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By Christina Flores-Chan and Matthew Davison
Long before metaverse became a household term, Michael Bergmann, assistant professor at the School of Performance at Metropolitan Toronto University (TMU) and research director at the Technological Research in Performance Lab, incorporated it not only into his own narration, but also in his teaching.
Throughout the university’s time online during the pandemic, Bergmann said he’s taken the opportunity to explore other means of performance besides the program’s usual in-person theatrical performances. He started using virtual reality (VR), a computer-generated experience that immerses users in a simulated environment with a headset, as a virtual stage for his students.
“Taking aspects of stage design, lighting design, and sound design, we basically create this environment originally in VR and then bring the actors into it,” Bergmann said.
For some projects, the actors would perform live using their own headsets and the audience would join in via virtual reality. “The fun part is that you can do things in virtual reality and in the metaverse that you can’t do in real life. So all of a sudden we can jump from floor to floor, you know?” said Bergman.
“Actors can change the whole scene and now we’re in a completely different environment. It takes a lot of the magical aspects of theater and performance and gives us another tool to make it really immersive.
For some students, the term metaverse may be a foreign concept, a word associated with the neon green coding language of The matrix or reminiscent of a dystopian future where society only exists online. For others, the word could mean as much as the new name of tech company Meta, formerly known as Facebook. And it turns out that neither of those guesses would be far off.
“You can do things in VR and in the metaverse that you can’t do in real life”
The “metaverse”, according to Forbes, is an umbrella term for online virtual worlds accessible through immersive three-dimensional technologies such as artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and augmented reality. Different applications of the metaverse allow to simulate and enhance the physical reality in which society currently exists.
For example, while Bergmann’s Virtual Stage helped students maximize their education in the physical world throughout online learning, other spaces simply aim to provide users with a digital alternative to analog.
These digital spaces are made possible through blockchain technology, which is defined by the International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) as a decentralized database that collects, records and tracks all digital assets and transactions, such as token trading not fungible (NFT), which exist on a network.
“If we don’t engage with the metaverse at this point, then we’re late”
Through the trading of NFTs, virtual real estate, and cryptocurrency, metaverse users can spend and earn capital in the digital space. Brands like Gucci and Nike have already released fashion designs made specifically for digital avatars, while the National Football League partnered with Ticketmaster earlier this year to offer NFT tickets to Super Bowl 2022. .
And these spaces should continue to grow. A September report from GlobalData pegged the size of the metaverse market at US$22.79 billion (or C$31.1 billion) in 2021 and is estimated to reach $996.42 billion. here 2030.
According to another article by Forbesthe end goal of the metaverse is to create “an individualized experience for the user”, allowing participants to travel and discover destinations around the world via virtual reality and a headset or to communicate with other users in a way to imitate real interaction.
For Bergmann, one of the only setbacks of using advanced technology for performance was the challenge of making VR headsets accessible to audience members. He thinks, however, that in a few years, metaverse technology will become more mainstream.
“It’s still kind of a niche market because of the hardware requirements. As soon as the material becomes ubiquitous, it will open the floodgates for people creating for this space and for people engaging in it,” Bergmann said.
He said that so far his students have been excited about the performance possibilities in the metaverse, especially in the area of education. “If we don’t engage with the metaverse at this point, then we’re late.”
Sabrina Padilla, a fourth-year marketing management student, said she noticed her classmates at the Ted Rogers School of Management (TRSM) were also interested in the metaverse.
“[The metaverse] is a great focus area for student innovators, especially in business, finance and technology,” Padilla said. “While I can’t guarantee it will be a hit, it has a lot of growth potential.”
“Right now it looks like a revamped Poptropica or Club Penguin”
Padilla recalls analyzing the interactive AI design experience of Ikea furniture brand, IKEA Kreativ, in class. The program allows users to visualize what specific products would look like in their own home by using their phone’s rear camera to virtually place furniture in a space.
“When you get the app, you can see the products and visualize them as if they were right in front of you. It creates a more dynamic environment for people,” Padilla said.
Once developed, digital-focused companies hope the metaverse will become a resource for purchasing digital and physical products, in addition to being used for services such as education and doctor’s appointments, according to Reader’s Digest.
At the moment, however, the virtual space is mainly used for games, an activity in which students participate at will. Ben Chandler, a fourth-year sports media student and captain of TMU’s National Hockey League esports team, believes the game in the Metaverse can still be improved.
“There are definitely some cool parts, but as far as the practicality of competitive play goes, being in VR [and] being in the metaverse doesn’t add much to the experience,” Chandler said.
A poll conducted by Globant, a technology company that helps businesses enter the digital sphere, found that 52% of gamers in the US believe the metaverse will change the industry landscape and 41% believe it will a positive impact effect.
Chandler added that because it’s still so new, most games in the Metaverse are similar to those that exist in a virtual meeting room, like Zoom, rather than the immersive experience that video games provide. “Right now it feels like an upgraded Poptropica or Club Penguin.”
“You never know how integral it could be [to] the way we live in 15 years”
One of the main ways the game is changing is the continued development of NFTs. According to digital business consultancy EY, items purchased or earned in games, such as weapons or skins, turn into NFTs. This allows players to acquire, create, develop and sell virtual properties.
Chandler said that while he won’t be investing in NFTs at this time, he thinks this aspect of the virtual world could explode as gaming within the metaverse continues to grow.
Padilla shared the same opinion as his classmate about the potential of the metaverse, across all of its industries and purposes.
She compared the growing digital sphere to the Internet in the 1990s: a new technology that had yet to be explored but would soon transform human life and interaction in the world.
“The only constant in our world is that it changes,” she said. “And people should be open to learning more about the metaverse,” Padilla said.
“You never know how integral it could be [to] the way we live in 15 years.