Would you pay for life in the Meta Universe Facebook?

When I was in high school in the early 2000s, I was obsessed Ragnarok: Online (2002): A large-scale multiplayer online role-playing game created by the South Korean company Gravity. I lived and breathed this, spending all my time outside of school, educating the character in the world of fantasy games and the community around him through online forums. It was exciting and fun; Unlike the social world in which I lived in real life, it made sense to offer a linear reward for the time spent.

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Ragnarok Origin, 2021. Submitted by: © Gravity Interactive

Later, I realized that this digital world is not as organic or democratic as it first seemed. This was my first time participating on my own in a top-down economy with a fictitious shortage of resources and an in-game developer-created currency. Every year at Christmas, there was a holiday week in the game, which featured special items, such as Santa’s hats, which players briefly focused on, increasing the value before they disappeared again. My experience Ragnarok was the one that others had with The world of martial arts (2004) or RuneScape (2001) or Neopets (1999): The virtual world is absolutely convincing until its fallacy becomes apparent, the numbers game is too transparent.

They remind me Ragnarok every time I hear the term “metaworld,” the latest in a long line of Silicon Valley buzzwords, such as “sharing economy” or “singularity,” the meaning of which stretches to the limits. For technology entrepreneurs, the future of the metauniverse involves the convergence of all digital platforms. It’s an area where our avatars can walk – like a large-scale multiplayer online role-playing game – but it also covers all of our digital activities, from posting photos of our friends to streaming TV shows. In fact, the word originated in Neil Stevenson’s 1992 science fiction novel Snow disaster, where the metacosm is controlled by one corporation, the Global Multimedia Protocol Group. Stevenson’s version is more welded than utopian; this is not a place where anyone would want to live.

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Horizon Studios, 2021. Submitted by: © Facebook / Oculus

Technology companies are now competing to bet on the metaverse. In an interview with Facet In July, Mark Zuckerberg claimed that over the next five years, Facebook would transform from a social networking company to a “metauniverse company.” Blockchain projects such as Decentraland and The Sandbox create and sell virtual real estate. Epic Games, creator of the massively multiplayer online game Fortnite (2017) announced a round of funding of $ 1 billion to build a metaverse.

Epic recently filed a lawsuit against Apple over its own closed digital space, the App Store, which is the only way for developers to access hundreds of millions of iPhone users. Apple charges up to 30 percent of developer revenue as a tax on the use of the platform. When Epic tried to bypass this system, Apple banned its games from the App Store. The legal challenge has been successful to some extent – Apple has reduced its reduction rate – but the company is still dictating what is allowed in its store.

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Fortnite: Travis Scott’s Astronomical, 2021. Submitted by: © Epic Games, Inc

Fortnite it is already a kind of metaverse. Although the game is primarily about shooting other players in a frantic hand-to-hand combat on the island until only one survives, it has become more of a digital sandbox. Competition is often less than just communication, virtual communication. Games like Roblox (2004) and Minecraft (2009) exist in the same genre. But there is a collision between the content of these game worlds and the platforms on which they exist. It is assumed that spaces in the style of metapoems provide complete independence, unprecedented openness of creative possibilities, but they are not independent at all.

The metauniverse is less of a new space than a new economy in which one business dictates every aspect of the experience: there is no opportunity that is not predetermined. This does not mean that creativity is impossible – Second life (2003) set a precedent for shared, user-created virtual spaces, where self-expression was as important as any kind of material accumulation. Artist Cao Fei used Second life create a virtual exhibition space City of yuan (2009–2011), where events were held, which grew into physical shows and video works.

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Cao Fei, RMB City – Second Life City Planning, 2007. Courtesy of Artist and Vitamin Creative Space

But Second life This is a rare space in the style of metapoems, which is not too sociable or forced to develop at an unstable pace to accommodate most of the world’s population. It is hard to imagine that a company like Facebook allows such projects, especially if it is already facing censorship in countries including China. An open metaworld may be forced to rely on a benevolent ruler who tolerates the freedom of its users. Another option is to decentralize the blockchain, which may be uncensored but currently consumes more electricity than some entire countries.

Utopian vision of the metauniverse: everything can become its own universe. Each cultural element grows into a space in which users, fans and spectators can participate. But when corporations cling to such vocabulary, the future seems less reassuring. There is sadness that comes to an end to a strictly corporate online space, such as wandering on the edge of an amusement park. In a year or two Ragnarok, I turned to the manipulative mechanics of novelty, which could not be revived by any digital communication. It was a kind of digital capitalist consumption, the end point of which were new elements on the screen and images. Because companies make money that way, the metaworld seems doomed to the same fate.

This article first appeared in frieze issue 222 with the title ‘The reality of bites´.

Main image: Crusade of Ragnarok, 2021. Submitted by: © Gravity Interactive

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