I'm in a metaverse pool and I can't get out.
There is no ladder.
I don't know how to swim either.
I look down and see the bottom, I'm still afloat even though I don't have legs and I don't touch the ground.
It's an uncomfortable feeling, but not distressing because nothing is really happening.
The owner of this gym in the metaverse has taught us how to take some boards and move them to swim.
He jumped into the pool and swam very fast.
I grabbed the last couple of boards, jumped, and they slipped out of my hands.
I wanted to move forward and I couldn't.
People looked at me, I looked at them and asked for help, but they ignored me.
I had to come out of the metaverse to save myself, or save my avatar.
This scene that goes from curiosity to misunderstanding and loneliness sums up my long journey through the virtual reality of Meta.
The metaverse is a concept that has come to mean many things.
Perhaps the most common idea is computer generated space accessed with virtual reality glasses.
Meta, formerly known as Facebook, is the company that has bet the most on this new place: billions invested in technologies and resources over the last decade.
For this walk I have focused on the best known metaverse, the Horizon Worlds, which are the social banner of the Meta offer for its metaverse.
The Worlds are hundreds of scenarios where you can chat, play, watch shows or just be and show that you drink something.
I have visited squares, western towns, islands where you get shot at, theaters, empty city streets, apartments and many other futuristic papier-mache sets where, in reality, little happens.
To enter, all you need is a pair of virtual reality glasses and a Meta account.
In this experiment I have used a Meta Quest 2, which in Spain costs 450 euros, provided by the company.
Before accessing, you have to create an avatar: you choose the eyes, hair, glasses, clothes and everything you want to wear in the metaverse.
Everything except pants, because for now the avatars still have no legs.
Then they give you a walk to teach you how to pick up objects and move, thanks to a controller.
The first thing I discovered is that if I slide through the metaverse I get dizzy;
I have to jump
Meta gives both options.
Where are the people?
Once you have an avatar, Worlds offers you a list of worlds to enter: the chosen ones, the favorites of the day, the ones to play, to watch.
On those lists it puts how many people are on each world at the time - I never saw any with more than 100 visitors and most had only a handful.
The most surprising day was one morning, around 10:00 a.m. (Spanish peninsular time), which is early morning in the US: there was nobody, absolutely nobody, in any of the worlds I visited.
It was easy to feel like the sideways-looking John Travolta meme: Where are the people?
The Horizon Worlds are only available in seven countries, including Spain.
The other European territories are Ireland and France.
In my walks around Worlds I have heard French a couple of times, but never Spanish.
I tried to talk to an avatar named Ramiro, but he ran away, and two others that had “Spanish” or “Spain” in their name, but they didn't respond.
In the metaverse we all have our names written on our heads;
I put mine real.
The editor of EL PAÍS Jordi Pérez Colomé immerses himself in the metaverse with virtual reality glasses.ALEX ONCIU
The metaverse was one of the main innovations of 2020. With the confinement, a virtual world in which to work, meet or have fun seemed essential.
Since then his weight has decreased.
There were barely 280,000 active users in the metaverse for Meta entertainment, according to documents reviewed by the
Wall Street Journal
The company's goal was half a million.
Meta has two other equally serious problems.
On the one hand, that the battery lasts between one and two hours, depending on the use.
On the other hand, people get tired of the glasses and return little after trying the experience, even the Meta employees themselves seem unenthusiastic.
Its continued use causes tiredness and some dizziness.
My walks through the metaverse have been in isolated moments because my head was heavy.
There are those who sit down and connect the glasses to the current to spend more hours.
I have not been able.
voices of little children
When you enter a world where there are a few dozen people, you see fast-circulating avatars, like
In some worlds, there are moderators who greet you upon arrival: "Hi, Jordi" (hello, in English).
The big distinction for now with other Internet environments is that the voice is real.
You hear real voices.
It is a key distinction.
That is why it is easy to identify, for example, small children.
I asked one of her how old she was and she told me: “My mother has told me that she should not answer that question or give personal information”.
The recommended age is 13 and up, but there are plenty of younger kids roaming the metaverse.
And they behave like children.
A woman had wings and a boy wanted to take them off.
The woman told him: "A little manners."
And the boy would reply: "Manners are boring!"
The avatar is little personal, but the voice gives a different reality to relationships.
It is not the same unreality with which you write a text message.
It's more like talking on the phone.
As a journalist, when I approached someone, the feeling was closer to the tension of a phone call: it wasn't me, my face had no expression, I could turn and walk away or disappear without anything happening, but it was my real voice speaking. It was listened to and in the tone of the response he sensed contempt, comfort or tension.
Most of the interactions I've seen or had were banal or pure trolling.
In one of the theaters there is a bar with donuts, and an avatar ate one after another, dozens of donuts, while another character, who pretended that she was a waitress, looked on with an alleged surprised face.
In a world called “Very British Pub” (very British pub), two avatars discussed whether potatoes were called “crisps” or “chips”.
But I have also heard conversations more adapted to the place.
Elle and Stephen were flirting on the concourse outside the Soapstone Comedy Club.
"You can take a picture of something as it was 2.5 billion years ago," he said, boasting of something I didn't hear.
"What do you like?
What are you passionate about?
Apart from me, of course”, continued Stephen.
An advantage of the metaverse for journalists is that you can stand still a few virtual meters away and no one believes that you are listening to everything they say.
And it sounds perfect.
Then Elle replied: “I dedicate myself to cinema and photography, but there are many things that I like, without mastering any”.
Her virtual hands seemed to be entwined.
Avatars have security modes where you can turn other avatars away, mute them, or mute yourself.
A similar problem to the real world for Elle and Stephen is that after a while a guy was added with the typical “let me introduce you to a friend of mine” excuse.
Another day I saw Stephen in another bar chasing another female avatar: "Here's your daddy, baby," she told him.
An endearing conversation was that of a child or adolescent with an older man who was spending time on a bench.
The boy asked him if he remembered him, that a year and a half ago they had greeted each other and that now he was at home unable to go to school due to illness.
“I've been out to see people,” he added.
The man, with an affectionate voice, replied that he did not remember him at that time.
“I want to go to this concert.
Will you come with me?" the boy asked.
There was a rapper's
there : a virtual theater with a kind of huge screen on which Notorius BIG appears.
The adult replied that "perhaps Jordi would like it".
I was looking at them, but the boy left without another word.
In difficult situations in real life, such as health problems, the feeling of companionship in the metaverse can be of great help.
In the metaverse there are
, like in any world.
I made it to the pool where I drowned because the creator of the gym invited us on a
Some worlds have been created by Meta, but most are developed by individual designers.
For example, I visited a train station with the Madrid Metro logo.
The guy at the gym showed us punching bags, the yoga room (“come take a class anytime”), the
bar, the squash room, and the great gym: beach ball volleyball, rock climbing, and a basket.
There I put my first basket of the metaverse (the normal thing was to be unable to hit the backboard).
Before jumping into the pool, he asked us for a
to promote his gym.
It is impossible to know today if in the next few years there will be enough people interested in virtual reality to turn it into a business.
Video games seem like a clear candidate for an attractive proposition for virtual glasses.
But there are fewer people playing video games than on social media, which is the goal of Horizon Worlds: A Place to Meet.
On a walk through the back streets of a city, I entered an empty theater, I saw skyscrapers and cars in the distance.
There were empty stores that rented their windows for 79 dollars (72.6 euros) per month.
Is it possible that enough people pass by on this sidewalk to make renting that store a viable business?
Today it seems impossible, but who knows.
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