The Metaverse: Defining the Concept Using Grounded Theory

The Metaverse is one of the most popular topics of conversation today. While the concept has existed in science fiction literature and comic books for decades, Facebook’s rebranding last November has further fueled public interest.
However, the Metaverse was a widely researched concept before that as well. There have been multiple definitions of the Metaverse, with a widely affected scientific definition by none other than the IEEE. Still, there is a lot left to discover and agree upon when it comes to the Metaverse. For one, while most of these definitions offer a cursory look at what the Metaverse may mean, they usually do not answer how all the scientific terms we have come to associate with the Metaverse form the bigger picture.

This article aims to answer those questions by going through some of the most prominent definitions and theories on the Metaverse. Moreover, it also discusses the use of Grounded Theory by Dr. Kim Nevelsteen to establish a holistic idea of the virtual world and the Metaverse – one that presents the bigger picture married to the widely held general concepts.

But first, it is essential to learn how the virtual world works – or is supposed to work:

What is the Virtual World?

Even if the Metaverse sounds like a far-reaching concept, the virtual world is something everything is akin to nowadays. Numerous VR consoles and games are readily available in the market, and virtual meet and greet sessions are quickly gaining in popularity. If Facebook – or Meta – is to be believed, the virtual world may very well be the future of social connection. But what exactly constitutes the Virtual World?
According to Dr. Nevelsteen’s theory, which he devised using the Grounded Theory, the virtual world can be called: “A simulated environment where MANY agents can virtually interact with each other, act and react to things, phenomena and the environment;…”.
Another definition by Bartle, one that focuses on massively multiplayer online games, further lists several rules that seem to define any existing virtual world. Bartle suggests that the virtual world is not real but persistent. It exists even when the people using it are “logged off”. Furthermore, a virtual world follows the laws of physics that it has been automated into the world’s structure.
So, the virtual world exists as a fake reality that could very well be as real as the one we are living in. More than that, it is something multiple people can interact with while interacting with one another, even if they may be miles away.
While this is common knowledge, it is important to study these ideas in detail as the virtual world lays the ground for our understanding of the Metaverse.

The Classical Perception of the Metaverse

Before it became the supposed future of human interaction, the Metaverse was a concept frequently adopted by science fiction writers. A lot of the ideas they discussed concerning the Metaverse aimed to distance it from the virtual world. The Metaverse was believed to be more than just virtual reality. For them, the Metaverse was something much bigger that could only be accessed using virtual reality tools.
Some of the most imaginative minds in the world have tried to tackle the Metaverse and make sense of what it represents. What they have come up with discusses a world that is built upon certain rules and is automated to follow certain patterns, just like virtual worlds. However, at its core, the Metaverse offers a world that enables users, or ‘avatars’, to interact with a lot more than just what the game developers have put there. In the Metaverse, anyone with an avatar can be a part of the ‘society’ that lives there and be a part of its economy.
Thinkers such as JB Grasset have noted the Metaverse to be a social network based on gaming, while others have characterized it as having infinite space. Think of Minecraft, but with much more to do than raising sheep and mine for stones during the day.
Perhaps the aptest definition for the Metaverse could be “a mass delusion”, which is attributed to Lucas Rizotto. Still, what all of these definitions fail to answer is how the Metaverse will be developed and launched. Several books, such as Snow Crash (1992), speculate that the Metaverse will be a virtual world created by a single corporation in full control of whatever happens inside it, while the people participating will have to fulfill certain tasks to gain certain credit. Others have suggested a virtual world crafted by multiple organizations giving people the ability to grow the world they log onto and participate in its expansion.
While certain corporations have attempted to follow up on these ideas by developing a virtual world stored on several land-based servers, the lack of VR technology has long proved a hindrance. With the technology becoming more readily available in the past few years, interest has been growing and a new attempt at bringing the Metaverse to people come about shortly.
One key question that pops up in nearly every recent discussion of the Metaverse is exactly how it is going to be developed. Many believe that the Metaverse will essentially be a bunch of virtual worlds bundled together, allowing people to ‘jump’ from one to the other.
This concept, known as ‘myriad of software’, is not new. We already experience it every single day through the internet. The internet allows us to interact with numerous applications at any time with the ability to cycle through them. So, according to that, the Metaverse should not be dissimilar to the internet.
However, Tom Allen posits that the Metaverse should be an “exponentially growing virtual universe”. That takes the idea of the multiverse quite far away from the internet, which we know is not exponentially growing but limited to the resources provided to it.
Hence, the scope of the Metaverse remains undefined or even unknown. While it is expected to be based on the internet, it seems to be theoretically far more expansive than what the internet can handle.

Is the Metaverse Here?

If the Metaverse means multiple virtual worlds with next to no link or interoperability then such a Metaverse already exists. For many, it represents a future where multiple digital worlds will exist with the possibility of life in them all. That may well be within reach.
However, a Metaverse demands some sort of order or connection that keeps all the different realities active and working in synchronization. There is currently no architecture in place to enable such a connection, nor is access to the Metaverse easily available. Ease of access is essential for the Metaverse since people cannot link beyond physical distances without it. As things stand, the Metaverse – or even the virtual world is not accessible from regular phones or even high-end desktop computers. Special gear needs to be purchased and connected to powerful devices for the virtual world to be accessible.
While the Metaverse may not be here in the form that many have expected, researchers do have a better understanding of it. The IEEE definition of the Metaverse has been widely accepted and expanded upon – or even shortened – by many researchers. A Wikipedia summation of what the Metaverse means turns out to be:
“A collection virtual shared space, created by the convergence of virtually enhanced physical reality and physically persistent virtual space, including the sum of all virtual worlds, augmented reality, and the Internet … typically used to describe the concept of a future iteration of the internet, made up of persistent, shared, 3D virtual spaces linked into a perceived virtual universe”
This easy-to-understand look at the Metaverse matches with what scientists have come up with. The Metaverse, from what we know of it now, will be an amalgamation of AR, VR, and the internet, which will offer an advanced model of the connection than what we currently have.
But, the key thing to notice here is that we still have a limited understanding of the Metaverse. The actual thing, if it ever comes about, may be quite different from what the scientists and writers quoted in this article have suggested. As we discussed earlier, we are not that close to making the Metaverse a reality, mostly due to the lack of tools and the constraints of the internet.
When the Metaverse does launch, it may simply offer the same features that we find on the internet today. However, it will do so in a far more immersive manner, allowing us to “physically” exist in a virtual world with 3-D rendered images just chatting with our friends.