When the coronavirus sent everybody inside, it seemed like a good time to get into video games. After all, they give you something to do in your home, away from all the weirdos wandering around your neighborhood, touching crosswalk buttons and ATM keys with their germ-ridden bare hands.
But as more and more video game-based non-game events get announced, it looks like we might be spending more and more time in them, even if its not to play, well ... games.
Between April 23 and 25, Grammy-nominated rapper Travis Scott performed a concert in the game Fortnite, similar to one Marshmello performed in the same game in 2019, which drew 10.7 million virtual attendees. Meanwhile, over in Minecraft, a bunch of artists including Pussy Riot and Idles performed in the Block by Blockwest festival on April 25.
The latter event was a benefit for the Coronavirus Emergency Response Fund, which is good, and its great that artists are performing in digital places where they can reach their fans in a time where there are no live gigs anywhere. But according to The Washington Post, this may also be the birth of the “Metaverse,” a shared virtual space that’s supposedly going to be the successor to the internet.
The basic idea of the Metaverse is that it’s a massive digital location where you go to not just interact with other people, but also shop, play games, do work, and experience events like concerts and movies. If you read or saw “Ready Player One,” I feel your pain – I read the book and saw the movie too – but also the Metaverse is basically the Oasis that those depicted. The term “Metaverse” comes from the earlier, better version of that story, “Snow Crash” by Neal Stephenson. (But that’s neither here nor there.)
All the major Silicon Valley companies are investing in the concept – Facebook calls its version “Horizon” – and tech industry people say full adoption of this kind of thing is years or decades away. But a worldwide pandemic is showing there’s a potential need for it, and multiplayer video games like Fortnite and Minecraft more or less have the technology to put everybody in the same digital place. So April’s virtual concerts are basically a proof of concept of the final thing.
Is this a good development? Maybe. It certainly provides people with access to free entertainment in a time when we could all use it. But if this proves super popular, it’s not impossible to imagine it becoming one of the default ways artists interact with their audiences.
As someone who’s already spent enough of his life in the World of Warcraft and has come to value going to real places and interacting with other people face-to-face (even more now), I just don’t want to be forced to play Minecraft to see my favorite band. If I’m playing a game, I’m there to collect Pokemon or save the galaxy from the Reapers. I’ll get my music in real-life music venues, thank you very much ... just as soon as this virus goes away.