Metaverse: towards the end of consequences?

Illustration par Paul Tansley

Will the metaverse mark the end of consequences? This question may seem as it comes out of nowhere, but it rather aims to highlight a phenomenon that has been gaining momentum over the past fifteen years: the agony of hope and optimism in our reality. Faced with multiple social, environmental and economic crises, it is becoming increasingly difficult to imagine a happy and optimistic future. First of all because the solutions do not seem to exist yet, and above all because many whistleblowers regularly remind us that our civilization is approaching its expiration date. In this context, the metaverse can be seen as a sociological consequence of a society that has lost faith in reality, and wishes to express its desires and frustrations without the limitations of reality.

The end of hope…

In 2001, according to an annual New York Times poll, more than 71% of young Americans believed that they would have a better future than the previous generation. But since the suppression crisis in 2008, and the repeated alerts on environmental, social and economic emergencies, this figure has only decreased. While in January 2008, the figure was still standing at 66%, it had dropped to 44% in 2011. And in 2014, only 29% believed in a better future than that of their parents, and 33% in 2016.

Sondage IPSOS MORI dans The Guardian, 2014

To the point of having fallen to 27% in 2019 according to the Wall Street Journal. Since then, we have had the global pandemic of covid-19, the alarming report of the IPCC, the war in Ukraine, and the progressive radicalization of all populations in the world… In 2022, the World Economic Forum tries to relativize these studies by explaining that the new generations will generally live in better material comfort, but will indeed face difficulties likely to profoundly affect their mental health… Not really enough to restore hope! Faced with a world that is thought to offer so few prospects, it is only natural to want to escape to worlds offering more hope, even if those are so artificial and ephemeral.

Disney

The global economic and social crisis of 2008 marked a sadly critical turning point in the way we collectively envision our future. And as such, I think for example that the insane success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) since 2008 owes a lot to this trend. Marvel offers us super heroes who find meaning in their lives by fighting for what is right, against villains who want to either enslave or destroy humanity (Hydra, Loki, Ultron, Thanos). But this scriptwriting tool alone would not have been enough to make the MCU the global success it is today.

And the end of the consequences…

Gradually, the MCU has also incorporated a very dangerous fundamental principle: nothing has consequences. Bad guys aren’t really bad guys, good guys who get mad eventually get better, and heroes who die eventually come back. On this last point, we can take the example of Loki, the brother of Thor, killed by Thanos in our reality, but living in multiple other realities of the multiverse. Loki, even dead in our reality, had his series, allowing to explain how we will be able to find him again in the next films.

Another example is the Infinity Stones, which resurrect the billions of living beings killed a few years earlier by the villainous Thanos. By creating stories where the good wins, and the consequences can be undone, the MCU finds a very special resonance in the unconscious of a large part of the population. Obviously, the MCU offers storylines that are a little more complex than these few lines, and some of the actions have consequences, but just enough to create an emotional attachment to the characters, and not enough so that this reality does not resemble that in which we live. The Infinity Stones, Multiverse, and God Powers are the end of irremediable consequences.

Rick and Morty burying their dimensional doubles to take their place

With a little more cynicism, we could take the example of the animated series Rick and Morty, which shows that nothing matters. In this post-nihilistic series, Rick, an eccentric old genius, travels through space, time and realities to live incredible adventures with his grandson, Morty. Beyond the adventures, we quickly learn that there is an infinity of Rick and Morty, and that the Rick followed in the series had the opportunity to see many others die, as well as his family in his dimension. original. Bored and reliving the same dramas over and over again, he has given up hope for a better future, contenting himself with preserving by all possible abuses the balance he once knew.

In Rick and Morty, you don’t need metaverses to explore the risk of running away from reality. We can nevertheless underline the excellent episode Mortynight Run (season 2, episode 2), in which we see Morty playing a game in virtual reality, which makes him live a whole life from birth to death, whereas in the reality only a few seconds pass. In addition to this episode, the series plays with alternative realities like so many virtual realities in the service of the main characters. At the risk that nothing else matters…

Multiverse and metaverse, same issues

And that would be giving very little credit to the states and organizations for which you represent their future. In these metaverses, you will be a user who provides valuable data, a consumer who spends real money, a citizen who continues to have the right to vote in the real world. Any actions you take in these virtual worlds will likely diminish your freedom of choice and action in the real world. Science fiction shows striking examples of this in Westworld, Minority Report or more recently in The Feed.

