What is the “metaverse”?
the ” metaverse “sometimes translated” metaverse » in the language of Molière, a word is built on the terms « meta » (round) and « verse » (universe). A term that therefore roughly means “parallel universe” or “alternate universe”. Implicitly, a digital world where people ultimately live and communicate; a world on top of the physical world.
the metaverse still has a very vague definition. But we can empirically identify at least three important and structuring criteria:
First criterion, the metaverse should mimic the real world. That is, try to imitate it, but without being an exhaustive or realistic copy. A metaverse can therefore allow users to evolve in fictional worlds or with fictional characters, but all while preserving some codes of the real world.
Second criterion, the metaverse can be accessed quickly and intuitively via the computer (smartphone, computer, television, etc.).
Third criterion, the metaverse is persistent, ie this alternate world exists continuously, just like the real world. When a user logs out, the metaverse continues to evolve without. This is undoubtedly the most important criterion, as it creates addiction and mass adhesion by causing a FOMO effect (Fear of missing outliterally the fear of missing something): the user stays connected or reconnects regularly, because he is afraid of missing something during his absence.
the metaverse is therefore a term that denotes a very wide range of possibilities. In reality, this term encompasses more of a concept than a technology, more of a social ideal than a genuine breakthrough innovation, more of a form of social organization than a technical or scientific creation. The idea is simple: let people live more and more in a virtual world. Even to replace the virtual world with the real world.
In the computer world, the idea of creating a parallel digital universe is quite old. More or less successful attempts have been made since the dawn of the internet, the most famous of all probably remains Second Life, a kind of realistic cyber republic, which counted up to 1 million users. In a completely different genre, the video game EVE Online for years has offered a tenacious world in which players compete for control of entire galaxies. In yet another category, World of Warcraft was already kind of metaverse medieval-fantastic that allows you to evolve in a beautiful fictional world, organize into guilds, trade with other players, fight, etc.
Beyond these evocations, they will make some millennials nostalgic, there are also much more recent examples, which will appeal to even high school and college students. Minecraft and its thousands of persistent servers, GTA Online and are “role-playing” servers that tend to copy the real world, Pokemon GO and its augmented reality… A rapidly growing phenomenon in an increasingly connected world. But above all a phenomenon that exploded with the COVID-19 crisis.
Consecutive incarcerations have left the vast majority of the world’s population locked in tight spaces for several days or weeks. Virtual worlds then appeared as a quick way to escape, to see friends from school or work, to have fun and to get away from the real world, which is so terrifying and uncertain. During the confinements, both in Europe and in the rest of the world, the use of online games and social networks is therefore exploded, to levels that have not fallen since. The less informed observers will be moved by the fact that some of the world’s population is escaping into video games and artificial worlds. However, the problem is much deeper and more serious than that.
The marks and the ”metaversization” of the world
Until 2020, the aforementioned virtual worlds continued to exist de facto simple video game worlds. Admittedly, players spent a significant amount of time there, to the point where they forgot real life for some. But the boundary remained very clear between the virtual world and the real world. However, since 2020 and successive incarcerations, some companies have gone even further and see in these virtual worlds a means of establishing a power that they can no longer exercise in a world under incarceration. So real companies are slowly taking over parallel universes and others metaversesconstantly erasing the boundaries between the game world and the real world.
For example, the phenomenon Fortnite has hosted real events within its game itself: in April 2020, rapper Travis Scott gave an in-game concert for 12 million people. Again, the game Roblox has collaborated with major brands such as vans and Gucci, to give players in-game access to the clothes they would buy in real life; and vice versa to access a copy of the clothes they bought in the game in real life Atari paid several hundred thousand euros to buy land with his image in the metaverse: The sandpita metaverse who uses technology blockchain ruled by decentralized cryptocurrency SAND. Similar examples abound, with companies looking to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to acquire virtual display ads, virtual land, or virtual items. In other words, to take control of these digital worlds.
These parallel worlds are apparently rising at an astonishing speed, a phenomenon encouraged by the health context that encourages the digitization of the world and human relations, a phenomenon that some brands are already surfing. Admittedly, by observing all this, we might be tempted to just see it as a fashion effect or the delirium of a few out of phase and ultimately very fringe users. But this “rush” to the metaverse raises both ethical and political questions.
If it is true that until now all these parallel universes were built to support and complement the real world, this trend is reversed as the first takes precedence over the second. Real experiences and relationships then become commodities to be digitized. For some users, it is now the real world that supports their virtual life. Players work all day to have enough virtual money to spend in their game, users ofInstagram thinks about their lives for the purpose of staging on their social media timeline, etc. The physical life becomes the means of our virtual life. Digital is no longer a means, but an end in itself.
From there there is only one step to cross to confirm that in tomorrow’s world one will get married in the metaversethat children will enjoy themselves and study in the metaverse, that parents will work in the metaverse and help their children with their homework in the metaverse. There is only one step to confirm that tomorrow we will be working in the real world to get enough to buy designer clothes for his virtual avatar so that he is well dressed for the company meeting taking place in the metaverse. There is only one step to confirm that tomorrow we will work in the real world to have enough money to go on vacation or to a concert with our friends in the metaverse.
It seems absurd. However, the question will not be addressed tomorrow. It came into existence yesterday, at the time of Facebook, and society as a whole has adhered to the model proposed by social networks. In other words, humanity is ripe for the metaversethat is, ripe to see formalized in a strict and technical way, which is already the case in practice: we live in virtual bubbles, a digital existence interspersed with physical moments.
the metaverse is therefore only the extension of a way of life already established, but until then unfinished for technical reasons. the metaverse, it’s this promise to keep you entertained indefinitely while the real world loses more and more flavor. the metaverse, it promises to be able to consume indefinitely, even when resources run out: buying a car or flying in the “metaverse” is just a line of code for users. So companies can sell an infinite number of objects that they don’t even have to manufacture anymore, which they can generate via lines of code. Travel agents can sell road trips and cruises without having to manage their customers’ movements and without having to anticipate possible repeat incarcerations. As long as people value their virtual doubles, this digital economy will work and bring huge profits. This is ultimately what the metaverse, the formalization by technology of a reality already in power through social networks and the digitization of the world. This is indeed the fundamental key to understanding the whole of this subject: since the metaverse is only the completion of a long process, the actors of the current digital economy are well placed to maintain their dominance and establish an even more total form of supremacy.
the metaverse is therefore not a space but a moment. This is when our virtual life will be more valuable than our real life. A moment in time when the integration into the web of all elements of our lives, through connected objects, will lead to a new way of consuming, working, having social relationships and ultimately having an identity. We are already paying more and more attention, and therefore energy, to our digital lives. the metaverse is therefore the moment when our lives will almost completely switch to the virtual world, which can only be a process (already underway) in a few decades.
Part 2 : The metaverse, a matter of sovereignty [2/2]