Neal Stephenson coined the word metaverse in his seminal 1992 sci-fi novel Snow Crash. 30 years later, Sotheby’s is auctioning off rare items associated with the book, and Stephenson is working on a new layer-1 blockchain company for the metaverse.
The company’s stated purpose is to help creators build the open metaverse, the term Stephenson says he uses to differentiate it from the current corporate versions of the metaverse.
Stephenson said there are two main things that people get wrong, in his view, when they talk about the metaverse these days.
One mistake people make, Stephenson said, is to talk about a metaverse, or multiple metaverses, which I think is wrong, that’s always a signal to me that somebody doesn’t get it.
That’s not to say that there won’t continue to be games that are closed realms. Stephenson said game designers who create “coherent worlds that are exquisitely crafted” aren’t about to make their games completely open realms where you can bring a digital item from some entirely different game. “If somebody brings a sniper rifle into my soccer game, or whatever, it’s just an abomination from an aesthetic point of view, and it shows disrespect for what I do as an art director or a game designer.
Stephenson said. “I hope that games will continue to exist as pure works of art, just just like they are now. But there are also games, very popular games, that aesthetically are mashups, right?”
His examples of such games: are Fortnite, Minecraft, and Roblox games that have a mashup kind of feel, which I think is a much closer match for the spirit of the metaverse as described in Snow Crash.”
Another mistake people make is “to assume that it’s always about using goggles, which is a reasonable assumption,” Stephenson said. “I mean, that’s how it is in the book and in other depictions of virtual reality and fiction.
It seemed like a logical assumption at the time that that would be the output device. But that’s not what happened. What happened is that everyone is accessing these 3D worlds through two-dimensional flat rectangles on flat screens. And that works really well. In some ways, it works better than using goggles, for various reasons.”
Stephenson isn’t saying no one will make and sell VR headsets. Apple’s highly anticipated mixed-reality headset is coming soon. “To be clear, I’m not anti-headset,” Stephenson cautioned.
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