The metaverse, a question of sovereignty [1/2]

Which is “metaverse “?

The ” metaverse “, sometimes translated” metaverse In Molière’s language, it is a word built on the terms “meta” (around) and “verse” (universe). Term that therefore roughly means “parallel universe” or “alternative universe”. Implicit, a digital world in which humans end up living and interacting; a world superimposed on the physical world.

the metaverse still has a very vague definition. But we can empirically identify at least three key and structuring criteria:

  • First criterion, the metaverse it must imitate the real world. That is to say, try to imitate it but without being an exhaustive or realistic copy. A metaverse it can therefore allow users to evolve into fictional worlds or with fictional characters, but all this while retaining some of the real-world codes.

  • Second criterion, the metaverse it can be accessed quickly and intuitively from a computer (smartphone, computer, television, etc.).

  • Third criterion, the metaverse it is persistent, that is, this alternate world exists continuously, like the real world. When a user logs out, the metaverse continues to evolve without it. This is undoubtedly the most important criterion, as it creates mass addiction and adhesion, causing a FOMO effect (Fear of losingliterally the fear of missing something): the user stays connected or reconnects regularly, because he is afraid of missing something during his absence.

the metaverse it is therefore a term that designates a very broad set of possibilities. In reality, this term covers more a concept than a technology, more a social ideal than a true revolutionary innovation, more a form of social organization than a technical or scientific creation. The idea is simple: to allow humans to live more and more in a virtual world. Also to replace the virtual world with the real world.

In the world of computers, the idea of ​​creating a parallel digital universe is quite old. More or less successful attempts have emerged since the dawn of the Internet, probably the most famous of all remains Second life, a sort of realistic cyber republic with up to 1 million users. In a very different genre, the video game VIGIL on line has for years offered a persistent world in which players compete for control of entire galaxies. In yet another category, World of Warcraft it was already some kind of metaverse medieval-fantasy that allows you to evolve into a wonderful fictional world, organize yourself 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 also speak to high school and college students. Minecraft and its thousands of persistent servers, GTA on line and its “roleplay” servers which tend to copy the real world, Pokemon GO and its augmented reality … A rapidly expanding phenomenon in an increasingly connected world. But above all a phenomenon that exploded with the COVID-19 emergency.

Due to the subsequent confinements, the vast majority of the world’s population has been locked up in cramped spaces for several days or weeks. Virtual worlds thus 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 anxious and uncertain. During the confinements, in Europe as in the rest of the world, the use of online games and social networks has therefore had it exploded, to levels that have never gone down since. Less informed observers will be moved by the fact that part of the world’s population takes refuge in video games and artificial worlds. However, the problem is actually much deeper and more serious than that.

The signs and the ”metaversization ” of the world

Until 2020 the aforementioned virtual worlds remained in fact simple worlds of video games. Sure, gamers have spent a significant amount of time there, to the point of forgetting real life for some. But the line remained very clear between the virtual world and the real world. However, since 2020 and its subsequent confinements, some companies have gone even further and see these virtual worlds as a means of establishing a power that they can no longer wield in a confined world. So real-world companies are slowly conquering parallel universes and more metaversithus helping to constantly erase the boundaries that exist between the game world and the real world.

For example, the phenomenon Fortnite has organized real events within its game: in April 2020, rapper Travis Scott held a concert, in the game, in front of 12 million people. Again, the game Roblox has collaborated with major brands such as vans And Gucci, to give players in-game access to clothes they would buy in real life; and vice versa for real-life access to a copy of the clothes they bought in the game, in the same way the company does Atari paid several hundred thousand euros to purchase land that bears his image in the metaverse: The sandboxa metaverse who uses technology blockchain governed by decentralized cryptocurrency SAND. Similar examples abound, with companies willing to shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars to acquire virtual display ads, virtual land, or virtual objects. In other words, to take control of these digital worlds.

These parallel worlds are apparently taking off at a surprising speed, a phenomenon encouraged by the healthcare context that tends to favor the digitalization of the world and human relations, a phenomenon on which some brands are therefore already navigating. Of course, looking at all this, we might be tempted to see it simply as a fashion effect or the delirium of a few out of phase and ultimately very marginal users. But this “rush” to the metaverse raises ethical and political questions.

While it is true that until now all these parallel universes have been built in support of and in addition to the real world, this trend is reversed as the former takes precedence over the latter. Real-life experiences and relationships thus become commodities to be digitized. For some users, it is now the real world that supports their virtual life. Gamers work every day to have enough virtual money to spend on their game, the users ofInstagram thinks about their own life in order to stage it on the social media timeline, etc. Physical life becomes the medium of our virtual life. Digital is no longer a means, but an end in itself.

From there, there is only one step to go through to affirm that, in the world of tomorrow, we will get married in metaversethat children will entertain and study in the metaverse, that parents will work in metaverse and help their children with their homework in metaverse. There is only one step to say that tomorrow we will work in the real world to get enough to buy branded clothes for his virtual avatar, so that he is well dressed for the corporate meeting going on in the metaverse. There is only one step to say that tomorrow we will work in the real world to have enough money to go on vacation or for a concert with our friends in the metaverse.

It seems absurd. However, the question will not arise tomorrow. It arose yesterday, in the days of Facebook, and the company as a whole has joined the model proposed by social networks. In other words, humanity is ripe for the metaversethat is, mature to see formalized in a rigorous and technical way, as already happens in practice: we live in virtual bubbles, a digital existence interspersed with physical moments.

the metaverse it is therefore only the extension of a lifestyle already registered but until then unfinished for technical reasons. the metaverse, this is the promise of being able to continue having fun without limits while the real world loses more and more flavor. the metaverse, is the promise to continue to consume indefinitely, even when resources run out: buying a car or taking a plane in the “metaverse” is just a line of code for users. Companies can then indefinitely sell objects that they no longer even have to produce, which they can generate through lines of code. Travel agencies can sell road trips and cruises without having to manage the movements of their customers and without having to anticipate possible repeated confinements. As long as people enjoy their virtual double, this digital economy will work, reaping colossal profits. This is ultimately what the metaverse, the formalization through technology of a reality that already existed in power through social networks and the digitalization of the world. Now this is precisely the fundamental key to understanding the whole of this topic: since the metaverse it is only the conclusion of a long process, the actors of the current digital economy are in a good position to maintain their dominance and establish an even more total form of supremacy.

the metaverse it is therefore not a space but a moment. This is the time when our virtual life will be more valuable than our real life. A moment in which the integration into the network of all the elements of our life, through connected objects, will give life to a new way of consuming, working, having social relationships and, finally, having an identity. We are already dedicating more and more attention, and therefore energy, to our digital lives. the metaverse it is therefore the moment in which our life will pass almost entirely to the virtual world, which can only be a process (already underway) over several decades.

Matthias Hauser

Part 2: The metaverse, a question of sovereignty [2/2]

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