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The Metaverse is a concept originally proposed in science fiction that describes an experience where you can fully engage with the virtual world rather than watching through a window or screen [1]. In concept it is often viewed as a theoretical successor or evolution of the modern internet [2]. Although mainly still just a dream for the future of digital interactions, it is currently embodied through some emerging trends in online infrastructure, such as a surge in popularity of immersive 3D worlds [1]. Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg describes it as "a 'virtual environment' you can go inside of — instead of just looking at on a screen" [3]. Many experts and supports believe that a Metaverse must be interoperable, or able to exchange and make use of information [4]. Doing so will require differing companies making their own applications to make their technologies compatible, which is opposite to the mantra most large tech companies usually follow, where they keep their properties private in the name of competition. The internet's successor, if implemented as it is imagined, would leave the competition of the big tech era behind, and bring in a collaborative, open source future [4]. Due to these conflicting opinions over what a Metaverse is, what it should be, and if collaboration is possible, there is no current all encompassing definition – the Metaverse represents an experiential idea for the future of interactive technology that connects cohesively to our own tangible world, however there is no singular defining platform that is ubiquitous with the Metaverse yet [1].


The term Metaverse was coined by Neil Stephenson in his 1992 novel “Snow Crash” in reference to an online virtual world characters in the book could visit through virtual avatars, which could be customized to look however the user pleased [5]. Inhabitants of Stephenson's novel used the Metaverse as an escape from their dissatisfaction with the dystopian post-capitalist world around them, and could engage with every aspect of life in the virtual realm [5]. The prefix "meta" means beyond and the suffix "verse" represents the universe [2]. Some users even went so far as to never leave the Metaverse, wholly preferring it to the real world. The term 'Metaverse' is now being used in the tech industry to represent what is supposed to come after or succeed the internet [2].

Even without the official term being applied, examples of proto-Metaverses have existed for decades. The first attempted implementation of the Metaverse was 3D reality platform Second Life which came out in 2003 [6]. What set Second Life apart was the lack of objectives and tasks associated with most video games; it was designed as a place to hang out, partake in commerce, and do whatever the user pleased[6]. Second life has continued to maintain dedicated followers in the decades since its launch, and still sees traffic, revenue, and demand to this day.

What sets the Metaverse apart from the internet and other connectivity platforms is the desire to integrate seamlessly with all aspects of real life. Rather than a platform to simply play video games, it serves a destination for shopping, entertainment, services, and everything else all in one place [7]. Primitive versions of this integration can be seen today with applications such as Uber, Pokemon Go or Roblox [7], and aim to extend past the current bounds of the internet and seamlessly transition into real life.

Examples in Media

Initially proposed in science fiction as a use of escapism from dystopia, it has evolved from a niche genre to worldwide knowledge through increasingly popular works. Beyond Stephenson's original novel, the concept gained increasing notoriety through both the 2011 novel and 2018 movie adaptation of Ernest Cline's Ready Player One [8] The main character dons a headset similar to the VR of today and enters a world called 'Oasis' where he can live in a beautiful world and abandon his real life issues [8].

Many Video games have begun to explore Metaverse territory. Epicgames made a 1 billion dollar investment into Metaverse technology for their popular game Fortnite, where they hope to move from simply a game to a brand new medium [9]. Attempting to succeed from just a video game into a multimedia platform and beyond, chief Creative Officer Donald Mustard said, "“Our lofty goal is to create the entertainment experience of the future. I think some of that is feeling our way into what feels like it’s going to be a new medium, where it’s this blended entertainment experience that has interactive elements. It has linear elements to it. It has things that would look more like a concert" [9].

In 2016, leading Augmented Reality (AR) company Niantic released their hit product Pokemon Go, which showed firsthand how technology could seamlessly flow into the real world, and bring the consumer equally into the virtual world[10]. Popular children's game Roblox is also a 30 billion investment into developing their Metaverse technologies, with the creators saying "It is about making a game into something more - a social space and entertainment venue" [11]. Many believe that Roblox is the closest application to a true Metaverse, due to it's sandbox nature that allows the user to create anything and go anywhere within the Roblox platform. These companies are opening up their platforms to cross company collaborations and marketing opportunities, allowing for wide integration of different entertainment platforms.

Real Life and the Future

The Metaverse became a buzzword [12] in 2021 when tech conglomerate Facebook rebranded their company to Meta and announced their plans to develop a Metaverse [13]. Having experienced similar internet hype surrounding the concept upon the release of Second Life, the resurgence in popularity is due in part to an advance in graphical quality that could serve to increase immersion and blend with reality [3]. CEO Mark Zuckerberg believes that the Metaverse will offer a new world of opportunity to individual creators and artists, and bring human connectivity into a new age [14].

