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Definition: metaverse

(1) See also multiverse.

(2) The metaverse term was coined in 1992 for a 3D virtual world in Neal Stephenson's "Snow Crash" novel. In the 2020s, the term caught on as a future universal system of virtual reality (VR).

Today, such worlds are independent Internet-based venues that are experienced with VR goggles and handheld controllers, and users see themselves on screen as realistic or cartoon-like characters (see avatar and digital twin).

The 1992 Origin of the Term
Snow Crash is about a future pizza delivery service. In 2022, Stephenson and Bitcoin Foundation co-founder Peter Vessenes joined to create a metaverse (see Lamina1).

Gaming and Fantasy
Although every get-together is a metaverse candidate, gaming and fantasy worlds are the driver today because people are willing to wear bulky goggles for the realism and enjoyment delivered by totally immersive 3D environments.

Many envision persistent metaverses that users can log into 24/7. If that scenario becomes mainstream, being able to jump from one to another will become a major challenge. There are many sci-fi interpretations of this future because enthusiastic supporters envision everything in a metaverse.

The First Virtual World
Just a computer screen and no goggles, the first virtual world was Second Life in 2003. Still thriving, it lets people live a fantasy online (see Second Life). Years later, Bitcoin buzz created Decentraland to buy virtual land with crypto (see Decentraland). The Spatial organization hosts NFT galleries in its "metaverse of exhibitions" (see Spatial). See NFT and Bloktopia.

Plenty of Interest and Investment
Video game company Animoca Brands raised $500 million to fund a "gaming metaverse." Facebook began selling VR goggles in 2014 when it acquired the Oculus brand, and it changed its name to Meta to claim leadership in the field. Billions have been invested in Meta's Reality Labs for metaverse development (see Meta Platforms and Meta Quest). Microsoft has sold game consoles for decades and has acquired top game producers (see Xbox). Apple is also entering the VR field (see Apple Vision Pro).

Metaverse and NFTs
The metaverse and crypto world intersect because online games may offer merchandise as NFTs (non-fungible tokens). When people own NFTs, they own a property they can sell or trade, possibly across venues. See NFT and GameFi.

VR Goggles, AR Glasses or 2D?
To be truly catapulted into a 3D environment, VR goggles drown out the real world. Perhaps augmented reality (AR) glasses will work because they can be quickly put on and taken off like regular eyeglasses. If the metaverse becomes mainstream, it will likely be offered in 2D as well because everyone has a 2D screen. Stay tuned! See virtual reality, augmented reality, VR headset, smart glasses, virtual world and Meta Quest.

When Will the Metaverse Matter?
Cathy Hacki, chief metaverse officer at the Journey design and innovation consultancy, has this to say: "Metaverses offer infinite possibilities to create virtual realities that are genuinely lifelike and immersive, and to experience a new way of living and interacting with others. Metaverses are over-hyped fantasies promoted by those looking for new ways to advertise. One of those sentences will be proven right."

The First Metaverse?
From 1957 to 1962, filmmaker Morton Heilig developed this immersive video machine. The Sensorama even had stereo sound, smell, seat vibrations and wind. However, it never went into production. (Image courtesy of MinecraftPsycho.)

Getting Better All the Time
In 2016, VR goggles were getting much better according to PC Magazine. Imagine virtual reality 50 years from now! (Image courtesy of PCMag.com.)