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I don't like the sound of the Metaverse

A coffee I had this morning was extra strong and the resulting energy became this stupid rant.

Online video games like Runescape, Second Life, and Halo gave me my first glimpse into virtual multiplayer spaces. It was always a pleasure to create some over-the-top, extravagant little avatar that would zip around engaging in epic battles or interacting with other, equally ridiculous creations from other players.

In these worlds, people would become 60 metre tall broccolis and repeatedly say "I am Frodo Sagbag" for no apparent reason, others would lead players down a perilous 4D chess scam to steal their special dragonhide boots, and many just enjoyed roleplaying as whatever character/username they've chosen for that day.

I remember someone who named themselves "MeteorFacts" despite knowing nothing about meteors. They would stand in the middle of a large trading post where hundreds of players would congregate at a time, constantly dishing out meteor-related trivia that was clearly ripped from Wikipedia. High-level players on important quests would pass by throughout the day for another quick dose of space rock knowledge and donate some of their valuable loot as thanks. It was quite a profitable little operation.

One of my strongest online gaming memories as a kid is playing Halo 3, a first person shooter with a strong multiplayer element. There was a large selection of in-game cosmetics, some rarer than others, which allowed players to synergise appearance with their teammates or give their little soldier (Master Chief) more of a unique style. But there was only one cosmetic worth obsessing over: a helmet called Recon which was near impossible to obtain.

The only way to get this item for your character was if the game developers specifically gave it to you, usually for doing something extraordinary in the community or creating some piece of epic content. Out of millions of players (this was a big game around the mid-to-late 2000s), surely less than 100 had this legendary gear, at least initially.

If you encountered someone with the armour - and to be honest, you could easily play every day for years and never see it once - you would definitely stop and interact with them. Having the Recon armour made you a legend. Even in highly competitive team-based ranked scenarios, enemies would stop killing each other just to crowd around and take screenshots next to the glorious Recon-wearing god emperor.

For many nerdy kids like me, these kinds of communities and virtual spaces represented the golden age of the internet - little corners of intriguing mystery, vaguely interconnected through IRC channels, forums, and the occasional awkward use of voice chat software. You didn't need to be yourself, and nobody really cared to bring real life into the mix. It was a safe space. 60 metre broccolis and one-in-a-million helmets were left in their right place as magical moments on the internet.

All of the above is largely what I think of when I think about virtual environments and 3D characters. So for me, viewing the latest promotional video for the Metaverse resulted in immediate repulsion. No cringe reps, just one constant cringe-under-tension until Zuckerberg's stupid, nasal little avatar had finally disappeared.

It's hard to say if there's a core engine that powered this gut reaction of disgust. It's perhaps lots of little internal "nopes" all stacked together. The fact that the virtual world is mixing with real life: nope. The further gamification of American-style, soul-crushing workism and general work culture: nope. The data grab and psychological manipulation opportunities being eyed up by large corporations and governments: nope nope nope.

The convergence of all private aspects of our lives into a giant, cloud-based omniscient environment might represent the biggest glug of nope fuel. I'm imagining receiving 30% off an Amazon Alexa after unlocking the "1000 hours spent in a Large Virtual Conference Room" achievement. Or, in partnership with Deliveroo, all Metaverse food orders have a 10% chance to become real life food orders. Just link your Google with your Uber to synergise Workplace Achievements and Drone Delivery. Fuck off.

Instead of MeteorFacts, we'll have the prime minister addressing the nation as a giant flaming golden pigeon avatar, pecking away at political opponents represented by a discarded portion of chips on the floor.

Watching the Prime Pigeon's speeches with a 90% positive sentiment rating (measured by mandatory facial recognition) grants Zucc Tokens which can be used to upgrade the trim of your virtual business cards. Platinum tier American Pyscho eggshell print grants access to business lounges at Heathrow Airport, but only if your Nick Clegg Bonus Multiplier stays above Level 4.

The finest business card cosmetics of course are only available on a per-case basis for those with appropriate Political and Social scores. "Look at that subtle off-white colouring. The tasteful thickness of it. Oh my God. It even has a watermark" becoming the real-but-not-quite-real life equivalent of the Recon armour stopping competitive games of Halo dead in their tracks.

Except it's not kids creating characters to forget life for a moment, it's professional adults trying to enhance their actual, physical, meatspace identities with piles of virtual, corporate-led horseshit, all eventually integrated (probably) with sensitive health data, heads-up-displays for meetings and calendar schedules, and constant swiping this way or the other to purchase items, make important life decisions, or deal with admin.

The conductive heat transfer from your ass to the special smart panels of a Facebook Chair helping to mine cryptocurrency, even though they say that feature is only for planting trees.

You will accidentally grunt "I am Frodo Sagbag" like a troll to your doctor because the video call auto-accepted while you were flailing around a giant virtual hammer in Google City #4's battle arena district. Luckily there's little embarrassment because your doctor has taken the form of an enormous robotic oak tree with Sonic the Hedgehog's face grotesquely embedded within the trunk and invites you into the Palantir Consultation Room.

When inside, your 3D character - and by extension, you - are now subject to any combination of US/UK health legislation. On the wall, hackers have planted a poster which reads "Bones aren't real. It's all a conspiracy by Big Bone", which can't be removed because the joint NHS-Palantir task force doesn't want to pay the $20,000,000 ransom.

Outside, in the virtual waiting room, a 60 metre tall broccoli is waiting for their anti-depressant prescription renewal, but they don't have enough Zucc Points to cover the cost. The broccoli render is far too large for the waiting room environment and so its florets clip through the ceiling, causing the entire server to crash. A 14-year-old is later arrested for disrupting critical national infrastructure.

Metaverse: no thanks.


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