The Metaverse is a place I love to visit. But I’m not going to live in it. The reason is simple.
Since 2016 I have been intensively involved in virtual reality, both professionally and in my free time. This engagement isn’t just theoretical: I dive into it for a few minutes almost every day, sometimes spending an hour or two at a time in VR. People around me tell me that I inevitably smile when I put on the VR goggles.
Yes, I am in love with this medium. But that’s why I wouldn’t want to live in VR.
There’s a good reason for that: virtual reality expands my body and space, but she cannot replace them. Through my body and the matter around it I remain deeply rooted in reality.
That’s a comforting thought. As a sporty person, I don’t even want to imagine what it would be like to enter a completely artificial world and leave my body behind. Most people feel that way and I totally understand. Despite many years of VR experience, I don’t have the slightest desire to escape to another digital reality, at least not permanently.
Virtual reality is not the same as virtual reality
When I’m in virtual reality, I’m in two worlds at once: my eyes and ears experience a digital world, but the rest of my body remains attached to physical reality. Whether he likes it or not. If, like some VR newbies, I wanted to forget about this and run right away, I’d feel the pain.
Virtual reality isn’t really virtual reality, as I wrote two years ago, it’s always been mixed reality: if you get into it, always takes into account two realities, digital and physical, and is at home in neither. At least with today’s relatively primitive technology.
For full immersion one would have to simulate our perception completely. That would probably only be possible through a direct interface in the brain. Such technology does not exist and may forever remain a philosophical concept and a sci-fi fantasy. For the Metaverse envisioned by Meta and other companies, it’s irrelevant because it’s not technically feasible.
Big Metaverse Promises
I always get annoyed when I see reversed visions that ignore the mixed reality of virtual reality, the fact that we can’t leave our physical bodies and space. They pretend to be standing Full Dive VR at the door.
An example is the Metaverse that Meta showed at Meta Connect 2021. In one scene, avatars behave as if they are detached from physical reality: they traverse rooms, sit at a table, or float weightlessly through the air. These are images that evoke a physicality and physicality that the materialless virtual reality lacks.
What you see in the clip is more or less already possible in virtual reality today. Just don’t expect it to feel natural. Because your own body is locked up within your own four walls and remains subject to physical laws. Even if the term virtual reality suggests something else: ACurrent VR technology abstracts strongly from so-called reality.
VR is not a second life
Another example is the movie We Met in Virtual Reality. Filmed entirely in VRChat, this critically acclaimed and moving documentary shows how people are coming together in VR during the lockdown.
The film presents and films virtual reality as if it were a second life and never switches to the (technical) perspective from the outside. Instead, you see countless scenes that show a suggest a natural feeling for the body and the world: The avatars drive cars, cuddle, drink in bars and go to the fair together.
Anyone who has not experienced virtual reality themselves might believe that they are dealing with another reality that is roughly equivalent physically, a kind of matrix, just not as realistic and with people appearing as anime, animals and demons.
Better Meatverse than Metaverse
Having spent a lot of time in VR, I can’t imagine virtual life feeling as natural as the movie sometimes makes it seem. In VR I can’t feel, smell or taste anything and my virtual body remains a foreign body.
In a wedding scene, before the virtual wedding, the priest calls on those present to “do something that feels very, very unnatural and get up with the technology you’re carrying.” It sounds like most VRChat users are in VR.
I wouldn’t be surprised: physical exercise and sports in virtual reality are fun. But standing with your legs in your stomach for hours? This is awkward.
Virtual Reality lacks much of the best you know from traditional reality. This is good because it reduces the chance of getting lost in artificial worlds.
Having to take the physical body with you in VR has another advantage. Virtual Reality is all the more immersive the more intensively we use our bodies. This has a positive effect: Unlike other entertainment media, we stay fitwhile consuming VR and getting the best of both worlds.