Relationships Technology

The hollow banality of the metaverse

Liked Who Is Still Inside the Metaverse? by Paul Murray (Intelligencer)

My hopeless, bizarre, maddening quest to find some friends in Horizon Worlds, which is Facebook’s — excuse me, Meta’s — home base in the metaverse.

The headset is decidedly antisocial. Once the Meta Quest is strapped on, it’s adios to the real world, so much so that the headset prompts you to demarcate a “play area” by spraying a virtual boundary line on the ground…

Henceforth, whenever I’m close to the edge of my boundary, the real world appears “through” the virtual one in a gritty, low-resolution black-and-white version of itself, like found footage in a ’90s horror movie. It’s hard not to suspect that this is how Meta wants you to think of analog reality.

Gamification is everywhere these days — in the classroom, at work, on your daily bike ride — but introducing it into a comedy club seems particularly perverse. The late anthropologist David Graeber talked about the “baseline communism” that holds society together, the many small acts of goodwill people perform for one another every day without even thinking… I’m sure Okiedriver, who’s clearly a kind, thoughtful guy, deeply invested in his club, would show people around for free. But because the club has introduced this points system, his goodwill has been, effectively, monetized.

[T]his upending of social norms has a strange flattening effect on interactions in virtual reality. […] Here, in the metaverse, nobody has any connection to anyone else beyond owning a headset, a weak tie if ever there was one. Consequently, the conversations tend to stay on the level of small talk. If you’re a metaverse developer and you regard the details of real life as basically cosplay, then you will see no reason a lasting bond shouldn’t spring up between two avatars floating in cyberspace. But in practice, when you remove everything that gives someone’s life shape and meaning, the essence that’s left doesn’t have a huge amount to say beyond stray thoughts on bitcoin or the latest episode of The Last of Us.

By Tracy Durnell

Writer and designer in the Seattle area. Freelance sustainability consultant. Reach me at She/her.

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