A Complete Newbie Explores the Metaverse
The metaverse has become a buzzword of epic proportions – but what is the reality of the metaverse today? Jazz dives in to find out.
When I first heard the term “metaverse”, my mind conjured up images of some sci-fi dystopian future – a Matrix-like existence in which the lines between the real and the virtual blur, and which calls into question our very humanity.
It seems I’m not the only one with sci-fi-inspired misgivings, either.
In the months since Facebook has rebranded to Meta, I’ve seen my social feeds fill up with metaverse-inspired doubts that, at times, border on the vitriolic.
Though the metaverse as we know it is a relatively new concept, tech reticence is not.
The inimitable author, Kurt Vonnegut, who dabbled in science fiction himself, was once implored by his wife to buy his envelopes online, rather than wasting time walking to the post office.
Refusing, he explained that he’d have “a hell of a good time in the process of buying one envelope,” and went on to describe the people, babies, and dogs he might encounter along the way – a fire engine might even go by that he could give a thumbs up to. All these things, he argued, would make that walk to the post office an adventure in humanity.
“We’re here on Earth to fart around,” he said, “and, of course, the computers will do us out of that.”
As a fan of Vonnegut and something of a tech skeptic myself, it would’ve been tempting to simply jump on that bandwagon, but my relatively recent arrival in the NFT space has taught me to keep an open mind.
To be fair, I probably couldn’t have avoided this technology for long, even if I’d wanted to.
Increasingly, it seems it’s impossible to be part of the NFT community without, at some point, stumbling into a metaverse or two. I’d already got a glimpse of one when I attended DYGYCON – a three-day immersive virtual conference held by and for the NFT community.
At the time I hadn’t thought of it as a metaverse, but I was beginning to think my definition was either lacking or limited. This leads me to the question, “What’s a metaverse?”.
When I asked my NFT aficionado partner, his answer was both confusing and illuminating. “Nobody knows yet,” he answered with a shrug. “That’s like asking someone in 1998, ‘What’s the internet?’ – “You can send emails and write on message boards.’”
Although his answer was a cryptic one, it did throw things into perspective for me. This technology is still in its infancy, and, much like NFTs themselves, we’re yet to discover what far-reaching applications it might have.
For now though, the metaverse is a virtual space, in a very literal sense. Part video game, part virtual reality, with a strong foundation of NFT integration – it’s a world that exists online, allowing users to do many of the things they can do in real life and more, on a virtual platform.
I thought back to my DYGYCON experience – I’d interacted with virtual avatars inhabited by real people, had attended virtual events hosted by real projects, had dressed myself in virtual accessories and felt a real sense of identity. Perhaps my suspicions of blurring the lines were founded – but perhaps, too, that wasn’t a bad thing.
With this in mind, I decided I wanted to explore the possibilities that such an evolution might offer. Whilst there are innumerable metaverses at this stage, there were a couple of big players I wanted to learn about, and Upland was one of them. I’d heard the name floating around for some time and as it was an EOS-based project, it felt familiar enough to dip my toes into.
What I found was not at all what I expected. Rather than a 3D cyberscape, I was greeted by a 2D map of the United States, with certain cities acting as hubs of activity.
What that activity was, I found out, was real-estate flipping and development, based on IRL properties. With my clunky little ‘Block Explorer’ – the game piece used to navigate the space – I trundled around the map in a seemingly random configuration, looking for property to buy.
As a newbie, I’d been gifted a bunch of UPX, Upland’s native token, and after checking out a number of potential properties, I splashed out on a little patch of earth in Detroit to call my own. If I wanted to take things a step further, I could also start developing my property in this Monopoly-esque virtual world and earn money back by doing it.
This wasn’t at all what I thought a metaverse would be. I’d been expecting some sort of virtual reality, but this was perhaps closer to augmented reality – the real world overlaid with digital features.
Every property I looked at included a picture of its real-life counterpart from Google Street View, and perhaps one day it’ll work both ways and I’ll be able to walk down that Detroit street, hold up my phone, and see my property projected before my very eyes.
When the map expands to include the rest of the world, I’ll even be able to buy my own real-life house – something that gives me an inexplicable jolt of excitement.
Intrigued by these first steps into the metaverse, I was ready to see what else was out there.
I haven’t delved much into the Ethereum NFT space, but arguably the most well-known metaverse is Decentraland – an ETH-based project that can be accessed without the necessity of a wallet.
