On October 28th, 2021, creator of The Facebook and would-be overlord of all humanity, Mark Zuckerberg announces to a live streaming audience in the tens of thousands that the name of his company would be undergoing its grandest name change in 17 years.
The change would become effective immediately. The company would henceforth be known as Meta. According to the android on the screen, the change would come to represent a new focus for the company, a focus on the metaverse.
Those following along closely with the news out of silicon valley will know that Mark had become obsessed with the idea of VR worlds years before. His immediate thought was this is what Facebook should be and given his majority position on the board, he made one of his many unilateral decisions.
The term metaverse was coined in 1992 in Neal Stephenson's novel Snow Crash and has largely been used in science fiction to represent a digital world that exists under the control of some all-powerful, monolithic corporation, or government. Two other notable examples of this were in The Matrix and more recently, Ready Player One.
Given Mark's tendencies towards megalomania, one assumes he is aware of this vision of the future, and he welcomes it.
But while Nolan.. I mean... Mark and other titans of tech spend their time dreaming of becoming the masters of the metaverse, in their periphery, our perhaps entirely outside their self-involved tunnelvision, a new definition has been written.
The metaverse as I know it, and as many of you may know it, is not, and will not be the property of one corporation. The moment blockchain technology was unleashed upon the world, our ideas of what technology could become radically changed. New narratives began to be built.
Decentralization of power, ownership of digital property, no gatekeepers, no overlords.
And in this new blockchain world, the metaverse is not a dystopia. It is a playground. It is whatever you want it to be.
Virtual worlds like The Sandbox allow players to build their own vision of the metaverse. Minecraft meets Roller Coaster Tycoon meets Stardew Valley. This 3D decentralized gaming platform allows users to customize their characters, build the world around them, and explore the vast virtual space around them.
And what's more: items found and created are tokenized on the blockchain. For those unfamiliar, this technology known as Non-Fungible Tokens (or NFTs for short) allows users to own distinctly recognized versions of any item.
Not just any broadsword. This broadsword. Your broadsword.
To illustrate just how radical this technology can become, allow me to introduce you, Ebenezer, to three visions.
In my younger and more vulnerable years, I experienced the awe-inspiring multiplayer online world of Diablo. My entry point was through Diablo II, which I played on the computer of a friend, as we didn't have one of our own. Questing alongside other players, collecting gold and items, and at times trading those items with others were somewhat new dynamics to me.
One thing I learned from playing these games is that there were whole communities of users buying and selling items. They did this with real-world, fiat money, as it was still many years before even Bitcoin existed.
Supposedly, once Bitcoin existed this technology quickly became popular in the MMORPG, World of Warcraft, where similarly users would quest for items, trade, and even kill each other to get items. But there was a problem, that's has persisted into modern virtual worlds.
Allow me to introduce you to another guide.
David and Goliath narrative aside, Epic Games is the world’s richest gaming company, and they've cemented that wealth with the help of the "free to play" game Fortnite. This is not just a fun game to play where users can explore massive worlds, craft, and battle royale to the bitter end; it's an in-game item vending machine.
Fortnite is designed to constantly sell you something new: character skins, emotes, dances, tags, gliders, and more. All with the help of virtual money called v-bucks. But unlike cryptocurrency, these virtual dollars don't live in your custody. And unlike NFTs these in-game items are not yours to keep, gift, sell, or trade.
No, much like Diablo and the online worlds before and since, what you own in the game, is on loan from the corporation, subject to the terms of service.
When Blizzard decides to issue a remastered version of Diablo, you have to buy the game again reacquire your items. When Epic decides you have voided their regularly updated EULA, you can be banned, your items forever lost. And perhaps more commonly, someone can discover your password in an online data breach, steal your account, and with it your items.
But there is another way.
In Mark Zuckerberg's dreams, the metaverse will be what he creates. The rules will be what he decides. And the incentive will be infinite revenue and infinite power consolidated in his hands.
He will claim to be building an open world, using (or rather appropriating) technology buzz words like metaverse, NFT, and cryptocurrency, to define centralized versions of these products.
Tracking and manipulation are the two real products of Facebook, as shown in the many internal company leaks reported over the years. They know this. They hire psychologists, ad executives, and lawyers to push the limits of what they can do. They fire ethicists and dismantle oversight committees.
Move fast and break humanity. Move fast and capture the metaverse. Two potential slogans to be strewn in graffiti across the virtual campus of Facebook (or rather... sigh... Meta) as they receive praise from their investors.
Another world could exist. One in which users can own a stake in their worlds. Things they create can have real value. Tokens represent ownership of in-game items, live in a user’s own wallet, to be kept, traded, gifted, or burned at their own will. Governance of these worlds could even be handled by a DAO (a Decentralized Autonomous Organization) where the participants in the system are also the ones who govern it. But that's a story for another day.
In this possible future, games like The Sandbox are the norm. Accruing value to players and investors, but not to any one entitity, and not to Mark Zuckerberg.
There in his walled garden, desperately seeking ways to retake control and make the metaverse his own, he'll become frustrated, angry even, and yet he may never realize the critical flaw in his plan:
The metaverse will never be his. The metaverse is ours.
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