The virtual meets the physical: unraveling the mystery of the metaverse

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Dinesh SP and Janganandhini got married on February 6. He wore the traditional veshti with a white shirt and she was draped in a white sari. Over 6,000 people joined them on their big day. It was their dream wedding – a wedding in the Harry Potter-themed Metaverse.

Metaverse, which has become the new buzzword in the digital world today, became part of popular discourse in October last year after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the rebranding of his business in Meta.

The idea behind Metaverse is to create a space where the physical and virtual worlds come together to create an online fantasy world – inspired, almost to the T, by the real world that humans inhabit.

What is the Metaverse?

While there are many definitions of the phenomenon floating around the internet, Metaverse can be defined as an alternate reality – an immersive 3D environment that replicates the physical world and its on-screen experiences. Whether it’s visiting a mall, attending a concert, going to a bank, or eating out, all activities of daily living are considered possible in the metaverse. Except that it is not you who are physically part of this universe but the digital avatar that you can personalize and create.

Companies from all sectors have already started to buy spaces in Metaverse to explore the possibilities of their services in the virtual world. Bollywood production house Pooja Entertainment recently announced that it has purchased a virtual plot in Metaverse that will feature Akshay Kumar and Tiger Shroff-starrer ‘Bade Miyan Chote Miyan’ in 2023. Restaurateur Zorawar Kalra also announced earlier this week that his “Farzi Café” will now exist in Metaverse.

Amber Sinha, executive director of the Center for Internet & Society, says that Metaverse is, in a way, an upgrade from the current version of the Internet. Talking about the evolution of the internet, he explains that internet 1.0 was essentially a space where users were consumers of information. Version 2.0 was a kind of more social and open architecture that saw the arrival of user-generated content, making the internet a two-way space between content consumers and content generators. “The metaverse is Internet 3.0. It is presented as the logical development of the Internet today,” he says.

The metaverse can be broken down into three components: virtual reality, the creator economy, and decentralized ownership. Simply put, it’s a virtual recreation of the physical world that will have an economy defined by the creator of the Metaverse, which would be a “public” space accessible to everyone. So, when you visit a Metaverse mall, you can buy virtual goods using Metaverse currency, which in most cases is NFTs or non-fungible tokens. To paint a picture, when your avatar enters the Metaverse mall to purchase a pair of virtual shoes, you hit an NFT which can be exchanged for the pair of shoes.

In some cases, hitting an NFT may require you to spend “real” currency, but several platforms also offer you other ways to own an NFT, such as by solving a puzzle or successfully completing a treasure hunt , in a process quite similar to getting a power-up in a game.

The Metaverse phenomenon, however, is not new. “It’s been around for ages,” says Rajat Ojha, founder of Party Nite, a metaverse that hosted a virtual Daler Mehndi concert on Republic Day. It has existed in another form for some time in online games where a similar immersive, three-dimensional fantasy world is created, inhabited by the players’ digital avatars.

Sinha says the difference is that the notion of Metaverse is becoming popular in contemporary discourse, unlike the gaming universe. “You can pause the game, but Metaverse is persistent. It will continue to exist even after you leave it. Metaverse is live and synchronous,” he says.

What is the Metaverse? (Credit: Shutterstock)

What’s the point?

According to Ojha, the development of Metaverse was the result of “people’s digital fascination” and an imperative need to connect with other human beings, a need, you might say, met by social networking sites like Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. “In Metaverse, there is the physical presence of an individual. It’s (avatar) a person who walks and speaks, ”he justifies. Another factor is that users can create their own avatars, making them look exactly like they look, or an ambitious image of their own.

“There’s a strong sense of customization,” says Ashish Bhatnagar of now.gg, a platform that has developed technology to transform existing mobile games into Metaverse. “Even if your real life sucks, you can be a hero in Metaverse. There’s an element of vanity attached to it,” Ojha says.

Metaverse also has room for unlimited participation. “In the physical world, there is a limit to the number of people who can attend an event. Online unlocks this restriction,” says Bhatnagar. The Daler Mehndi concert, for example, attracted 20 million people. A physical music concert would only have room for a limited number of people. Others should settle for a livestream of the event on YouTube. “In Metaverse, you don’t watch the event, you are part of it,” says Ojha.

It was thanks to the possibilities offered by the metaverse that 6,000 people managed to attend the wedding of Dinesh and Janganandhini at a time when the maximum number of wedding guests in the physical world was only 100. The couple would have also created an avatar of the groom’s father who died in 2020 to ensure his presence on their wedding day.

Physical-digital juxtaposition

To justify the existence of this parallel reality, many Metaverse platforms offer virtual experiences with tangible physical incentives in the real world. Cafe Farzi; in Metaverse would allow foodies to virtually and physically enjoy dining experiences.

The virtual Farzi Café is created by OneRare, a food metaverse or “foodverse” that will digitally recreate the interiors of the restaurant. For starters, customers can mint tokens for recipes and ingredients by playing games, which can then be redeemed at the physical restaurant for real food items. Kalra said the virtual “Farzi Cafe” should open to the experience in “a few months”.

“Farzi Cafe has always been very forward-thinking, and part of it also embraces technology. With Metaverse, we want to juxtapose the online world and the offline world. So what you do in the online world will have real experiences in the offline world,” says Kalra.

Was it induced by the Covid?

The timing of the rise in popularity of the Metaverse phenomenon makes one wonder if the buzz is driven by the Covid-19 pandemic which has confined people within the four walls of their homes, making them crave human connection more than ever. . Sinha says she was “not induced, but accelerated” by the pandemic.

The popularity of Metaverse, which allows people to socialize online without leaving their homes, also raises concerns about this alternate reality, encouraging a culture of “physical isolation”. But Ojha is not worried. He explains that Metaverse allows users to interact with people around the world and that digital interactions would eventually translate into physical meetings in the real world. “The digital world has always brought people together,” he says. “If you meet someone from Mumbai in the metaverse and you like them, you’ll end up wanting to meet them the next time you’re in Mumbai.”

Metaverse.Metaverse. (Credit: Shutterstock)

The future

The way the digital world has grown, says Sinha, was designed to create more interaction, but there is still much to discover. Because Metaverse involves an intersection of multiple components, like virtual and augmented realities, virtual currency, and NFTs, “the desired interoperability is quite unprecedented.” “For the kind of Metaverse vision we’re talking about to become a reality, these pieces have to come together,” he says.

While agreeing that it was too early to tell what was possible in Metaverse, Kalra, a techno-geek himself, is optimistic. “A virtual presence on Metaverse is definitely going to be a thing, an absolute standard in 10 years, maybe even sooner. Will it replace physical things? I don’t think so, but it will be an augmented version,” he says.

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