There are so many examples to make you think about the ethical issues of web 3 and the metaverse, and this will probably be a topic for the next article. In the meantime, it seems useful to me to mention at least the Upload series, which arrived in 2020 on Amazon Prime Video. In Upload, it is possible to transfer one’s consciousness into a metaverse just before dying. Depending on the amounts invested, the deceased can live in a more or less luxurious virtual reality, and receive visits from their relatives still alive. Above all, the rich and powerful whose lives have ended continue to run their empires from this five-star afterlife.

Amazon Prime Video

With this narrative framework alone, we understand the risk of ethical drifts that the metaverse can cause: selection by money, and above all the end of the consequences of death itself. To go even further in the use of the concept of life after death, the series even explores the possibility of using the metaverse as a kind of waiting room for the deceased, the time to re-implant consciousnesses into new bodies. With a good dose of humor, the series shows us how fervent defenders of transhumanism and ultra-liberalism could use the metaverse for their own interests.

The end of death itself?

Above all, the end of death can really be considered the end of the meaning of existence for humanity. If there is no end, then what is the purpose of existence? If the established orders can last forever because the powerful no longer die, then the masses find themselves in eternal torment, condemned to serve immortal and all-powerful masters. Of course, it will take decades, if not centuries, for such a scenario to become a potential reality, but I believe that the choices we collectively make today determine the world we live in tomorrow. Also, it is important not to give up on our future.

So yes, in a time when hope is drying up in the real world, there is a real possibility that the metaverse represents the fantasy of a world without consequences, where nothing matters. The metaverse can concentrate the worst of what makes humanity, but can also help bring out the best, if enough effort is invested in thinking about the appropriate framework. Both escape and stress relief, would such a world become a source of optimism and renewal, or the symbol of the outlet for all violence and frustration? In science fiction, the cyberpunk genre has had its way for nearly 40 years. But the metaverse is being built right now, and nothing is a foregone conclusion. So it is high time to preach for a virtuous framework, where the end of consequences does not mean the abandonment of hope and reality. As Sarah Connor reminds us in Terminator 2: “No Fate”. There is no fatality, we can build the future.

Building the future

People often ask me why the metaverse is really developing today, when attempts have been made for 20 years with Second Life, Minecraft and other virtual environments. I sincerely believe that technological maturity is only part of the answer. I think that our society has profoundly evolved in its relationship to the future over the past decade, and that this dwindling of hope and optimism has a profound impact on the choices we make on a daily basis to build or not our future. So to avoid disillusionment and vicious circles, let’s ask the questions now that will make metaverses desirable places and bearers of lasting hope for the real world.

In the Metaverse, should we be able to kill other individuals? Should we be able to vandalize other people’s property? Should we follow the laws of physics, or even the laws of society? Should we be able to be whoever we want, without thinking about the consequences? Is it acceptable for the metaverse to appropriate the energetic, material and intellectual resources of the real world? Can we accept the fact that our virtual heritage has more value tomorrow than our real heritage? Can we accept the fact that the metaverse profoundly modifies our conception of the consequences of our actions? Is it better to express your frustrations and violence in a virtual world or in the real world?

And on the other hand, should those who exploit our use of the metaverse be able to do so with impunity? What will be the limits of capitalism, politics or even religion in these new worlds? Who will have the freedom to choose their immersion in the metaverse, and who will suffer it?

The questions may not be perfect, but wait before judging too quickly, because the company’s answers to these questions might just give you cold sweats. There is a strong chance that what is being prepared will not be very glorious, either benevolent and conditioning, or chaotic and destructuring. In any case, today it is difficult to imagine how the metaverse will be a source of fulfillment and elevation of humanity towards a higher level of consciousness. Because basically, the real glimmer of hope for our humanity lies in the slightly crazy dream that we will collectively be a little more respectful of everything in the future…

I hope you enjoyed this new article related to the metaverse. The ethical aspect will take more and more space in the next phase of my approach to the metaverse and web 3, and I am currently preparing a feature article for you on the ethical principles to be taken into account for a metaverse that is socially, economically and environmentally acceptable.

If the concept of metaverse is still vague for you, I invite you to subscribe to my dedicated Linkedin newsletter, and to read the following articles that I have written on the subject:

Those are in French, so don’t hesitate to Google translate if needed:

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