The Metaverse is a nebulous concept for the majority of us. Questions abound as to what it will look like and what we will look like within it. At Metaphysic, we believe it has to be hyperreal.
Hyperreal? What do you mean?
The term Hyperreal appears in Jean Baudrillard’s 1981 treatise Simulacra and Simulation. In it, he described how technology has enabled the creation of experiences more intense and satisfying than reality. Using the example of Disneyland, he argued that we have become unable to differentiate between our reality, which is often banal and uninspiring; and these hyperreal experiences, which are more intense and enthralling. Other examples include shopping centres; the worlds created in gaming and social media networks. As Baudrillard stated, the hyperreal has become more true than the truth; and more real than the real; and it has started to dictate behaviour.
In the Metaverse, the use of highly realistic synthetic media moves the concept of the hyperreal away from Baudrillard’s often cynical framing. Instead, the use of the hyperreal is an extension of everyday life, not a replacement or alternative to it. This is important because the Metaverse needs to be a place we can visit in a cognitively frictionless way. While some Metaverse users will want to use avatars that look like manga characters, most want a seamless…. a seamless extension of the physical world that we already live in. It is not a fantasy world but a place where you can be you – the person that you have spent your entire life becoming. What we look like and how we present ourselves to the world will be translated into the digital world to allow us to function there as we do in reality. It’s more than likely that the current dominance of cartoon and stylised avatars in the Metaverse is due to the technical challenges with delivering equivalent hyperreal avatars at this current stage.
We can look at some potential uses of the Metaverse to highlight the importance of self. You may be asked to attend a job interview or you want to go on a Tinder date. In both of these cases; it is essential that the essence of you is represented in the Metaverse. Shopping in the Metaverse won’t work if you enter a store to try on something you have seen; but you don’t look like you. To switch back to the real world; there are relatively few situations in which people present themselves as a fictional character and so it follows that this will very likely be true for the Metaverse as well.
We acknowledge that there will be some people who perhaps don’t want to be themselves and will seek out a different identity. The Metaverse will be a place where authenticity is supported but there will also be room for playful experimentation with who you are. We’ll delve more into this in the coming months.
Practicality comes into play here too. How many of us have the time to spend totally recreating our identity for the Metaverse? You can’t do in hours what has taken years, if not decades. And any “new” you won’t be as real as the real you in that case. Better, surely, for ourselves and the people helping to make our hyperreal selves, that we use the real world data that we have. And scale plays a part. This is a gargantuan task. Producing highly human content that takes a lot of human input is expensive and time-consuming. A huge amount of content needs to be created to make the Metaverse so we will use data that we already have and is easily accessible, interpolated using AI models, to create our immersive, hyperreal environments and selves.
For these reasons, the most compelling experiences in the Metaverse need to be based firmly on the physical world for us to function efficiently and fulfillingly within it.
It is not somewhere we will escape to but somewhere that is part of, and more than, our physical world. It will be “reality plus” offering benefits including next-level gaming; immersive experiences; both true-to-life and augmented self-expression and remote experiences that are no less meaningful than in-person ones.
Realising the full potential of the metaverse will take time, but the direction of travel is clear: towards a portal not to the surreal, but hyperreal.