The word "Metaverse" has become a strong current these days especially during the COVID era, as more people seek online social connections. The term metaverse is a compound of the two words which are; 'meta' that stands for transcendence and the world, and 'universe'. Since the metaverse is constantly evolving from time to time, it is hard to make an exact definition of what metaverse is. This term itself may seem new, but metaverse is something that people living in the 21st century have always been familiar with.
ASF (Acceleration Studies Foundation), an international foundation of scholars studying revolutionary systems classified metaverse into four sectors: augmented reality, lifelogging, mirror worlds, and virtual worlds.
'Lifelogging' sector may be the most familiar category of metaverse to those who are used to posting their daily lives via Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or any other forms of social network services. Some may doubt why lifelogging is considered a revolution, but lifelogging has created an entirely different form of social networking. The most significant characteristic of lifelogging is the 'controllability' of one's network. In real life, when we struggle with people and have conflicts, it takes time and effort to resolve the tension between the two. Even though you want to cut out the person you detest, you have to contemplate what to say and make an effort to do so. On the contrary, in the lifelogging universe, all you have to do is to click a button called 'unfollow', or you can even restrict them from visiting your page. This enables redefining the concept of a 'friend' in an online space. Ties between people could be easily connected or severed. In this regard, some consider lifelogging services such as SNS to be a waste of time and there are numerous quotes from celebrities explaining how SNS could ruin one's life. However, there are some positive perspectives as well. You unintentionally learn from various people that, in real life, you can never have a connection with.
'Mirror world' refers to services that copy the structure and information of the real world into the online universe. In this way, it increases efficiency and enables people to reach out further. A good example of the mirror world could be Google Map, which captures the streets and landscapes of the real world and displays them to people through websites and applications. Even though people do not visit the place, they could simply tap their destination and find their way through this online platform. Another familiar example could be '배달의 민족', a Korean delivery application that allows people to make an order online without visiting the actual real-world restaurant. To make it simple, the mirror world is the reflection of the real world with more efficiency and expansion. Mirror World has a variety of usage from education, transportation, banking, cultural content, and so on.
Augmented reality and virtual reality are the most recent of the four metaverse categories. To make a distinction between the two, augmented reality refers to the combination between the real environment and graphics that cover reality, whereas virtual reality is, simply put, a new open world. The combination of the two is called MR(Mixed Reality) where the line between the real world and virtual reality is invisible, where people could freely interact with AR objects in real life (you could think of Tony Stark in the movie Iron man freely controlling and interacting with graphics in the real environment). XR(Extended Reality) is a term that includes all of these three (AR, VR, and MR).
To understand augmented reality, it is the same as putting a camera filter while you take a picture of yourself. The most commonly known game that implemented AR technology is 'POKEMON GO', a game where players could roam around the real environment and track POKEMONS while paying attention to their cell phone. However, augmented reality is an effective tool in the business sector as well. A famous furniture corporation, IKEA, adopted a system that displays how the furniture would fit in their clients' room by overlaying the graphics of the furniture into clients' rooms. This marketing strategy increases the possibility of customers making purchases as they could have a strong belief that the furniture will fit into their rooms. Moreover, factories are also utilizing augmented reality to increase the efficiency of their work. To illustrate, 'Airbus', a European aircraft company implemented a system called 'MIRA', which is an augmented reality system that provides all the information of the aircraft undergoing construction in 3D graphics. If workers place their camera on aircraft, the system shows the structure, possibility of malfunctioning, and so on. This way, Airbus was able to significantly decrease their time of production from 3 weeks to 3 days. Implementing AR in factories drastically increases productivity, so nowadays many firms are adopting AR in their production line.
Finally, virtual reality is a whole different world made out of graphics that hands in exclusive experiences to people. It is an open online world where people could roam around and interact with others by one's avatar that could replace oneself. Virtual reality is not a completely new trend in the game industry, especially in online MMORPG(massive multi-player online role-playing game) games. The open online world was introduced in various online games such as Minecraft, World of Warcraft (WoW), Battlegrounds, and so on. Players interact with each other in a completely new field. In Minecraft, players could create diverse constructions freely and could even invite other players to their place. In Korea, as a means to celebrate Children's Day, since it became impossible to hold a ceremony in the Blue House due to pandemics, the Blue House opened a Minecraft version of Blue House to invite children. Since Minecraft is a popular game among children, many children had the chance to visit this virtual blue house with their avatar. A similar example could be president Joe Biden exercising an election campaign in a Nintendo game called 'Animal Crossing' by designing a house that resembles his actual office and opening it to anyone playing Animal Crossing. These are examples of virtual reality that most people are familiar with. However, recently, virtual reality is taking more steps. 'Half-life Alyx' is a VR game that requires players to wear VR gear for playing. What is special about this game is that players could interact with objects in virtual reality by grabbing or throwing them. They could run, or walk around the map, and could even feel the weight of the objects they are touching. This type of VR game is what nowadays many game companies are making efforts to design one.
Metaverse offers diverse experiences to people that they cannot experience in the real world. Though there are many concerns about metaverse such as addiction, losing social skills, and lots of health issues, it is an undeniable fact that researching and developing the categories of metaverse will surely improve our quality of life.