Into the unknown with the metaverse?
In the early 2000s, the multiplayer online game Club Penguin was a new age internet phenomenon. You could buy outfits for your customizable penguin avatar and decorate your igloo any way you wanted. You also had the ability to chat and interact with others through various social scenarios in the game.
Fast forward to today, another new age phenomenon is rapidly taking shape, and it is known as the metaverse.
What is the metaverse?
While the term metaverse is creating quite a buzz these days, mainly due to the rebranding of Facebook as “Meta”, many aren’t sure what it really is.
The metaverse is an up-and-coming digital landscape that allows one to explore things like online in-person interactions, digital apparel and even digital real estate. The metaverse transcends the two-dimensional monitor screen into a three-dimensional digital setting, made immersive by the use of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technology.
The tech involved
Tech has made leaps and bounds where virtual landscapes are concerned.
VR technology is most familiar to us through the realm of video games, like VRChat, Pavlov VR, etc.
Many platforms in the metaverse, as we know it now, operate in a similar fashion, primarily with the use of VR headsets, like Oculus. VR tools allow the user to interact with the created digital worlds as one would from a first-person perspective of a video game character. In the form of a customizable avatar, users can interact with other online users in digital gatherings, work in a digital office, attend board meetings, or even take a tour of virtual galleries and museums showcasing NFT artworks and other virtual spaces.
Limitations of VR
Now, to address the question you probably have: Where are your avatar’s legs?
According to the co-Founder of the application Spatial, Anand Agarawala, the issue is infrastructural. “The headset tracks your head and your hands, and so we can make it do realistic stuff. What are my legs supposed to do? We can’t actually detect the signal from your legs. Legs are coming, coming soon.”
However, legs, or the lack thereof, aren’t the biggest problem with the headset route to the metaverse.
The VR aspect of digital worlds cannot be sustained for significantly longer durations of time, as it creates a barrier between the user and their physical surroundings. While the avatar in the metaverse is in constant motion, the user’s physical body remains static, which can lead to side effects, like motion sickness and VR illusions, from long-term use.
AR – enter the metaverse without chunky headsets
Unlike VR, which deposits the user into a virtual world, AR blends the online with the real world. Memorably demonstrated by Pokémon Go and the IKEA Place app, AR uses appropriate hardware to overlay digital experiences over physical reality.
While the technology is still in its infancy, AR could be the way to establish the existence of the metaverse as the parallel digital universe intended by corporations, like Facebook and Microsoft. Facebook collaborated with Ray-Ban to create “Stories”, smart glasses that can record video and snap photos while appearing akin to any other pair of glasses. This could be the next step towards the technological progress of transitioning from cumbersome VR headsets to something that can be worn on a day-to-day basis and comfortable enough to seamlessly blend into the user’s life.
Both the metaverse and the technologies that give it shape are still in their early phases right now and not entirely mainstream. For now, we can only wait and watch to see the natural progression of this technology as it integrates itself into our lives.
Banner image courtesy Unsplash