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Meet the Metaverse: A Virtual World of Potential

Three people from the Gymnasium team meet in the metaverse at a virtual conference room using Spatial.
Three people from the Gymnasium team meet in the metaverse at a virtual conference room using Spatial.

If you’re still not sure what the metaverse is, you’re not alone. Only half of people around the world are familiar with the concept, and even fewer can define it. Despite this, it’s evolved from a trending topic to a permanent fixture in the modern digital world, with major brands such as Facebook, now Meta, and Microsoft already exploring opportunities to introduce this new arena to their audiences. But what exactly is it — and what does it take to become a part of this growing virtual universe?

🔮 Defining the digital future

In essence, the metaverse is a shared virtual space powered by the Internet and enhanced through extended reality (XR) technologies like virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). It has the potential to facilitate meaningful, multidimensional user interactions and experiences by integrating the physical and digital worlds. Whether you want to talk to new friends from across the world, browse real or virtual products, or even build your own house from the ground up, it can all be done in the metaverse.

It may be a recent trending topic, but the metaverse isn’t actually a contemporary concept. Unsurprisingly, its origins are rooted in science fiction, namely the 1984 novel Neuromancer by William Gibson and the 1992 book Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. Gibson’s work introduces the concept of an interactive cyberspace known as “the matrix,” while Stephenson actually describes a virtual world called “the metaverse” (yes, he coined the term three decades ago). In Stephenson’s metaverse, users could pick an animated avatar to represent them, attend simulated events like live concerts, and even buy digital property. Sound familiar? Thirty years later, this idea of a 3D online universe has morphed from a geeky fantasy to a tangible, albeit virtual, reality.

Before the metaverse took form as a virtual world, there was also Second Life’s debut in 2003. Similar to the modern day metaverse, it was created as a venue for escapism and leisure. Users logged in to create intricate “second lives,” with some even marrying other players and raising families within the online platform. As Second Life grew, its experience evolved from fun fantasy into something more true to life with the introduction of property ownership rights, an in-world currency, and the ability to buy and sell goods.

Much like its unintentional prototypes, the modern-day metaverse is essentially a 3D version of the web — but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Metaverse proponents see the space as somewhere you’ll be able to develop and live your digital life parallel to the physical world, especially when it comes to developing and fostering relationships. Through the power of VR and AR, casual interactions and conversations can become highly immersive and reminiscent of real life.

Beyond the commercial hype of virtual fashion and shopping experiences, the technologies behind the blurred lines of the metaverse have the potential to redefine online interactions as much closer to the experience of doing so in person. In the words of Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta (formerly known as Facebook), the metaverse’s defining quality is “its feeling of presence, like you are right there with another person or in another place.”

So, how exactly does the metaverse cultivate the feeling that social media corporations have been trying to capture for over a decade? The difference lies in the various XR technologies that make the metaverse possible, specifically the combination of VR and AR.

🐝 Breaking down the buzzwords

The metaverse is designed to change the way that we consume content, transforming it from flat 2D to a fully immersive and dynamic 3D environment. This experiential metamorphosis wouldn’t be possible without XR, VR, and AR — three powerful technologies and hot topics that are often confused for one another. While they’re similar in effect, it’s important to understand the differences between what they can do, especially in the context of the metaverse.

XR encompasses both VR and AR, and it also includes MR (mixed reality) which combines real and virtual elements to create an entirely new world. VR’s value lies in its ability to produce a computer-generated, 3D space that users can interact with and explore. It’s come a long way from the clunky arcade helmets of the ’90s and early aughts, with sleek, sophisticated systems from brands such as Oculus and Google becoming accessible to the mainstream. These headsets provide 360-degree views and include motion-tracking sensors to blend physical and virtual reality. This technology and its sensory synchronicity allows the user to feel as though they’re part of the virtual environment, giving the metaverse the sense of presence that Zuckerberg touts.

For a different kind of interactive experience, AR takes elements of the real world and creates a new dimension by adding sound, images, or other stimuli — think Pokémon GO and branded Snapchat filters. In the metaverse, this might involve utilizing GPS data to personalize your surroundings or superimposing components of your actual environment into the landscape of a video game.

It’s important to underscore that to achieve a true XR, VR, or AR experience, users must be able to naturally interact with the virtual content. This level of immersion is what places the practice in a different category than everyday 3D movies and simulations, making way for the metaverse and its corresponding technologies to become the new digital frontier.

😎 Get immersed in the metaverse

To explore this new virtual world, all you really need is an Internet connection. While VR glasses can allow for a more three-dimensional encounter, there are multiple metaverses currently accessible online and offering a wide variety of free opportunities for all, regardless of your equipment or experience.

If you’re looking for fun in the metaverse, you should start with Nowhere. Chatting face-to-face with friends, interacting with performers at live shows, and even partying in a packed nightclub are possible in the space that brands itself as the “metaverse for entertainment.” Spatial, a social and cultural meeting space in the metaverse, also hosts a wide array of events including lectures, private gatherings, concerts, and user-curated art galleries with purchasable paintings. Spatial currently offers more than 350,000 virtual spaces to explore, all of which can be accessed via smartphone, computer, VR, and AR.

For community-based events and meetings, Gather is the answer. It takes the concept of Zoom to the metaverse, adding features like interactive whiteboards and games to make video chatting a more intuitive and dynamic experience.

Want to start creating immersive experiences of your own? First, you need to learn the basics. Check out Gymnasium’s free courses UX Fundamentals and 3D Modeling for Virtual Reality Creation to get started.

Relevant resources from Gymnasium

Dive deeper into the metaverse



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