Much like DYGYCON, Decentraland features a customisable avatar that you can navigate around a virtual world. This was more like what I’d envisioned. I jumped into my digital skin and started exploring, and the first thing that struck me was how visually impressive Decentraland was.
My moustachioed alter-ego spawned under a velvety star-encrusted sky, surrounded by a cornucopia of other users’ avatars – their dress ranging from everyday casual to garish fantasy garb, all made possible by accessory NFTs. It was a feast for the eyes, and this was only the spawn point.
If I was impressed by the visuals though, that was nothing compared to the functionality.
I brought up the Decentraland map and was immediately overwhelmed by its enormity. Despite it being indicated in the name, I had no idea how big a metaverse might actually be. I chose a couple of random points on the map and off I went, hoping to catch a glimpse of the possibilities that a space like this can offer.
In my travels, I chanced upon a nostalgia-inducing nightclub, a lavish apartment building, an art gallery dedicated entirely to Super Mario, a couple of other users engaged in a treasure hunt, and an octopus manning (octopussing?) a labyrinthine Samsung store.
Dotted throughout were NFTs on display in what can only be described as their natural habitat, which I could have bought then and there if I’d wanted to.
Perhaps the most impressive discovery for me though was the Decentraland University.
Just like a physical campus, the university was made up of numerous buildings, each one housing classrooms, lecture halls or study spaces in which students can simulate a real-world university experience. It was at this point that something clicked in my brain.
Even though my sci-fi preconception of the metaverse had been an all-encompassing replacement of reality, I hadn’t quite thought through what that could look like, and the possibilities that might unlock.
I already shop online, I look at art online, I talk to friends online, and I learn online, so why not experience those things in richer, more realistic ways?
My first intentional forays into the metaverse had brought me leaps and bounds from my initial misgivings, and I was curious to delve in further.
Closer to home, I’d heard plenty about Immersys – the metaverse/MMO that seems to be ubiquitous in the WAX space.
As I entered their virtual world I found myself spawned into an enormous courtyard, under yet another impossibly starry sky. On one side, the horizon was fractured by skyscrapers, on the other, looming mountains, and between them, a ferris wheel beckoned to me.
My first stop, however, was the enormous portal simply marked ‘The Wild’. Stepping through, I was transported to a forest where I went foraging for hemp, stone and butterfly NFTs with the tool NFTs I’d bought in advance. The recently implemented PVP feature meant I even engaged in a good ol’ round of fisticuffs along the way.
Once I’d had my fill of gathering and fighting, I went back to explore the city I’d seen upon entering. At the foot of the giant ferris wheel, I found a quaint shopping square and was excited to see a few familiar names emblazoned across some of the storefronts, each of which housed a functioning NFT shop.
I spent a good long while there, perusing the wares of projects like Little Slimers, Floyd Jenkins’ Deck of Mythical Varmints, The Adventurer’s Guild and MetaForce Comics and was again struck by the richness that the metaverse can lend to an otherwise run-of-the-mill NFT shopping experience.
The adventure continued in a nearby apartment complex where I wandered in and out of virtual homes, some of which belonged to people I knew personally, decorated with NFTs that users had spawned within the game. I even spawned some myself, displaying a couple of prized possessions which other users could find and make offers on if they so wanted.
To my delight, I also chanced upon a free NFT drop from HempExchange, in the form of a discarded moneybag. Grabbing it, I was taken to a drop link, and my wallet now houses two brand new digital collectibles.
Encountering so many familiar faces and names, discovering new projects and receiving the generosity of the WAX community brought me back to my DYGYCON experience. Once again, I had the feeling that all my friends were there, as well as plenty of new friends to discover.
The draw of the metaverse was revealing itself to me once again, and as the lines between the real and the virtual continued to blur, I understood more and more why that progression is only natural.
Until now, I’d imagined this would spell an erosion of the real world – a degeneration of reality into fantasy. If anything, it’s an enrichening of the virtual world – bringing it closer to our existing real-world interactions and the robustness that lies within.
Vonnegut would be happy to hear that I still have no intention of giving up my walks to the local post office. I am, however, looking forward to my online endeavours evolving to include more people, dogs, and, if I’m lucky, a firetruck or two. Now all I need is an avatar that can offer them a thumbs up as they pass.