Creativity in the Metaverse

Creativity in the Metaverse

The Metaverse. That thing everybody has heard of, and yet very few truly understand (myself included). It was already becoming a buzzword before Facebook renamed itself Meta, but now the term has reached a new level of ubiquity, filling the technology section in almost every publication and news website. People are eager to know what it means, when it’s happening, and what it’s going to look like. For some, watching Mark Zuckerberg enthusiastically controlling his doppelganger avatar during the company’s recent grand unveiling evoked uncanny feelings. It appeared to them like a tech-dominated dystopia, where humans cease to engage with the real world, and instead live out their fantasies vicariously through their virtual selves. For others, it marked the start of something truly exciting, truly groundbreaking. A giant leap for mankind that will open doors to so many possibilities, to worlds untapped and completely unimaginable until only recently. After all, the first virtual reality headset was invented in 1968, but even at the dawn of the century an entirely virtual world, developed enough to spend long periods of time within, seemed far flung.

And to a certain extent, it still is. Facebook may have popularised the Metaverse with its monumental rebranding, and its headline-grabbing vision for the future, but this digital world, in a fully realised and functional state, remains for the most part a distant prospect. However, this doesn’t mean that we can’t start to make relatively informed guesses about what it will look like and how it will work. Over the last year or so there have been several key moments that have revealed rough blueprints for the space, hinting at the kinds of experiences and engagements we can expect further down the line. Arguably, the most tangible of all these moments was when Fortnite and Roblox – the former a Battle Royale style video game and the latter an online game creation platform – announced in 2020 that they would be hosting concerts with popular American rappers Travis Scott (Fortnite) and Lil Nas X (Roblox). These concerts were first-of-their-kind live events, attended by millions of players in-game who were able to witness the artists perform for them via gigantic lookalike avatars. They roamed around their respective digital stages, dancing and singing as players navigated their own characters alongside them, listening to their favourite tracks, as well as new songs released exclusively during the concerts.

These shows were considered the first “mainstream” glimpses of the Metaverse. A tantalising taste of what is to come, and how these virtual worlds, which for so long have been reserved purely for gaming, can eventually offer an alternate reality – one populated by gamers and non-gamers alike, who will attend events, socialise, or just explore these vast unknown spaces on a daily basis, much like how one might venture out into town to meet a friend or see a show. And that is, in very basic terms, what the Metaverse will likely offer. But it still leaves us with many questions, and for those working in visual disciplines, it poses several possible dilemmas about our positions in this new world, such as: Who will get to decide what the Metaverse will look like, and what are their plans for it? How will forward-facing professions like those in AR and VR contribute to the ways in which will we interact with it? And how will older, more analogue-based practices such as photography translate to an entirely digital context?

To attempt to shed some light on these issues, It’s Nice That has spoken with three key players in the scene: Annie Zhang, a senior product manager at Roblox and the founder of the Hello Metaverse podcast; Vivian Galinari, a technical artist and AR content creator at Meta; and Assembly, a photography-focused gallery, agency and creative studio that has been making waves in the NFT space.

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