How do you navigate an immersive virtual world that’s still mostly conceptual yet manages to generate billions of visits and even more dollars? Buckle up, because the deeper you go, the weirder it gets.
One of the most buzzed-about destinations of 2022 is barely developed and widely misunderstood, starting with the fact that it isn’t, strictly speaking, real. And yet despite that existential disadvantage, the metaverse has managed to attract some of the world’s biggest brands, from Sotheby’s to the NFL, who’ve set up shop in the virtual universe to drop capsule collections, mint NFTs and auction off multimillion-dollar digital artworks. Along the way, the metaverse also became the hottest concert venue of pandemic-struck 2021, with A-list performances by Ariana Grande, Lil Nas X and Justin Bieber, all in avatar form.
Which is all fine, but what is it? The term itself, coined in Neal Stephenson’s 1992 sci-fi novel Snow Crash, is already headed for middle age, while the technological capability to actually create a fully immersive, interconnected virtual world remains a dream locked inside the mind of a yet-to-be-imagined super-computer. Still, the headlines keep coming, from Ralph Lauren’s winter-themed virtual fashion retail village to the hyper-realistic “meta-human” avatars that are being generated by Epic Games’ Unreal Engine digital creation studio. For a universe that doesn’t yet exist, the metaverse is surprisingly, if intangibly, real.
By Josh Condon – 2/19/2022