Metaverse hero image showing three virtual environments

SCHOOLED: The Metaverse Explained for Everyone

In a flip-flop of normal learning curves, the younger you are, the easier it is to understand and use the metaverse.

Looking for a basic definition of the metaverse? It is any three-dimensional digital space in which people can interact with the virtual environment and each other.

Want a history of such spaces? The idea of a 3D virtual space can be traced back to an entertaining optical illusion people experienced when viewing stereographic images that were invented during the early 20th century. The first use of the term “metaverse” to describe such an experience was by science fiction writer Neal Stephenson in 1992.

But to fully understand how young designers can use the metaverse now, an online gaming session might be the best teaching tool. In fact, the more advanced the game design, the more types of user interactions—or ways of changing, creating and reacting to the digital space—you’ll be able to test for yourself.

Fortnite screencap
Gaming is a clear entry point to understanding the metaverse. Online games like Fortnite (above) and Roblox (right) have created a widespread familiarity with virtual interactions among younger users. COURTESY FORTNITE
roblox characters screencap

For instance, if you’ve ever logged onto multiplayer game platforms such as Roblox or Epic Games’ Fortnite, then you’ve already practiced how to design an avatar that represents you in a virtual space, and you may even have designed your own room, house, or small world within the metaverse using design tools. In that case, you also know what it’s like to communicate with other gamers’ avatars and invite or follow them into adjacent 3D areas and online “rooms.” If you’ve used digital money to buy, sell and trade items with other gamers, you’ve created unique virtual objects in the form of those digital files, which can have real-world value as non-fungible tokens, or NFTs.

Go ahead and claim all of those experiences as part of an important introduction to the way some products (such as your desk and chair) and entire buildings will be designed from now on. Gamers are familiarizing themselves with the same tools architects and designers are now using to manage their offices and present ideas to their clients. Architecture firms, for example, are among the first employers to experiment with digital twins of their real-life workplaces where employees can use their avatars to log in, hand off work, and attend meetings onscreen like they would in the physical office.

stereographic image of a cathedral
Stereographic images like this one are an early version of virtual reality. They can be used to view an image in 3D. COURTESY WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
Audrey large virtual artworks
Artists like Audrey Large use virtual environments to complicate the relationship between image and object using 3D scanning, modeling, printing, and virtual exhibitions. COURTESY AUDREY LARGE

And some designers have improved the way they present building plans by pairing up technology such as virtual reality headsets and 3D designs; the combination let clients take a virtual walking tour of floor plans and rooms before construction starts.

Designers who feel inspired by the ways they can alter styles, materials and shapes of interiors and furniture in the metaverse are now making work portfolios full of wild fantasy furniture and rooms that they could never actually build just to show off their personal creativity and spark fresh ideas.

In these cases, creative professionals are flexing new artistic muscles in ways that working on physical projects alone won’t allow them to. As metaverse technologies (VR, AR, NFTs) evolve, so will our relationships to the real world. For that reason, young designers may be the best prepared to use the metaverse as a tool for life in the actual universe.

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