For all its ubiquity as a buzzword, ‘the metaverse’ is still often used as a term that refers to something entirely in the future – a Zuckerberg-fronted, avatar-populated, dystopian space that owes more to the world of science fiction than contemporary digital culture or branding.
It’s a confusing and complex entity, which is partly why design agency DNCO decided to create an exhibition for this year’s London Design Festival titled Virtually Everywhere: Place and Design in the Metaverse.
As the agency’s strategist Alex Fenton and creative director Patrick Eley point out, most of us have been using metaverses for a while already, through things like Minecraft, Fortnite, and even Peloton. “It’s an experience that’s been around for a long time without real fanfare: it’s been creeping up on us for years,” says Eley. “Everyone has their own definition of it: it’s kind of a big, daunting, quite overwhelming sort of phenomenon,” adds Fenton. “Fundamentally it’s the idea that we could use the internet differently and live a different way using the new technology that makes that possible.”
Indeed, the relative banality of what the metaverse might be isn’t exactly aligned with the vapourwave-esque landscapes most people associate with the term. So in order to try to unpack what we can learn from the metaverse, the LDF exhibition was split into six questions that the DNCO team felt it was crucial to get to grips with, such as ‘how sustainable is the metaverse?’ and ‘who owns it?’