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Metaverse - an opinion


An Inclr user, Katherine, sent me two articles about metaverse, a term I had not heard of before. I became curious as it related to Inclr's vision for cyberspace. So after doing more reading, I thought I'd share some of my opinions.

To be honest, I'm both surprised and not surprised I didn't know what a metaverse is. The term itself is currently still vague and ill defined, every author or maker has their own interpretation. It generally revolves around the transition of the current internet into virtual multiplayer worlds, and the ideas stem from various sources but virtual games are at the heart of its current apparition.

I generally stay away from games. I don't like wasting my time playing them. I remember quitting Street Fighter in my teens for this reason and never looked back. I did play WoW briefly for 4 months, but it stemmed from my interest in virtual MMO's. My aversion to games goes even as far as having a grudge against Pokemon Go when it first came out. At the time I felt that whilst I was trying to improve the world with Inclr, everyone else it seemed only wanted to play games. It's no wonder I have reservations about game-derived metaverses.

Versions of a ubiquitous cyberspace or metaverse, especially one's that assume an "always on" approach with AR glasses, seem to think that these new virtual overlays will make the world better than if it was without it. Having everything searchable is surely a good thing isn't it?

As an architect / urban designer, I don't agree. Sometimes interventions can cause harm, buildings can hurt a city, poorly designed suburbs can create more crime, not less. Any public intervention can be good or bad for a space.

The addictive nature of games is also contradictory to the experiential nature of space. Architects design spaces for people to inhabit as a backdrop to their primary activity. We don't design them to be addictive. Yet an "always on" virtual overlay, or game based interactivity will change a space. It might be a good change or bad. A good architect might design something nice, and a bad one perhaps won't. AR experiences not designed with an architect might miss things that leave a user with unintended side effects. Perhaps the user might become addicted to the virtual experience, much like a drug, that once weened off, they stop seeing the abundant joy of the natural environment that surrounds them. Game addiction is one of the problems we have yet to solve. How are we supposed to introduce the same phenomena as "always on" games into public spaces?

We're not there yet of course. The road to creating a metaverse is full of bumps and dead ends. It's general progression will lead it to make a better world right? Maybe. I can't help but question whether Facebook has made our world a better place though. Nevertheless the point I'm trying to make is that game-like metaverses will hurt the world more than metaverses that are based on some other ideas. Why? Because it's a game, not real life! I feel like tech keeps turning to games for inspiration for what they should do next because no-one else close enough to tech is providing them inspiration. Yes games are the pinnacle of creativity and tech, but they aren't nearly as useful nor meaningful as other aspects of life.

I find it funny that one part of the world is saying we need to slow down, and another part wants to speed up. Surely if we have learned anything, it is to tread with more prudence when we already have persistent issues created by our global tech giants. Architects often need to juggle contradictory elements and sustainability versus commercial benefit is one of them. We seek to preserve what is existing whilst translating a new built form to co-exist with what's there. We try to place-make. This is something games and tech seem to constantly negate.

Perhaps tech too often sees itself akin to advertising, vying for our attention measured in seconds.

What if the new metaverse accelerates our disconnection with nature? What will be the irreversible cost then? Ready Player One shows a bleak physical world. Surely that isn't the best we can come up with?

Inclr's version of cyberspace is one based on personal knowledge and mental modelling. It's based on a balance between physical and virtual, 2D and 3D and analog and digital. The idea is that each inclr feels physical, but isn't skeuomorphic, so that in real life inclrs won't feel foreign, nor compete with anything physical. It's meant to co-exist with your physical world whilst working with your mental model.

The world we live is in is already beautiful and plentiful. Our health and well-being are primarily derived from physical experiences. We are afterall physical bodies. AR experiences need to co-exist with physical environments such that it's ok for them to be turned off. That's not the impression I'm getting from current metaverse efforts.

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Katherine Li
Katherine Li
15 Απρ 2021

What we need is something that can handle problems in our daily life. Maybe those fancy designs, like AR/VR games are just isolating us from the real world, some are even designed to make you become addicted to it, which should be blamed for.

However, I do have seen some practical solutions helping in real life through games. For example, the application of games in the education industry, sounds contradictory right? But thanks to Minecraft, kids in North America can learn coding, build towers which could be hard to realize in classrooms, and have the chance to interact with peers when they have to stay at home. The meaning and boundary of game has somehow been extended, they are no…

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15 Απρ 2021
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Thanks for the comment Katherine. Of course I do agree, games can be good and bad, like everything else, and moving forward is often better than doing nothing at all. Somehow the way I feel about lessons from tech is different in architecture and urban design. Having had hundreds of years building cities, we know for a fact that we don’t want to live in rows and rows of mass housing. With tech, if after decades we look in hindsight wondering if there was a different path, I wonder what that path would be. What I propose isn’t a rejection of games. It’s to think of other paths which aren’t necessarily games for our new metaverse. If games is our…

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