Other contributors to the Metaverse's rise of popularity include increased desire for social interactions in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic [3]: popularity has risen concurrently with the newly discovered niche need for remote connectivity applications in lieu of face to face interaction. Many companies have announced permanent hybrid or remote work, and new VR and AR applications could cater directly to this growing demographic. The Metaverse concept emphasizes social connection and interaction heavily in its products, and the demand for these style products has reached an all time high. The emerging popularization of decentralization in the form of cryptocurrency and NFTs also plays a large role in the resurgence of Metaverse attempts and speculations: these blockchain based assets could act as receipts for intangible objects and belongings - which has been a major concern with ownership in digital spaces - and they carry the potential to transfer between different Metaverses [4], although this is interconnectivity between different platforms raises many technical issues and concerns[3].

Facebook’s movement towards the Metaverse represented a cultural shift – for a tech conglomerate of its scale, it set a looming precedent [1]. With over 20,000 people working in Facebook's Virtual Reality lab as well as a 10 billion dollar investment [15], many other companies have followed suit. Companies like Microsoft have launched competing platforms such as Microsoft Mesh [10], and the race to make the definitive Metaverse began in full. The rush to the new digital frontier has brought investors to buy digital land and place their stake in the growing industry [16]. By artificially generating scarcity of their products, early pioneers in Metaverse spaces are able to generate value from something that would otherwise be unlimited, creating an asset for investors, Metaverse enthusiasts, and average people alike [16].

Many companies and military organizations have already started using primitive Metaverse technologies for training, allowing technicians and operatives to practice in the field experiences that would hard to replicate elsewhere [17]. Other less often considered industries that stand to benefit from the Metaverse include sports and healthcare [17]. For aspiring surgeons the Metaverse could offer a risk free place to practice surgery and other high-risk operations. What separates these technologies from the proposed ideal Metaverse is the lack of integration with the real world. As it stands, controllers and hardware still constitute the interface through which users experience the Metaverse, but over time Metaverse developers aim to diminish and eventually eliminate this separation, creating a fully encompassing physical experience [17]. Although it is unknown exactly what this proposed interface will constitute or if it will ever reach the desired stage, it represents a goal for many tech developers.

Beyond purely hardware limitations, another large limiting factor is the human labor needed to develop the Metaverse [17]. The demand for cloud engineers far outweighs the percentage of the workforce that is qualified and knowledgable enough to fill the available roles, and human labor is increasingly becoming a large gating factor to development[17].

While current technology is still limited and clunky, the vision for the future is a sprawling cyberspace linking both augmented reality and virtual reality in order to create a seemingly real communal space [2]. For this shift to happen the equipment required to do so will need to be both in demand, affordable, functional, and visually appealing in order to attract and maintain a wide consumer base [2]. Additionally, the technology conglomerates that embody Big Tech will need to stop competing to make their own Metaverses: the vision for an all encompassing Metaverse has no room for competing companies or monopolized products[2].

Ethical Criticisms and Concerns

Legal Implications

The dream of having a fully decentralized Metaverse run by decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs)[16] raises many issues of its own. Under this management style, any user gets a say in what happens, and with no company holding responsibility no repercussions are placed on users who may partake in inappropriate behavior or language [16]. The issue of governance and responsibility in virtual worlds is too new to adhere to any real world laws, which creates a new and lawless frontier for users to do what they please within the allowances of the game's code [6]. Even with company liability in place, the Metaverse still poses a number of issues regarding safety protocols and enforcements. Facebook’s current platform Horizon Worlds has faced criticisms due to lack of safety on the platform, receiving claims of sexual assault [18]. Other problems that already exist on the internet face the possibility of being exacerbated in the Metaverse [19] – data security, misinformation, hacking, and other scams are major concerns [12]. Many critics believe that the race to be the first to implement the Metaverse may lead to glossing over safety protocols needed for such a platform to address these issues [18].

Laws and norms in digital spaces are also difficult due to limited ability for enforcement. Users who get banned for misconduct can simply create a new account, and repercussions often don't hold any serious weight. As virtual spaces begin to take more central roles in day to day life, it is hard to adjust the punishments to fit the severity of the crimes[20]. Technology is advancing at a faster rate than the current legal system can keep up, and legislation lags behind the current issues happening in digital spaces. The dilemma of what should be considered a crime in the Metaverse is difficult with no clear answer [20]. Experts are having a hard time distinguishing what counts as real life or fiction on a platform that aims to seamlessly blend the two into one. Virtual realism is the belief that virtual reality is genuinely reality [20], and thus experiences there are just as impactful as in the real world. As the Metaverse becomes more developed and users generate real attachment to virtual avatars, belongings, and settings, these issues become more complex.

As it stands today, most users believe murder in a virtual space such as a video game is morally permissible, but sexual assault is not. [20]. The philosophical dilemma arrises when what counts as a crime in these spaces where the laws of reality and fiction don't align. Does robbery in a virtual space carry less weight than in reality? Most users say no [20]. What about when real world currency is used to buy said items, or they begin to hold significant personal value to the user? As more factors are introduced the moral web becomes more tangled, and conflicts like these involving virtual theft have even been taken to court in real life [20].


