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Metavers: a recent history of popular literature

The metaverse: a virtual world where users share experiences and interact in real time in simulated scenarios. Introduction of the term in Neal Stephenson’s 1992 novel Snowfall is almost a legend among the tech community. However, other works of literature – some better known than others – have toyed with the concept since then. By analyzing this work, we can get a glimpse of what an actual metaverse will look like. Spoilers ahead!

by Neal Stephenson Snowfall1992

The metaverse in Snowfall is an Internet successor based on virtual reality. It is accessed through terminals that project a high quality stream onto the user’s glasses. Users appear in the metaverse as avatars of any shape but cannot be larger than the user in real life. There are also lower quality public terminals, which present their user’s avatar in grainy black and white. There is a subculture of people who choose to remain permanently connected to the metaverse, nicknamed “gargoyles”.

The Metaverse is a perfectly spherical dark planet with a single hundred-meter-wide road, the Rue, covering the planet’s 65,536 km (216 km) circumference. Virtual real estate is owned by the Global Multimedia Protocol Group and can be purchased to develop buildings. Essentially, the closer the real estate is to the street, the more expensive it is.

Having different experiences based on an individual’s ability to pay is certainly a feature that could arise in our world, especially with the growth of microtransactions and paid video games. Virtual real estate is also a concept we are already seeing, with celebrities and companies from Snoop Dogg to HSBC buying virtual land on platforms such as The Sandbox. Many moved early, in anticipation of the growing need for virtual space, but whether this investment will pay off in the long run remains to be seen.

Tad Williams’ Other country series, 1996-2001

In Williams’ tetralogy, a fully immersive virtual reality (VR) world called “the Net” was created. It can be accessed in a number of ways, including via a flat-screen TV, virtual reality glasses, full-body immersion in pressure-sensitive gel, and an expensive direct neural implant called a “neurocannula.”

Within the series, children fall into deep comas that seem to be linked to their use of the Net. As this is investigated by a ragtag group, they discover Otherland, a mysterious network within the Net specially commissioned by a cryptic organization known as the “Grail Brotherhood”. This group includes some of the richest and most powerful in the world. It is revealed that Otherland was created for members of the Grail Brotherhood to upload their brains and avoid the death of their natural bodies.

Studies on the effects of virtual reality have largely focused on the short-term side effects of dizziness and nausea. However, little has been done about the consequences of regularly spending long periods of time in VR. This is definitely an area that needs to be explored before the Metaverse goes mainstream. Moreover, the wealthy often try to avoid their death in our world. Elon Musk’s Neuralink company is working on brain-machine interface technology, and Jeff Bezos has invested in TAltos Labs, a company that looks into anti-aging research and biological reprogramming. Perhaps our metaverse will be the next target for those wealthy people seeking immortality.

by Ernest Cline Loan player one2011

Set in the 2040s, Loan player one presents a world ravaged by pollution, global warming and overpopulation. This caused widespread social problems and poverty, and nearly everyone turned to “OASIS” for escape. OASIS is a free-to-play VR simulator accessible using visors and haptic technology, operating as both a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) and a virtual world. Its currency is also the most stable in the real world.

In the book, the creator of OASIS died and left behind an easter egg that, when found, would give its discoverer the creator’s entire fortune, ownership of his company, and complete control of OASIS itself. Wade Watts, the main character, must fight against Innovative Online Industries (IOI), a multinational, to find the Easter egg. IOI wants to take control of OASIS and monetize it through monthly subscriptions and advertisements. The means of IOI are harmful; cheat and bribe participants and even kill them in the real world.

The metaverse in Loan player one, as in many other works, is incredibly escapist. The desire to be someone else in a world of your own creation could certainly be a draw for many when the real-world metaverse is fully formed. However, with OASIS’s currency being the most stable, this may seem like a long way off when many metaverse platforms rely on cryptocurrencies, a market that is currently collapsing. The main villain being a money-seeking corporation is also a realistic concern when Meta, a company known for data monetization and privacy concerns, wants to be a frontrunner in metaverse technology.

by Jennifer Haley Nothingness2013

The Last Job is a play set in the near future when the internet has evolved into the Nether, a vast network of VR realms. Users can log in, choose an identity and satisfy any desire. More and more people are choosing to become “shadows” who are on life support and stay connected forever.

In the Nether is a realm called The Hideaway where pedophiles can live out their fantasies with child avatars. It is revealed that these children are in fact grown adults, but the extent to which they are manipulated into these positions is unclear. The realm creator also ensures that strict rules are followed regarding background checks and anonymity, and no personal information is allowed to be shared between avatars. While the creator of The Hideaway is asked about these actions, the main question is whether online actions feed back into reality and as such should be legislated into real life.

While the idea of ​​escaping into the metaverse is exciting to some, minimal moderation presents very real dangers. The darkest, hardest-to-follow corners of our internet are more than likely to proliferate in the metaverse. Indeed, online watchdogs are already seeing more and more cases of women being sexually assaulted and harassed in the metaverse. The continuation of these actions raises difficult questions. However, as the Metaverse becomes more widely available, safeguards need to be put in place to ensure everyone can feel safe.


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