The “metaverse” – broadly defined as an always online and persistent virtual spatial world – has recently gained worldwide attention with Mark Zuckerberg’s claim with rebranding from Facebook to Meta. However, the idea of a metaverse is not new and over the past few years commentators and sectors of industry and society have increasingly told us that the metaverse “will change everything.” But what might this change look like for artists and their cultural institutions? How and why should they engage in the construction of the metaverse? And for whose benefit?
Since March 2020, repeated blockages and restrictions on the physical experience resulting from Covid-19 have forced cultural organizations to increasingly look to the digital space as the primary space for communicating and presenting art to the public. . Yet competing for online audiences with Netflix, 24-hour news, Reddit, and AAA games has proven to be a huge challenge.
The “metaverse” is a term coined by Neal Stephenson in the novel Snow accident in 1992 which describes the predominantly dystopian potential of the pervasive web. While the lockdowns presented a somewhat extreme (and therefore distorted) scenario of almost total reliance on digital platforms and spaces for social interaction and cultural experiences, they acted as a catalyst to accelerate development and awareness. from the public to the metaverse and have changed the understanding of what ‘digital’ is, and as a result, it is no longer possible to talk about physical and digital as separate fields. It is important to add here that we are not talking about no virtual reality or augmented reality glasses, but the planetary infrastructure project that is the future of the Internet.
It is this significant shift that could be seen as one of the biggest challenges for all cultural institutions in terms of their role as public interest organizations, as they consider their digital strategies after the pandemic. It seems clear that current methods, mainly based on digital amplification and the construction of physical space, whether by attracting people to physical spaces or understanding ‘digital’ as a set of tools, do not. are more sufficient and what is needed is a deeper shift in thinking, planning and investing in emerging technological spaces if they are to represent and meet the needs and interests of their audiences.
Currently, the most sophisticated advanced virtual environments are found in video games, ranging from niche indie titles to massively multiplayer online worlds (MMOs), as well as any other virtual experience built with gaming technologies. greater integration of video game infrastructure and experiences into all spheres of life means that advanced virtual environments are not closed worlds with their own rules; on the contrary, their logics permeate and interweave with all aspects of social, cultural and economic interaction, whether online or offline.
So what could the metaverse mean for art and its audience?
The digitization of collections could be extended to allow them to have their own parallel digital life. The boundaries of digitally produced ‘objects’ are much smoother, not only in terms of the possibility of multiple and scalable iterations, but also in terms of how these objects transform in different contexts, allowing audiences to get started. in a unique journey of discovery and interaction, as is evident in game worlds, where moving around an environment allows one to become familiar with its various objects and structures from several angles.
Thus, the metaverse could increase the opportunities for interaction with the public around a project, exhibition or collection, creating dedicated communities and creating experiences that can be framed by virtual worlds and s ‘extend beyond. Advanced virtual environments are discoverable and layered living spaces that can not only improve the relationship with existing audiences, but can help institutions engage and discover new ones, people who typically don’t consider visiting one. Museum. The narrative power of such worlds has the ability to extend its story beyond its virtual boundaries through user-created content and connections to other spheres, platforms and contexts.
Our thinking and research was recently published in our latest annual strategic briefing ARTISTIC ECOSYSTEMS OF THE FUTURE: ART x METAVERS, this further explores these ideas and the need for the public cultural sector to play a more proactive role in the development of this space.