Metaverse and Gen Z: The Story So Far
Ernest Cline may have inadvertently written a prophetic novel in his sci-fi extravaganza, Ready Player One. The book (and subsequent movie) tells of a world where socioeconomic issues have driven much of the world’s populace into OASIS, a virtual world accessed using special visors and gloves. In this digital universe, people become avatars, taking part in virtual school, games, and challenges. Although the book is set in the 2040s, the premise is already becoming reality. The metaverse is a merging of technology and the real world, bringing online services into a virtual landscape that users can interact with as if they were actually there. Let’s explore what you need to know about the metaverse and how it’s impacting Gen Z and other young people.
What is the Metaverse?
The metaverse takes its name from yet another sci-fi novel: Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson. The term means a universe within a universe. That’s basically what tech companies are creating by leveraging a range of emerging technologies, from cryptocurrency to NFTs. The goal is a fully digital and limitless world that users access using virtual reality glasses.
Instead of shopping at an online store by clicking the product details on a webpage, you could walk into a virtual store. You could pick something up, then take it to a virtual checkout assistant — just like you would in a real shop.
The metaverse also utilises augmented reality (AR), where virtual objects are superimposed onto the real world. Pokémon Go is a huge AR hit, allowing players to use their phones to see Pokémon “in the wild”.
What Do I Need to Know About the Metaverse?
The metaverse is still developing and growing. Different platforms run different metaverse experiences, so there’s no single, unified digital world — yet. According to tech companies, the goal of the metaverse is to make life easier, with potential benefits including:
· Being able to work or learn from anywhere
· Reducing environmental impact by taking more transactions online
· Interacting with family and friends over long distances
· Interacting with celebrities, brands, bands, artists, without leaving the home
What Tech Companies are Exploring the Metaverse?
Facebook is the most prominent name in the metaverse right now. They renamed their whole company “Meta” in late 2021, and showcased their vision of the metaverse. They talked about virtual reality calls, playing games together through Facebook Messenger, and virtual workrooms. These technologies are on the horizon — literally. Meta Quest’s Horizon Worlds is now an existing virtual community accessible by anyone with the Quest 2 virtual reality headset. Microsoft and Google are also developing metaverse-focused technologies.
The metaverse has provided opportunities for many up-and-coming tech companies, too. Startup Challau recently received nearly £400K in funding from the same investors that supported virtual reality experts Oculus. It’s estimated that there are now 3,800 virtual worlds running on the Challau platform.
Other companies investing in the metaverse include:
· Nike, selling digital sneakers for $8000
· Unilever, using their brand Degree (Sure deodorant) to run a virtual, inclusive marathon
· Financial giants Standard Chartered, who recently purchased virtual “land” in a metaverse platform called The Sandbox
Interest in digital assets is at an all-time high, but it’s not only large companies engaging with the metaverse.
How is Gen Z Interacting with the Metaverse?
Unsurprisingly, young people are leading the way when it comes to individual interactions with the metaverse. YPulse survey data shows that 88% of Gen Z already engage with virtual worlds. This includes Gen Z gaming favourites like Fortnite and Animal Crossing. In these worlds, gamers interact with people across the globe, but not necessarily using a virtual headset.
Even without that immersive technology, gamers can create and indulge in huge digital experiences online. These include concerts, chat rooms, esports, roleplaying, and even purchasing digital products. It’s only a small step to add in the virtual reality aspect, and these Gen Z gaming playgrounds can easily merge into fully digital worlds to explore.
Interestingly, only 38% of Gen Z believe the metaverse will become a part of everyday life. This could show a healthy approach to separating technology from other aspects of life. It could also indicate that some young people don’t realise that the games and social media platforms they interact with now are already becoming a part of the metaverse.
Is the Metaverse Having a Negative Effect on Teens?
Such a wide and varied digital universe is difficult to monitor. Some issues that have already affected young people, especially teenagers, include racism, sexism, harassment, and bullying. These problems seem to be particularly prominent via the VRChat functions in some virtual headsets. As with any technology, it’s important to have boundaries around usage. This gets more challenging as children get older, and as the technology becomes more accessible. That’s why tech education from a young age is so vital, so kids know all about the benefits and the pitfalls of emerging technologies like the metaverse.
At some point, we may see the metaverse expand from a variety of disparate platforms and gaming options to a fully integrated digital universe, where anyone can visit, work, learn, or play. For now, it’s important to realise that people are interacting in these virtual spaces exactly as they do on the standard internet — and prepare our kids accordingly.
Girls Into Coding provides tech education and activities aimed at turning the girls in tech of today into the women in tech of tomorrow. When it comes to coding, girls’ education is often less supported than that of their male peers due to gender imbalance across the education system and beyond. Get in touch to find out how we can engage your girls in STEM projects they’ll love and that will help improve their opportunities throughout their lives.