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When it comes to the metaverse, we’re seeing a lot of fog and hype out there. Everybody seems to think they want it, but they’re not sure what it is or if it’s something that has already been done or is something coming in the future. Here are some of my own thoughts of what a metaverse should be.
What I’d like to encourage is some imagination. If you recall the words of Strauss Zelnick, CEO of Take-Two, he said in interviews and a talk he gave that the metaverse was overhyped and that a lot of it has already been done. He called Second Life and its inspiration for virtual worlds an abject failure, and he praised GTA Online for doing through gaming everything that the metaverse is meant to be. It’s social, people play together, they get into their games.
But I think that Zelnick fell into the trap of thinking that we’ve already been there and done that. Why try it again? It’s good to remember so many massively multiplayer online (MMO) games came before GTA Online and World of Warcraft, like Eve Online. They built on each other.
In my view, the metaverse should be real time. It should be snappy and you should be able to switch from one world to another instantly, with no painful delays that take you out of the immersion that you can be anywhere.
My idea of an entertaining metaverse involves the work of a young writer who long ago studied as an English major and explored rich works that were full of literary references, like T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland and themes of heaven and hell and the end of civilization.
He had an idea of building a set of worlds and characters and stories that were all linked. Each individual creation had its own meta story. It was kind of like the idea of linking books from the original Myst by Robin and Rand Miller.
He was inspired by The Lord of the Rings, Arthurian legends, and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. And he read the poem Childe Roland to the Dark Tower came, by Robert Browning. The series was about his interpretation of what happened when a knight approached the Dark Tower.
I am talking about Stephen King and his magnum opus, The Dark Tower series. King was often criticized for his works of horror, from Carrie onward, and he was considered a literary schlockmeister producing the worst pulp fiction.
But he started with this idea and then seemingly left it buried for decades. But he was worldbuilding, and he created backdoors in these worlds into a larger meta story. He had an idea of building a set of worlds and characters and stories that were all linked. With the ideas of parallel worlds and time travel, he made it so these characters — like the villain of The Stand, Randall Flagg — could appear over and over across all of his books across decades of writing. He wove works like The Wastelands and The Seven Samurai into the tapestry of The Dark Tower, which eventually became eight novels and more than 4,250 pages.
I realize they made a critically panned movie about the first story. And Amazon canceled a TV series based on it. But I’m one of those die-hard fans.
By linking dozens of novels and other creative works together and telling a very big story, King got the last laugh on people who felt his work never deserved the label of being epic. He created his own magnum opus. In my mind, he built a metaverse. You could take all that and turn it into a digital metaverse of virtual worlds, linked together. You could use those links to figure out the common threads between those stories. It wasn’t just one story. It was a whole collection of stories, all under one roof. It was like a franchise of franchises.
Or better yet, you could let readers and players take these worlds and make them their own. To me, this is the kind of imagination worthy of the term metaverse. I wish someone would build it.
What am I going to do in that metaverse? I don’t know. Hell, I could make up my own Stephen King-like stories about The Dark Tower or maybe just connect with other fans. It would be a world built upon worlds, and something that I could sink my teeth into as a fan.