I do now with all this pre-fabricated “Web 2.0” boxed-in rubbish.

    And as for so-called advances, I don’t care if my fridge can order more broccoli. I don’t care about the possibility of living in a virtual mundane reality. (What a waste!) What I care about is seeing dreams become another reality. Or, as the tag in Serial Experiments Lain proclaims: “Close one world, open the next.”

    Then again, from time to time, I sigh and think ‘I’m just a lowly fiction writer and computer programmer, so maybe I’m on my own.’ 😉

    Thanks for reminding me that I’m kind of not.

  2. So I’m guessing you didn’t take the job?

    Just because they want to do this doesn’t mean other things can’t happen as well, its just one project. I don’t see the correlation between this metaverse being created and the artistic potential of the medium being ignored. Its just one project, and it also has a lot of potentially powerful business applications.

  3. Does it really have a lot of business potential?

    You’re right of course, in theory. I practice, people are sheep and as soon as enough voices start singing the same song, nothing else can survive. We have seen it happen to the web. I’d hate to see it happen to games.

  4. Well fuck it man, the only way you’re going to beat them is if you creativity happens to channel deeper into business potential. I’ve always been sympathetic to your approach to design, sort of art for arts sake, but that kind of culture needs the foundation of something of a hybrid between a completely unimaginable effort like this and something imaginative. We’ll talk later, as things substantiate. 😉

  5. Perhaps there is more business potential in what you refer to as “arts for arts sake” than there is in ideas done to death, lacking any form of imagination and that have failed before?

  6. Ever read Snow Crash? Every time I hear the word metaverse now I think of it (supposedly it was that book’s author who coined some of the related terms).

    I agree I don’t want my virtual reality to become my real reality. I enter the virtual world to escapre reality.

    In the Metaverse, I am a werewolf. And one that’s a lot taller and tougher than the scrawny human creature I am in real life, I might add. 😛 That whole ability to make what you want of it is what makes virtual worlds so great.

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