By Eoghan Kidney
People ask me what VR is useful for apart from games and training. My usual answer would have been that there’s very few aspects of society that it won’t influence. This thought seems to have migrated to the current outlook associated with the metaverse – a term coined by Neal Stephenson in his influential novel Snowcrash and recently popularised by Mark Zuckerberg during his Meta rebranding efforts. Beyond the criticism of the latter’s recent pivot, the metaverse is a very real and powerful thing, existing not just inside the Meta Quest VR headset, but as a series of interconnected 3D virtual worlds built on gaming engines experienced concurrently by millions of users every day.
Fortnight, Roblox, Minecraft – these games are inhabited by what are now emerging as metaverse natives – Mark Zuckerberg knows this, and an increasingly aware list of corporations know this too – and they are busy positioning themselves to align with the potential profits that will emerge, readying their corporate purpose of economic prosperity to the metaverse.
However, the purpose of prosperity can be interpreted differently from culture to culture. In Buddhism, prosperity is viewed with an emphasis on collectivism and spirituality. This perspective can be at odds with capitalistic notions of prosperity, due to the latter’s association with greed. In Islam, prosperity is often tied to notions of piety and is therefore largely individualistic. Judaism has a long tradition of viewing prosperity as a communal responsibility. Christianity has a complex relationship to prosperity, with a long tradition of viewing it as a sign of God’s favour and a blessing to be shared with others. The metaverse is a powerful tool for religious groups to use in order to express their beliefs about prosperity.
Through their avatars and in the virtual spaces they create in the metaverse, religious groups can offer resources and advice to other avatars in order to help them achieve this prosperity. In Second Life, the Prosperity Project is a group of avatars who offer free resources and advice to other avatars in the game. The project is inspired by Buddhist beliefs about the importance of sharing resources and helping others to achieve prosperity. In World of Warcraft, there is a quest called “The Blessing of Wealth” which requires players to collect a number of items and then offer them up to a deity in exchange for prosperity. This quest is inspired by similar quests found in many real-world religions, such as the Jewish tradition of tzedakah (charity). In Eve Online, there is a virtual item called “The Prosperity Token” which can be traded between players. This item is inspired by the Islamic tradition of giving charity (zakat).
As we see more economic ecosystems emerge in the metaverse, it will be interesting to see how different groups attempt to engage with and influence these systems. The purpose of an organisation inside the metaverse might be a little different than outside.