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An 8-year-old boy explains the metaverse

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Anyone who plays Roblox, or any other hugely popular online game, already feels at home as they trade the flat world for something more immersive.

Like many people, I have had a hard time understanding the metaverse ever since Mark Zuckerberg took the action of colonizing it when he recently rebranded his company from Facebook to Meta.

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After several days of reading verbose descriptions of this mysterious tech-kingdom as “an incarnation of the internet, where instead of just seeing content, you are inside it” as Zuckerberg himself mentioned, I decided to turn to someone who lives it every day: my 8-year-old son, Anton, thanks to his obsession with the Roblox video game platform.

Anton and most of his third grade friends in Brooklyn are proud members of the gigantic community of 43 million daily active Roblox users, a population that has multiplied rapidly during the pandemic. (Roblox’s daily user base grew 82 percent in the first nine months of 2020 alone).

Roblox’s influence is such that when he and his friends suffered a three-day outage on Halloween weekend, it was like his own version of the Cuban missile crisis.

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What is the metaverse, the new digital universe that will transform our online experiences

Confused and anxious, they exchanged rumors of a sneak attack by a mysterious hacking collective. “But don’t put his name on the line,” Anton warned me. “You know what happens when hackers get mad.” (Roblox later clarified that the system was only saturated.)

Anyone who plays Roblox, or any other hugely popular online game like “Minecraft” or “Fortnite”, you already feel at home as you trade the flat world of websites and social media for something more immersive. Our embrace of augmented and virtual realities will supposedly guide our computerized avatars, who are almost us, through an endless array of digital dream places apparently created by Pixar (or Zuckerberg) to work, shop, travel, spending time with friends and (I imagine) later flirting.

As I was already feeling completely out of the loop, I recently asked Anton to take me with him to his digital Neverland. Settled with my iPhone on our living room couch, Anton managed to distill the essence of this place, as competently as any venture capitalist driving a Tesla down Sand Hill Road.

“You have the opportunity to enter a different world,” said Anton, shortly before we shed our analog bodies to vanish like in the movie “Tron” in pixels. “I mean, I don’t you do. But i know feel as if you did ”.

But where do we land? Roblox contains millions of RPGs from independent developers.

Of course, there are games that children should not play, including “Jailbreak”, the very popular role-playing game in which, for those who choose the criminal path, the “role” is to escape from prison and the “game” is to orchestrate. robberies. Parents are also very concerned about the many Roblox versions of “The Squid Game,” based on the hyper-violent Netflix series.

However, Anton did log on to “Bloxburg”, a game that simulates everyday existence in which his virtual life seems … a bit mundane. Your not-so-exciting virtual metropolis looks like any city in the United States, as if it was rendered in AutoCAD, and your life there is not much different from that of any adult in real life who has to clock in. job.

Still, he looked very excited to move his Lego-like avatar (with muscles that would turn John Cena green with envy, thanks to, he said, another Roblox game, “Weight Lifting Simulator”) to a job at a location. called Pizza Planet.

His work shift lasted only a few minutes, thanks to Roblox’s compressed timescale, but his avatar kept busy stuffing pizzas into an industrial-sized oven in a space-age restaurant that was apparently automated enough for him to operate. cooking for yourself. (I hope this isn’t a glimpse into Anton’s real future in a robot-dominated workplace.)

He was very excited to win enough Blocksbux (a virtual in-game currency that can be purchased with Roblox’s kingdom currency, Robux) to furnish his modest yellow ranch house with a “Happy Days” jukebox planted, curiously, on the floor. backyard, next to a boxing bag and a hammock. It was clear that he enjoyed life there. “You make your own rules,” he mentioned. “You can ride a motorcycle, own a house, throw a party. At 8 years old, you can get a job ”.

“Bloxburg” has a nightlife, apparently. On one visit, we came to a party in a house that looked like a hangar decorated like a wing of the Museum of Modern Art in New York but with furniture out of an old Sears catalog.

The guests, of course, were totally square, since they too were Roblox avatars with bodies made of blocks. No one seemed to know any other person or interact. However, based on their frozen smiles, it appears that they enjoyed trotting from room to room with the abnormal gait of a defensive football player in order to do nothing in particular. No one seemed to notice when Anton’s avatar stepped behind the drums and played it like Lars Ulrich.

But if I wanted to go to awkward parties, I can do it in real life. I wanted a bigger glimpse of our supposedly fantastic future in the metaverse, so we logged into “Adopt me!” A game with graphics of a world of treats, where users collect and care for pets, some common and some mythical, that hatched from eggs. “I just got offered a soft kitten,” Anton commented moments after connecting. “A) Yes from ‘kid-friendly’ is ”.

Without going too far, the game seemed to offer enough emphasis on early childhood development and affordable health care (you get paid to take your pet to the hospital, Anton told me) to satisfy any progressive social democrat.

However, at a deeper level, the game had strategies and greed on a level like that of the series “Succession”. As in the Zuckerberg metaverse, much of the good is for sale, in this case in-game virtual currency, which Anton explained to me can be earned by completing in-game activities or with real money, which is sometimes given to me. give parents. (Last year, a 6-year-old boy who loves Roblox and who lives in Australia accumulated purchases for $ 8,000 charged to his parents’ bank account.) The real goal is not to win or lose, but to covet and acquire.

The Mercantile spirit seemed exciting and exhausting. Also, it got me thinking about the negative comments from experts from the past week who have expressed horror that the metaverse will result in a technology that covers everything in a suffocating way, isolating humans from each other and from the sensory pleasures of the real life.

I had the opposite fear. Anton’s metaverse seemed to pull his generation out of a wide-eyed digital universe of Nintendo and “Moana: A Sea of ​​Adventures” toward a digital life too real where they are learning hard lessons that I was protected from until my twenties.

Anton already aspires to become a Zuckerberg-sized entrepreneur (or maybe a new Travis Barker). As he put it: “One minute you get scammed and the next you’re having the best time of your life making billions of dollars.” (I)

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