Move over self-actualization. Self-virtualization is what humanity is currently striving for. Well, in the digital space at least. While finding yourself in the real world may be a lot more complicated than eating, praying and loving, finding (or creating) yourself in the metaverse is a lot easier. With digital avatars that let you explore cyberspace like never before, your online world is about to get a lot more interactive.
Before we discuss digital avatars, let’s try to wrap our heads around what the metaverse is. Not unlike how the universe boggles the minds of mere mortals, the metaverse is a head scratcher for many of us. The metaverse is kind of like the video game version of the world as we know it or imagine it to be. It’s like a more immersive version of the Sims where you don’t have to worry about potty training yourself. If that didn’t sound like a good explanation, it’s because it probably wasn’t.
The metaverse is still being developed, so it is quite hard to define what it is. We can still try though.
To put it simply, it’s a virtual version of the world. To put it less simply, the metaverse is a digital simulation of the world that is facilitated by virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and the blockchain.
Now that we’ve kind of got that covered, let’s talk digital avatars. Most of us have used them in video games. Fortnite, Roblox, the Sims and several other games allow players to play God and surgeon and decide how they look by customizing their own digital avatars. Gone are the days when you have to look like Mario for the entirety of a game. Now, you can design your avatar to look like yourself or anyone else for that matter. And it doesn’t stop there. You can dress your avatar the way you want to, and the choices are endless.
Digital fashion is kind of a thing now. Brands most of us can’t afford in the real world are now becoming brands we probably cannot afford online. Gucci has released wearables for virtual avatars on games like the Sims and Roblox. Balanciaga released its Fall 2021 collection on the video game Afterworld: The Age of Tomorrow. Many brands are cashing in on the metaverse by selling apparel and other in-game purchases as NFTs. So, now your avatar can sashay in the metaverse dressed head to toe in Gucci while the real you eats chips in sweatpants in the real world.
You can also buy homes, weapons, you-name-it, for your precious little avatar. It may sound like digital avatars are a means to fulfil materialistic desires which you cannot in the real world. But it goes deeper than that.
According to a study by Razorfish, 52% of Gen Z gamers feel more like themselves in the metaverse than they do in real life. The same study found that those who participated in the metaverse were six times more likely to be introverts than extroverts, and 40% of the respondents also reported feeling more confident in their digital avatars.
So, is the metaverse a place for our true personalities to shine without worrying about how we look (or even smell)? Are digital avatars in the metaverse Stanley Ipkiss with the mask on or Clark Kent without his glasses? Well, maybe. The kind of anonymity and freedom that the metaverse affords may just loosen up those who are more self-conscious in the real world.
Think about it. You can be whoever or whatever you want, go where you want to and meet digital avatars of people you may never meet in the real world. It’s like a fresh start any time of the day (which in the metaverse is equal to 30 real-world minutes).
Being in the metaverse is certainly a surreal experience. It blurs the lines between the real and the virtual world (if you’ve ever looked at the real world while wearing a VR headset, this is quite a literal statement). So, it is quite ironic that this bizarre hybrid of virtual and real makes so many people feel at ease. And this is one of the greatest perks of the metaverse.
The interactive world allows you to meet new people without the fear of stranger danger.
It’s also easy to see why someone who is uncomfortable in their skin (not the Fortnite kind) may express themselves better in their digital avatar. This is probably why the respondents in the study revealed that they spent twice as much time with virtual friends than they did with real friends.
Some people worry that the metaverse may have adverse effects on both physical and mental health. However, 77% of Gen Z gamers feel that time spent in the metaverse helps relieve stress and anxiety. Yes, children need fresh air and not just a hyperreal visual of a park. But, if the pandemic has taught us anything, fresh air comes at a price, and unsurprisingly, many have taken to the metaverse to escape from its perils (real people are scary).
Apart from feeling more like themselves and expressing themselves more freely to others in the metaverse, Gen Z gamers also look to this brave new world for career opportunities. The metaverse (just like the universe) is expanding constantly, and opportunities do appear to be endless. But the existential dread of the whole thing overshadows the bright side of the metaverse for many, especially those who are older (looking at you, grandma).
The pros and cons of the metaverse are heavily debated. The metaverse may be this big scary world that’s threatening the very basis of reality, or it’s this fantastic new world where we can do things we never dreamed we could. But it all depends on the way you see things. Because at the end of the day, whether 24 hours or 30 minutes, in a human body or a digital avatar, you are in control.