Metaverse

The meditation room in Facebook's Horizon World, sans legs.

Some locals claim that this town runs on Facebook but is it ready to take those two-dimensional interactions into the three-dimensional metaverse of Facebook’s ‘Horizon Worlds’?

Joining the metaverse is like entering a Virtual Reality (VR) video game and interacting with real people through your avatars, which are characters that move when you move your VR headset and gloves.

The term ‘Metaverse’ was first coined in 1992 in American author, Neal Stephenson’s, cyberpunk novel, Snow Crash. The hero protagonist is actually called Hiro Protagonist, a hacker who jumps worlds, between a dystopian Los Angeles and the ‘Metaverse,’ a virtual world where avatars interact.

Early metaverses were in Second Life, Nintendo’s Wii and the 2009 film, Avatar, but in Facebook’s metaverse, a player can customise an avatar and even choose the clothing. You can choose trousers for your avatar but usually the simple graphics mean you will have no legs.

In Nike’s metaverse, Nikeland, players can now buy virtual Nike sneakers since the company announced its acquisition of virtual sneaker-maker, RTFKT, on December 13.

Like many metaverses, Nikeland is built on an existing gaming platform. Nike uses Roblox, which is already used by millions of people around the world through their avatars.

The isolation of Covid lockdowns created interest in socialising, meeting new people and learning new skills through avatars in metaverses. With many people working from home, some companies conducted meetings in metaverses instead of by Zoom.

Facebook changed its company name to Meta last year and in its metaverse a player can enter a meditation room, world-building rooms or the Plaza, to be greeted by a guide. This is a trained, real person, acting through an avatar, who helps a new player learn how to move, instead of suddenly teleporting, navigate Horizon Worlds and follow the behaviour rules.

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And this is the problem. Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, has not been able to fix Facebook’s social issues, including bullying, misinformation and hate speech but he has software to monitor text. VR also contains spoken language, gestures and context.

The Verge reported that a Facebook metaverse beta tester, who is a real user who tests before product release, posted in the official Horizon group on Facebook about how her avatar was groped by a stranger.

“Sexual harassment is no joke on the regular internet, but being in VR adds another layer that makes the event more intense,” she wrote.

“Not only was I groped last night, but there were other people there who supported this behaviour which made me feel isolated in the Plaza.”

Parmy Olson is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering technology and she donned the VR headset and gloves, Oculus Quest 2, to enter the Facebook multiverse, where there were kids shouting obscenities.

In Altverse, she had to mute and block a man in a green top who followed her and another woman, telling them they were pretty.

Metaverses have safety features on a glove and moderators attend events but, although most people were well-behaved, Ms Olson felt uncomfortable as a woman in the male-dominated metaverses.

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