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What is the Metaverse? Everything you need to know about virtual reality

From blockchain and NFTs to digital wallets, here’s your guide to the new age of the internet

Written by
Time Out editors
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Righty, the Metaverse. You’ve almost certainly heard the word flying around. It – along with similarly baffling-sounding things like Web3, crypto, NFT, blockchain – is all the rage right now. And depending on who you listen to, it might be the future of things like art, entertainment and even education.

It all sounds very exciting, but what exactly is the Metaverse? Well, here are a few pointers, for yer average person. At the bottom we’ve attached a handy glossary to decrypt some crypto mumbo jumbo, so if you’re feeling a bit lost, be sure to check that, too. 

What does ‘Metaverse’ mean?

If you’re thinking that the Metaverse sounds like something out of sci-fi, well, you’re not far off. The Metaverse was initially coined by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 science fiction novel Snow Crash.

These days, however, the Metaverse has taken on a new meaning. It’s best thought of as an immersive, virtual world or a network of three-dimensional virtual worlds. The Metaverse is a place where the real world meets the virtual – in other words, it’s both synthetic and somewhere users can interact in real time. It often makes use of things like virtual reality and augmented reality.

If the Metaverse sounds very, very broad, that’s because it is. It’s a vast term that applies to a huge range of things – a bit like the ‘internet’. And that’s exactly why it’s so exciting: the potential is enormous.

On a side note, while Meta, the new company name for Facebook, Instagram and so on, does have its own Metaverse (called ‘Horizon’) it certainly ain’t the only one. There are plenty of other Metaverses – more on that later. 

How do I access the Metaverse?

Well, that all depends on which bit of the Metaverse you want to dive into. Subscribe to different platforms and you’ll need different bits of kit. There’s a chance that all you’ll need is a smartphone and a web browser, but certain Metaverse worlds could require a laptop, a desktop, game consoles or even headsets geared towards virtual or augmented reality experiences.

What will I be able to do in the Metaverse?  

In short, pretty much anything. Build a customised city? Meet your mates? Design schtuff? You’ll be able to do all that in an immersive world, plus do things like buy virtual property, trade virtual currencies and even learn skills and knowledge that’ll be useful in the real, non-Metaverse world.   

Is it safe to be in the Metaverse?

Physically, yes, the Metaverse is completely safe – unless, that is, you spend too much time in it and get unfit or something.

However, it should be added that there have been several accusations of users being virtually sexual harassed and assaulted in Horizon, Meta’s own Metaverse platform. While Metaverse platforms are physically safe, there can be real-life psychological consequences to stuff that happens in a virtual world. 

What is an NFT?

The letters alone stand for ‘non-fungible token’, which, we know, probably leaves you none the wiser. So let’s break it down.

Something that is fungible is replaceable by something else that is essentially the same, like money. Something that is non-fungible therefore, is unique and the only thing of its kind, either in the real or virtual world. Right, so, on a very basic level, an NFT is a kind of unique token.

NFTs as you hear ‘em discussed in the tech world today are built using blockchain, which is very complicated in its details but essentially means that NFTs are nearly impossible to replicate and that they’re digitally recorded and tracked in a highly detailed and secure way. 

An NFT itself can take the form of pretty much anything – you’ve probs seen them most as pieces of digital art, but they can also be things like music, tickets or property in the metaverse. 

What is Metropolis and how does Time Out fit in?

Metropolis is a universe in the Metaverse. Its founders describe it as ‘a 360-degree curated universe that blends unique properties, e-commerce, gaming, art and experiences that span both the digital and physical worlds’. Metropolis will ultimately consist of six vast cities, each packed with curated buildings and experiences. It’s all accessible here.

So what does Time Out, trend-setter for arts, culture and things to do all around the non-virtual world, have to do with all this? Well, that’s why we’re so pumped: Metropolis is where we’re first dipping our toes into the Metaverse.

There’s a city in Metropolis called Celeste: take a look around and you’ll find a building called Time Out House. You can find out all about that here

Do I need a passport?

Not necessarily. Anyone can get into Metropolis just for a snoop around, but to get even more out of the experience you’ll need a special passport. That passport will enable you to explore more bits of the universe – and once you’re in, you’ll be able to attend events and experiences, build, create, buy and trade stuff. Metropolis passports come in the form of NFTs. 

Are there any risks involved in joining the Metaverse?

As a spectator, there aren’t many risks involved in getting to grips with the Metaverse. However, when it comes to spending real money on crypto assets and NFTs, make sure you’re aware of the disclaimer below.

Glossary

Bitcoin – the OG cryptocurrency, Bitcoin has been a thing since all the way back in 2009. For more on cryptocurrencies, see ‘crypto’.

Blockchain – in its barest terms, a database that records every cryptocurrency interaction. Every bit of crypto ever bought and sold is recorded using blockchain tech which, because of the way storage of the data is decentralised – ie. spread across several computers – is remarkably secure. Find the Bank of England’s official – and very informative – short video about all this here.  

Crypto – short for ‘cryptocurrency’, which is any kind of digital or virtual currency that isn’t managed by a central authority. It’s designed to be used over the web and is usually upheld and secured using blockchain technology. Examples of cryptocurrencies include Bitcoin and Ether.

Metaverse – an interconnected network of three-dimensional virtual worlds that blend live interactions with virtual and augmented realities.

Metropolis – a universe within the Metaverse.

NFT – a non-fungible token, see a fuller description above. A kind of unique, blockchain-recorded virtual asset. 

Web3 – the future, baby! Web3 is essentially an idea for a new era for the internet. It differs from Web1 (the dinosaur age of the internet, AKA, the early 1990s) and Web2 (the current age) in that it uses stuff like blockchain technologies and says it is attempting to take data and content away from big, powerful tech companies.  

Ethereum – a kind of blockchain. Ethereum’s cryptocurrency is called Ether.

Digital Wallet – like a normal wallet, but on the web. This can contain not only your normal bank account cards (for use with electronic payments like contactless, etc) but also cryptocurrency.

Disclaimer: Cryptoassets are unregulated in the UK and are not protected by financial compensation schemes. The value of cryptoasset investments may go down as well as up, and profits may be subject to capital gains tax. The information provided on this website does not constitute investment advice, financial advice, trading advice, or any other sort of advice and you should not treat any of the website's content as such. Please conduct your own due diligence and consult your financial advisor before making any investment decisions.

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