Explore the phenomenon: Metaverse

What is the metaverse?

Metaverse is a concept that does not yet have a clear definition. It is used to predict how the internet of the future is going to be used in a social 3-dimensional virtual world.

The internet we are using is based on looking at texts and images with a web browser using a computer or phone. In the metaverse, 3D content is experienced in real time and personally, by moving around in the space as an avatar, a visual character, whose point of view dictates the way the virtual world is experienced. This is a familiar approach that has been used in many popular games, such as Minecraft or Fortnite, and the same experienced-based online behaviour is becoming increasingly common outside of games as well. Those children who have played and developed Roblox games will probably form the first metaverse generation, for whom being and acting on a 3D web is perfectly natural.

Metaverse is independent of any particular piece of technology. It can function on all platforms from web browsers to phones as well as on virtual reality (VR) headsets and augmented reality (AG) and mixed reality (MR) devices. It can be used for employee training, shopping, artistic experiences and, of course, playing. Millions of people are already playing in the so-called protometaverses, which include multi-player games or virtual worlds such Habbo Hotel and Second Life, but technologies such as VR headsets are not yet commonly used and there seems to be no clear need or audience for metaverses.

Who are we in the metaverse? Do we have digital twins in the metaverse? How do we protect them and transfer them from one platform to another? What does a digital identity look like in a 3D environment when the avatar has a face, clothes and a body? Fortnite characters and the like are already widely present in everyday life, and probably even more so in the future: characters become important to their users, as they receive cosmetic enhancements and gain experience points, friends and new types of content.

Who is building the metaverse? According to predictions, the metaverse will turn into a business worth billions of dollars in the course of this decade. Big companies such as Facebook, Google and Microsoft, are already building their own solutions but alternative solutions are also being built which are based on a different technology and philosophy of operations. This alternative, new internet is called Web 3.0 and it entails concepts such as personal ownership, block chains and crypto currencies. In open Web3 virtual worlds, such as Decentraland, all content is user-built and -owned.

The critique the metaverse has encountered is closely linked to its builders. Are big technology giants really able to build a fair internet, or could the metaverse just be a new way of showing ads, make money off brands and sell new technology? Will the various platforms be able to work seamlessly together to benefit the user, or will the different metaverses be entirely separate like the current internet? For example, what kind of user data is collected through a VR headset; can the user decide what information is collected and who it is shared with? For a long time, games have featured in-game purchases, which can be used for things like buying clothes for your avatar, but who does the money go to? For example, in the financial model of Roblox, only 30% of the profit goes to the makers of the game.

New ways of using the internet comes with both old and new challenges. What ethical questions does the metaverse entail? Will the metaverse become a place for people to hide from their real-life challenges and problems instead of trying to solve them. Can the internet of the future be even more addictive than the social media we have today? It is important that these questions are presented now while the development work is still in its infancy. In fact, various institutions, such as the European Union, have already taken a stance: The EU wants to see a metaverse that is open and not dominated by technology giants.

For more information on the metaverse and related phenomena, click on the links below:

EU and the metaverse: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/STATEMENT_22_5525
Matthew Ball’s short introduction to the metaverse: https://bigthink.com/series/the-big-think-interview/why-the-metaverse-matters/
Critical thoughts on the metaverse: https://www.wired.com/story/big-tech-metaverse-internet-consolidation-business/

Text: Marja Konttinen
Image: Siru Tirronen
CC BY 4.0

The media landscape of children and young people keeps changing, with new phenomena following each other back-to-back. Providing pupils with tools for understanding and processing these phenomena is important. This learning package is part of  Pathways to New Media Phenomena – Information and Exercise Materials Series. The series includes information and exercises for the teacher and the pupils. You can explore new phenomena in a meaningful way with the help of the How to discuss new media literacy phenomena through pedagogical means method.

The learning package has been published by KAVI and the Finnish Safer Internet Centre project. The publication is continuation the publication series begun by the New Literacies development programme. The content of the publication is solely produced by KAVI and may not reflect the views of the European Union.

Material for the teacher

Video: Metaverse
Approach to processing new media literacy phenomena in teaching
Competence descriptions as a support for goal-oriented teaching
Materials for media education

Material for the pupil

Information: Metaverse
Questions for the discussion
Activity exercise
Examine the picture
Explore the phenomenon: Metaverse