The metaverse explained: Definition, examples, and how it works

3 mins
VR goggles in the metaverse.

The idea of the metaverse is alive and charging forward, thanks in large part to Mark Zuckerberg’s very public aspirations of bringing the metaverse to life. He did change the name of his company from Facebook to Meta, after all.

It’s not just Meta. Tech giants everywhere—including Microsoft and Apple—are jumping on the virtual-space bandwagon. The metaverse, dubbed the “future of the internet,” is predicted to become an 800 billion USD platform.

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The metaverse is yet to be, but here’s what we know about it now.

What exactly is the metaverse? How is the metaverse defined?

A combination of the words “meta” (meaning beyond) and “universe”, the metaverse is defined as a shared virtual world. People will be able to switch between their lives in the real world and those in digital metaverses, where they could do everything from go to work and seek entertainment.

This sounds like virtual reality. What’s the difference?

The main difference between virtual reality and the metaverse is that while virtual reality provides a temporary experience to a small number of people at a time, as with a VR game, the metaverse is shared by many people and persists at all times. Virtual reality, which is widely viewed as a technology that failed to take off, can now be thought of as a component of the metaverse. People will likely access the metaverse through virtual reality and augmented reality technologies like headsets and holograms.

Why do we need the metaverse?

We probably don’t need the metaverse, but there are certain interesting benefits. For one thing, the metaverse will offer the ability to transcend location. Everyone in your company can work from home all around the world but head to a virtual office for what resembles face-to-face interactions. You could attend a concert from anywhere—with the performer actually performing live—and feel like you’re there watching in person with thousands of others. 

The metaverse also opens up the possibility of experiences that are nothing like reality or physics-defying. Think the car races in Ready Player One.

Where did the idea of the metaverse come from?

Though it’s making a resurgence now, the term “metaverse” has been around for decades. The word first appeared in Neal Stephenson’s 1992 sci-fi novel Snow Crash, used to describe a VR-based replacement to the internet. The book is now revered by many Silicon Valley personalities—including Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos—as a foretelling of the virtual world.

That said, interpretations of the metaverse have existed in pop culture for decades. Plenty of movies have introduced different takes on the metaverse, perhaps most notably with The Matrix and Ready Player One

Does the metaverse already exist? 

The metaverse—or at least, the hyper-futuristic, indistinguishable-from-reality vision of it—doesn’t quite exist yet. There currently isn’t one singular representation of what the entire metaverse should look like, or even who will create it. In fact, it seems pretty likely that the metaverse won’t be the sole product of just one company but a culmination of several. 

Arguably, the best examples of existing metaverses come from video games. The wildly popular online platform Roblox, for example, allows users to build and then play games together in a shared virtual space. In 2020, rapper Lil Nas X famously held an entirely virtual concert within Roblox, showcasing just how versatile metaverses can be. 

Probably the closest depiction to a fully realized metaverse, however, is Second Life. Through it, users can create an avatar of themselves, explore a virtual world, purchase items through in-game shops, and socialize with players from around the globe. These examples are just a small taste of what’s to come with the possibilities of living life virtually.

Read more: 11 best movies about the metaverse

How will the metaverse impact me?

We already rely on the internet for everything from ordering groceries to banking, and we experience life in the digital realm via video calls and online role-playing games. The metaverse is in many ways simply an evolution for these activities. So the short answer is, if you’re an internet user now, you’ll probably be a metaverse user in the near future.

How will crypto and NFTs be used in the metaverse?

It only makes sense that virtual currency and NFTs will play a part in the virtual world. In the metaverse, you’ll be able to buy things—virtual objects and even virtual land. NFTs, purchased with cryptocurrency, will enable you to own this property.

Read more: Why you should care about NFTs

What are your thoughts on the metaverse? Let us know in the comments.

Technophile and self-professed meme queen with a penchant for games, dogs, and sushi.