Sunday, November 14, 2021

If You Stare Too Long Into The Metaverse, Then The Metaverse Stares Back At You

Sunday again and nothing much to show for it as usual. As Bob Dylan once said, lost time is not found again. 

But then, who's looking? And he said it in a song called Odds and Ends, which just about sums up this post. Possibly my favorite song on the Basement Tapes and deliriously short at 1.49. For once it's on YouTube, too. Very rare for a Dylan original. No video but we'll take what we can get.

That's by way of an introuduction to yet another grab bag of fluff. Mrs Bhagpuss, who's all but given up crafting in games in favor of crafting for real, spends much of her time turning fluff into stuff (Needle felting wool, specifically.) but mostly I just settle for picking up the virtual fluff from wherever I find it and plonking it down here. Sort through it, take what you want and leave the rest.

There was a time and it wasn't so very long ago at that, when I was able to strike a pose over pretty much any pop music/metaverse/gaming crossover stories that flittered past. Then, in the first lockdown, they started to come in flurries and now there's a new one almost every day. More than that, sometimes. Can't catch 'em all, to coin a meme.

Here's a story from a week or so ago that I meant to comment on but forgot. It went out of my head because I'd never heard of Zara Larrson and when I made the effort to find out who she was, nothing made me regret I'd not found out sooner. Nice enough mid-20teens pop but not my bag, although nearly three-quarters of a billion views on YouTube would suggest Zara's unlikely to care.

"Roblox Zara Larrsen"
Those numbers also go a long way to explaining how she'd somehow managed to earn more than a million dollars in six months just by selling "in-game items such as hats, backpacks and sunglasses" in popular kids' game Roblox. (Imagine that last sentence being read in the patronizing, patrician voice of a 1960s BBC announcer introducing an item on Liverpudlian beat combo the Beatles.)

Zarra's connection with Roblox goes back to (Guess what?) the pandemic, when she hosted a "virtual dance party" in the game to lauch her then-new album. As the NME article explains, "The in-game event allowed players and fans to watch Larrson perform in-game, hanging out and taking part in an online scavenger hunt.

A whole bunch of pixel products were on sale inside Roblox while all this was happening and maybe afterwards too for all I know. However long it lasted, Zarra netted a cool million without even knowing it had happened. "I didn’t really think much about it. It wasn’t really the motivation for the concert. I just wanted to connect with fans".

Unsurprisingly, she now thinks events like this could be the future for pop stars, particularly in view of the well-publicized revenue shortcomings of the streaming platforms. What's more, Roblox players visited Zarra's in-game house, met her in game outside of the concert and got to take selfies with her. Try doing that at one of her real-life gigs and see how far you get.

"Activision Blizzard"
Roblox' Global Head of Music, Jonathan Vlassopulos (Take a moment to think about that title.) drops the M-word as he reviews the experience: "Once the penny drops that fans are hanging out for two or three hours a day in the metaverse, I think we’ll see an explosion of artists joining." Too right they will, Jonathan. That and the million dollars they're looking at just for sitting at home with headphones and a mic.

Yes, okay, I'm sure it's more technical than that. Even so, it's still got to be orders of magnitude easier
than playing live. And probably orders of magnitude more profitable, too. 

I'm very much in the camp that believes the metaverse is already forming entirely spontaneously around us. While certain people are talking a good game about what they're going to do to make it happen, others have noticed it's already here and they're busy learning how to use it. 

All of this is happening faster than old-school web and gaming heads can fathom. What hope do they have, when even the people inside it find it hard to track? Zarra Larssen is twenty-three years old and here's how she feels about what happened to her: 

"After my show, I wandered around the world and people were like, ‘Let me take a selfie with you! I didn’t get it at first – but then they just put their avatar really close to mine and took a screenshot and that’s the selfie. That could be hard for my generation to understand but for people who live their lives online and are being social online, it means as much to them as meeting me on the street."

"My generation". She's twenty-three! That's how fast the world is changing. Good luck getting ahead of it if you're a fifty-year old game developer. Or Mark Zuckerberg.

That story fits very nicely with the news that Roblox has overtaken Activision Blizzard as the biggest video game developer in the United States. Or if not the biggest then the "most valuable", which is all that matters, I guess.

Following a recent earnings report, Roblox shares jumped forty per cent, taking the company's valuation to $62 billion. ActiBlizz, meanwhile, slumped to $52 billion on the back of the various horror stories and botched releases that make up the story of their annus horribilis (Thanks, Ma'am.

As the NME article snarkily observed "Turns out taking care of workers pays" although I have no way of knowing what working practices or conditions are like inside Roblox and I very much doubt the NME does, either. Still, always kick a megacorp when it's down, that's what I say. For sure, it's going to kick you back when it gets up again.

Finishing up this flurry of pop-videogame-business-media crossover stories, which is the metaverse in a multi-hyphenate, there's this heart-lifting number from Baby Queen. Curiously, she's almost exactly the same age as Zara Larrsen but the video makes her seem from a different generation entirely, albeit one that probably has more interesting ways of killing a slow evening after school than taking selfies with pop stars in Roblox.

I really like Wannabe for all kinds of reasons, not least the layered referentialism, all of which I'm sure has to be intentional. It's smart, funny and stands proudly in a storied tradition that goes back through Beck and Bart to Brando asking "What'ya got?"

So where's the video game conection? Certainly not in the lyric (Chorus: "I guess I'll always be a Wannabe baby, making all the music about the drugs I'm using". Come on, sing along, you know you want to.)

Nope, nothing to do with the song, although if you watch the opening few seconds of the video carefully you'll notice what I just said about BQ's crew having better things to do might not apply to gaming in general. 

Baby Queen self-identifies as "a hardcore gamer". She outs herself as such in the first episode of her BBC podcast "Gameplay with Baby Queen" , which I'm listening to as I write, as she tells us she likes adventure games and puzzles but her favorite genre is horror. You and everyone else these days, BQ.

It does beg the question of how much of a loser you can really be when you have a podcast series on BBC Sounds but there you go. Real losers are the ones we never hear about.

 Perhaps the weirdest thing is that the show comes under the rubric of the BBC's Radio 3 brand, the erstwhile "Classical" station and still the supposed home of "serious" music. Zelda, Red Dead Redemption, Journey, all in the show I'm listening to right now... I guess they are modern classics and Journey, at least, takes itself seriously. They're certainly orchestral, can't argue with that.

And so we come to the end. I didn't know I had a theme when I started but now I see, somewhat ironically (In the Alanis Morisette sense, which is to say unironically. Ironically. I believe I may have made that joke before but no apologies. No-one remembers, anyway.) that one's emerged of its own accord: intertextuality. 

As certain religions would be only to happy to tell you, everything's connected. Plenty of scientists wouldn't disagree. Culturally, though, much of the narrative in recent years has revolved around silos and echo chambers and the way you never have to encounter anything you haven't met already (A bit like New World, then.).

The birth of a self-defining, self-replicating metaverse may have something to say about that. It's looking that way, at least. I hope so, anyway.


  1. okay using the AI portrait generator to illustrate your posts is SIMPLY BRILLIANT and I am stealing it.

    1. Well, that's fair enough seeing as how you put me onto it in the first place! I thought it did ActiBlizz a favor there, I thought. I'm surprised it didn't churn out one of those gizzled old zombies it likes so much. It'll be interesting to see what other game companies produce.


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