Thursday, December 30, 2021

The Very Model Of A Metamodernist Metaverse

It's pretty clear, as we head into 2022, we're already well past the point where the term "Metaverse" has any meaning left. It's not even a buzzword or a meme now. It's just advertising jargon. Metamodernism, however, feels a lot fresher. By some counts it's been around since 1975 but I only heard about it this week.

That's language for you, tricksy, slippery and not to be trusted. No matter whether the words are so new you can't see past the gleam or so overused there's no shine left at all, it's the underlying concepts you need to watch. If you can just split out the hype and the fantasy and concentrate on what's being made, you can see we most probably are at the beginning of a new age, after all.

A new age of what, though? That's the question.

If you've been wondering what Paris Hilton's been doing with herself lately (Believe it or not, that is literally a conversation Mrs. Bhagpuss and I had while we were out walking a week or two back, which may tell you more about our home life than you need to know...) I can tell you. She's been building a Metaverse. 

Okay, she probably hasn't been building it herself. I imagine she has people to do that for her. She's also not creating it from scratch. It's inside Roblox.

Paris World is an island containing, among other things, "a replica of her Beverly Hills mansion and attached dog mansion, as well as a recreation of her neon carnival inspired wedding."  Tell me you don't want to see inside Paris Hilton's dog mansion. 

I don't believe you.

Paris Hilton actually has a surprisingly succinct, clear and, to my mind, realistic idea of what a "Metaverse" means at this point in time: “For me, the metaverse is somewhere that you can do everything you can do in real life in the digital world”, she says and that seems like as good a definition as any I've seen so far.

You can meet people, talk with them, dance with them, play games, watch video, listen to music. You can buy things and sell things and make things. All of those and lots more. What you can't do is download your consciousness or break the laws of physics. So long as people get that straight we're in for a fun ride.

I strongly suspect the kinds of Metaverses we're going to see (And really, shouldn't there be just the one?) are ones like Paris World and the place I spent much of this morning, Korea World. It took me a while to get in but once I was there I had a kind of fun, for a while.

Korea World is "a virtual space prepared by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism's Overseas Culture Promotion Center so that foreigners can experience and communicate Korean culture anytime, anywhere." Kind of like Neriak's Foreign Quarter lets the rest of Norrath experience Teir`Dal  culture in relative comfort, I guess. Maybe not the analogy they were looking for but the first one that popped into my mind when I read that last paragraph back.

If it was accessibilty they were after, I'm not sure they've nailed it yet. You can't just click on the web portal and go to virtual Korea. First you have to download and install an app. It took me a couple of tries to get that to work but I got there eventually. 

You can register at the site but you don't need to and I'm not sure what benefits there would be if you did. Maybe it saves the character you make but since there are hardly any options at character creation and it only takes a few seconds I can't see why you'd bother. 

There are a couple of competitions runnng at the moment, one for screenshots, the other for videos, both of which have some good cash prizes (Well, Amazon cards, anyway, which are as good as cash.) so I imagine you'd have to register to be eligible for those. I might do that at some point. I certainly took enough screenshots although none of them were very "funny". Also, I'd have to make an Instagram account, so probably not.

What I mostly did was wander around, gawp at things, take selfies and press buttons at random. As a virtual recreation of a school trip to an art gallery it was flawless, even down to the annoying kid who keeps following you about, even though keep telling him to get lost.

I think that was some kind of bug or glitch. You can see the kid in some of the screenshots here, a clone of my own avatar, dressed in blue jeans and a KOCIS tee, always a pace behind me, everwhere I go. I finally lost him by ducking in and out of the Conference Room portal. Maybe he's still in there.

Before I got shot of him, the pair of us watched videos by several KPop bands, tried on a number of hats, changed clothes a few times (Tellingly, perhaps, there's no cross-dressing allowed.) and listened to people in Columbia, Canada and the Phillipines telling me what they liked about Korean culture, even as they cheerfully appropriated it. All at the direct invitation of the Korean government, of course, so I guess that's fine.

There's a very great deal of this stuff, all experienced through a highly effective interface that reacts almost instantly when you click on any of the many pictures hanging on the walls.

Here and there are some much larger screens playing video and sound directly into the exhibition space itself. I stood in front of one and watched a band play for a while. I was hoping for a full concert but it turned out to be one song looping over and over. That seemed to be the case for all of the big screen entertainment.

