Ask Giz: What Is the Metaverse?

Ask Giz: What Is the Metaverse?

Welcome back to Ask Giz, where we answer questions from all over the Gizmodo world.

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Today’s question is more of a curiosity spawned over the past year, as the word became more common: what is the metaverse?

I’ve not been kind on the metaverse and adjacent topics in the past, but we’ve never spent time identifying what the term actually means. Or, at least, means to stakeholders.

So, let’s dive in.

What is the metaverse?

The metaverse is an online space where people can socialise, shop, play games and just hang out. defines it as:

“A theoretical or emergent networked online space with digitally persistent environments that people inhabit, as avatars, for synchronous interactions and experiences, accessing the shared virtual space through virtual reality, augmented reality, game consoles, mobile devices, or conventional computers.”

That is, at its core, what it is. It’s an incredibly broad term. It’s not really a term that has been properly defined by any one person or any one thing, but it is often shoehorned into discussions of blockchains, cryptocurrency, NFTs and Web3.

And to be honest, that’s where the actual definition emerges. The metaverse exists not primarily as a social space, but as an additional selling point for these aforementioned technologies. NFT collections, such as Bored Ape Yacht Club, often include a metaverse application in their pitch for why you should buy in, and most of the time the owners of these NFT collections haven’t built an application out yet. Some metaverse applications, such as The Sandbox and Decentraland, often have deep functionality for crypto and NFT collections.

The definition provided earlier can quite easily be placed upon games, especially some MMOs. Habbo Hotel, World of Warcraft, Runescape, PlayStation Home and many others fit into the definition quite comfortably, except the emphasis of these projects is placed entirely upon their individual fantasy universes and not a larger project that requires you to buy a token or crypto.

The more commonplace ideas of the ‘metaverse’, which Horizon Worlds (owned by Meta) and Decentraland (a browser-based app) gravitate towards are blander, with less interesting art styles, much less to do and much smaller player bases. A key difference between these apps and the earlier listed games is that Horizon Worlds and Decentraland have a particular focus on user-generated content (such as worlds and items), whereas most heavily structured MMOs do not.

But even this isn’t a good enough separation from gaming. Minecraft, Fortnite, Garry’s Mod, VR Chat and a massive amount of other games have a great emphasis on user-generated content.

This piece does a good job of teasing apart the question, ‘What is the metaverse?’, and it’s important to look at the metaverse in its current form alongside the question, ‘What is Web3?‘. But, for now, what is the metaverse, apart from a sterile definition for a game?

Meta enough for you?

At the moment, if you’re curious about the metaverse, you may as well be playing a game.

Ask Giz is a fortnightly series where we answer your questions, be it tech, science, gadget, health or gaming related. This is a reader-involved series where we rely on Gizmodo Australia’s audience to submit questions. If you have a question for Giz, you can submit it here. Or check out the answer to our last Ask Giz: What is DNA?

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