As the Metaverse's predecessor, it is widely believed that only 2% of the internet is accessible [21]. While it is likely that Metaverse applications will only supplement the internet rather than replace it [1], it is worthy to note the failings and successes of accessibility in the internet, and how this will translate into proposed Metaverse interfaces. Despite many shortcomings regarding accessibility on the internet, there are advantages to non-real time interfaces: computers and headsets required to run real time rendering are often expensive, and pose problems for people with mobility or vision disabilities [1]. The internet took a long time to implement accessibility features such as screen readers and keyboard navigators, but since this technology already exists accessibility scholars believe Metaverse applications should face no leeway when omitting such readily accessible technology [21]. This has given rise to critical backlash, as the current Metaverse applications on the market have omitted these features, neglecting to include captions and audio description for blind and audio impaired users [21]. Unlike the lack of technology available at the conception of the internet, the abundance of accessibility technology leaves experts critical of the negligence being shown by Metaverse developers.

Unlike the 2D nature of the internet, the Metaverse aims to occupy a 3D or possibly 4D space. This new space has the potential to be a haven for the disabled, offering those with limited mobility an avatar that moves the same as everyone else and move through the world unhindered [22]. Eye tracking headsets have been developed, but they are used primarily to measure engagement rather than being used as input, which would enable quadriplegics to navigate the Metaverse [22]. The technology already exists, but the biggest hurtle for the disabled community is convincing the companies to care and add accessible features.

The majority of Metaverse applications currently require expensive VR headset, and as such target users of higher socioeconomic status [23]. While these prices are trending downward over time [23], the price tag attached limits the accessibility to a wide user base.

Social media and advertising

A common criticism of the traditional internet model has been the emergence of ad targeting and for-profit advertising, specifically through social media [24]. The shift into the metaverse has parties on both sides of the marketing debate hopeful: for those in favor of marketing it offers a platform for brands to be engaged with like never before, and for those against it the Metaverse is a clean slate free from the onslaught of ad targeting. In this regard, many criticize Facebook's Metaverse aspirations as an avenue for the tech company to bypass regulations set by companies like Apple and Google, who manufacture the devices their current platform relies on [2]. Apple's recent change to their privacy settings had a major impact on Facebook's ability to collect data on its users, and situations like this would be circumvented on their own platform.

While the initial dream of the Metaverse was decentralized and open source, most companies currently pursuing their own Metaverse platforms are companies that constitute big tech, large conglomerates that monopolize the industry and compete for profits [4]. The current rush to be the first one to create the Metaverse can also be seen as a rush to see who has control over the new form of the internet, and who will get left behind in the technology industry [4]. It's also possible that with the inherent drive of capitalism and the competition it creates, the Metaverse will never be able to be truly realized [4]. Interlinking digital properties proves difficult when their creators aren't open to the idea of sharing profits, and in the current economy it is unlikely that a total service environment that easily ports users and objects between digital properties can exist [4]. If there is anything Metaverse supporters are most afraid, it's one ubiquitous company overseeing the whole enterprise in Orwellian fashion [4].

It is also thought that the desire for more comprehensive social media platforms will be what drives users from new demographics into Metaverse spaces [2]. Currently occupied mainly by people who play video games, broadening the scope of applications and connectivity with others seems to be a main driver for the development of the Metaverse. Many fashion brands have also started moving their products into the Metaverse: Nike recently announced a Nike NFT that could someday become a wearable accessory, and branched out with their own Metaverse world created in Roblox [25]. In the world of online shopping, the Metaverse offers an at home venue to view, try on, and purchase clothing in a way never seen before [26]. Customers may be able to wear clothing using augmented reality, and it opens a new avenue for many virtual influencers to market to wider audiences [26]. Other companies that have branched out into Metaverse products include Italian fashion house Gucci, beverage company Coca-Cola, and skincare brand Clinique have all pitched their hats into the ring [3].

Another concern with the Metaverse has been the recent rise of social media and technology addiction associated with the internet[27]. The Metaverse may serve to act as an extension of the this space. Providing its roots are in science fiction where is represented an escapist utopia from the real world dystopia, the rise of video game addiction and internet addiction disorder has already made significant effects of users [27]. Users suffers many mental health afflictions including addiction, anxiety and depression, as well as physical repercussions associated with a sedentary lifestyle, such as increased risk for cardiovascular disease and obesity [27]. Oftentimes companies design their products with the deliberate purpose of being addictive so they increase user engagement and revenue, and overlook the potential side effects that arise in their consumer base [27]. There is particular concern for children and teenagers, and the effects large doses of technology can have on developing brains. Youth with unlimited screen access are more likely to develop Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), face an early onset of mental health issues, and struggle with body image and self worth [27].


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