I love Virtual Reality - but I couldn't care less about the Metaverse
The Metaverse is marketed primarily as a social platform. But what about those who just want peace of mind?
Mark Zuckerberg describes the Metaverse as the successor to the Internet, which we enter and experience spatially as avatars. This is meant to provide a sense of presence and social proximity that chat rooms and video conferencing are incapable of. Among other things, people will be able to play and work in the Metaverse, but for the founder of the world's largest social network, the next Internet is primarily one thing: a meeting platform.
Fortnite, Roblox and Minecraft prove Zuckerberg right. All three platforms are seen as a kind of precursor to the Metaverse and have a strong social component: Here, everything revolves around experiencing or building digital worlds together.
Alone in the Metaverse
Virtual Reality has also spawned the first mini-metaverses like VRChat and Rec Room, which can be played in both VR and 2D. Meta's own effort, Horizon Worlds, launched in the U.S. and Canada in late 2021 and is expected to be available on mobile devices later this year, Zuckerberg recently announced.
That's important, because VR headsets are nowhere near as widespread as smartphones and tablets, and the appeal of a social network increases with the size of its user base - which Horizon Worlds needs to become relevant in the first place.
Although I've been involved with virtual reality since 2016, I've only recently taken a closer look at VRChat and similar platforms, and only because of the current Metaverse hype.
The reason for my Metaverse abstinence is simply that I don't feel the need to meet other people in virtual reality, so my microphone stays off most of the time. I'm old-fashioned on this point, preferring meetings in physical space when they are geographically possible.
Isolation as a superpower of VR
I guess I'm a special case and love VR precisely because it isolates me from my physical and social environment for half an hour or so.
Fortunately, I'm not the only one who thinks this way. Oculus' longtime chief technology officer, John Carmack, once referred to VR headsets as "headphones for the eyes" and sees himself as a contrarian to Meta's social strategy, advocating the power of isolation.
The word has a negative connotation, but isolation need not be a bad thing per se. You can usually read books alone without becoming an oddball, and other forms of entertainment don't necessarily get better when you share them with others.
Virtual Reality is the ideal medium to take a break from everyday life and collect one's thoughts. It is my oasis of calm, which would only be disturbed by social interaction.
Which is not to say that I occasionally like to meet in virtual reality. But you won't find me in VRChat and consorts for now. As far as I'm concerned, the Metaverse can wait.