What is the metaverse?

How does the metaverse work? Is it virtual reality? Read more.

The metaverse defined

Like so many technologies that we take for granted today, the metaverse started as science fiction.

Neal Stephenson came up with the term “metaverse” in his 1992 book Snow Crash. The concept may sound familiar. In Snow Crash, the metaverse was a three-dimensional virtual world populated by the avatars of actual people. Other famous fictions with metaverses include the dystopian film The Matrix, where human beings unconsciously inhabit a virtual world, or the science fiction book Ready Player One, where people escape to a virtual reality simulation to play games or socialize.

The metaverse was here over a decade ago

Although the term “metaverse” is trending now, it's been around for some time.  As early as 2003, users on the online game Second Life could create avatars and live in an online virtual world. At its peak, Second Life boasted one million regular users.

Young gamers reading this page are now probably asking questions like, "Is Fortnite a metaverse?” or “Is Roblox a metaverse?” The answer to those questions is yes — games like Fortnite, Roblox, and even Minecraft are multiverses because they allow players to live in virtual environments.

OK, but what is the metaverse exactly?

The answer to this question depends on the person you're asking because there's no set metaverse definition. Generally speaking, the metaverse is a 3D virtual world where one can play, interact, and explore with other people's avatars from the real world. Even by Facebook’s loose metaverse definition, it sounds like most online video games.

Why is metaverse trending now?

Considering that people have been engaging with the metaverse for many years, you may wonder why it's trending now. If we’re being cynical, the answer is money. There are five things to keep in mind:

  • Facebook has been leading the hype on the metaverse.
  • Facebook has probably peaked, as evidenced by its decline in users.
  • Facebook is a profit-driven company.
  • Facebook bought the virtual reality platform, Oculus for $2 billion.
  • Facebook announced a $50 million investment in research to help with Mark Zuckerberg's Metaverse.
  • The Facebook company is now known as Meta.

The optimistic answer is that technology companies like Meta, Oculus, Nvidia, Valve, Epic, Apple, and others are exploring ways to take the Internet to the next level. These companies may either develop many metaverses or collaborate to create a next-gen metaverse.

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