The exhibition space was bustling with avatars like mine, or so I thought at first. After a while, I realised all of them were NPCs. I never saw another living person (You know what I mean.) in the hour or so I was there. There's a chat function that supposedly allows you to talk to both other humans and to NPCs but I couldn't figure out how it worked. That's to say, I could see how to say things but not how to say them to anyone or anything.

There were emoticons aplenty, signifying emotes my avatar could perform but I coudn't get those to work, either. I did eventually stumble on how to move at more than a slow shuffle - hold down shift. These cavils aside, the controls felt quite smooth and pleasant to use and very familiar. They should. The supposed "Metaverse" appears to be built on the Unreal game engine. Windows Defender identifies it as a "3rd Person BP Game Template" published by Epic Games.

It's a bit clunky but as a way of finding out more about Korean culture it's not at all bad. Certainly beats reading the endless news items about KPop and Korean TV on my NME feed or watching random videos on YouTube. My main motivation in installing the app in the first place was in the hope of finding a fairly painless and low-effort way into what's shaping up to be the dominant cultural influence of the next few years. I'm not sure Korea World is quite there yet but it's a start.

It's also a pointer to the kind of thing we're likely to get in the name of the Metaverse over the next few years. Corporations, companies, governments and special interest groups pushing their versions of reality on to us by way of gamelike, interactive experiences in communal, social, virtual spaces. So long as we aren't expecting a lot more and so long as we make sure we stay firmly in control of which experiences we choose to engage with, it could be a lot of fun.

We might even learn something along the way, although I wouldn't count on it. All I learned was that I like wearing animal heads even better than I like wearing hats and Korean male fashions are not what I was expecting. Now that I come to think about it, that's not nothing, is it?


  1. I like the Paris Hilton definition of metaverse. The wearing of animal heads is such a FFXIV thing to do. I see it a lot in that game :)

    I'd really like the ability to take a stroll through many worlds on one avatar and experience holiday events. Or maybe hop from FFXIV's Gold Saucer to WoW's Darkmoon Faire to EQ2's Moonlight Enchantments. But something tells me that we're years away from that.

    1. The idea of taking an avatar out of one game or setting into another seems to me to have one huge problem that's not in any way technical - all of these games are direct competitors. It's very hard to see what the motivation would be for, say, Blizzard to add code to their games that would allow Square Enix to access them and vice versa.

      I can see it happening between games owned or published by the same company, though, providing the technical issues could be overcome. If Daybreak could let you move between the EverQuest games, DCUO and LotRO, for example, that would have obvious commercial attractions, especially since access to the games is already shared under the All Acess scheme. In that case, though, you're looking at games whose engines were built by different companies at different times so it wouldn't be a trivial undertaking. I bet it would be possible if the will was there, all the same.

  2. I feel like we're not even at the Habitat stage ( for a Metaverse. In other ways, it feels like people in 1900 trying to describe life in 2000. The wonder will be in the (very) few things they get right in their descriptions. Because you know at the starting conceptual stages almost everything they imagine will be wrong.

    Maybe I'm too old to grasp things, but so many things I see feel like just another 3rd person coop game. Those can be cool for learning and exploration, but 3rd person makes me think "game" not "expanded real life". I guess VR would help, but until I can enjoy VR games while sitting in my chair, that type of 1st person experience isn't going to be an option. (I live in an apartment so clearing room to stand up to play VR games really isn't a practical alternative.)

    1. My current take on the whole "Metaverse" thing is that we're just about at the level of technology that the media assumed we were at when Second Life and Habitat were new. Something like Korea World is pretty much what they were talking about around the turn of the millennium.

      Fortnite, on the other hand, considered as a meeting-place rather than a game, is already way ahead of that. I find it difficult to get excited about all these supposed Metaverses when we've already have a de facto superior version being globally and culturally dominant for several years. It's almost as if a whole load of other companies want a share of that action without having to go to the trouble of making a game to go with it.

      As for an actual "Metaverse", we're many years off of anything deserving the name. Maybe decades. For an absolute bottom line, it's going to need something approximating a quasi-autonomous AI and there's precious little sign of anything like that in any of these projects, fortunately.


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