In an artificially manufactured world where one’s appearance comes down to an avatar, we face an entirely new and somewhat idiosyncratic situation: freedom in one’s digital appearance. In that, participants in the Metaverse regardless of how they identify tangibly in the “real world” can choose gender, race, and the overall look of their Meta avatar with comfort in knowing that, for the most part, the majority of users they interact with will be unaware of any differing features compared to their human appearance.
The Metaverse is the product of Facebook mogul Mark Zuckerberg, and is the world’s first 3D, virtual world built for social interaction. A massive step forward in technology, it prides itself as being a neutral space for all. And while the daily user rate for the new, groundbreaking platform is relatively low – 68% of Americans are “not yet interested” in the Metaverse as of early 2022 – it is slowly continuing to grow.
The neutrality of the Metaverse and the offer to craft an entirely new appearance (if desired) has been faced with an astounding mix of positivity and backlash. Is this new no-rules era a cause for concern and how will it influence how brands and individuals act in the space?
According to a recent article in Vogue Business, when it comes to representation in the Metaverse, society is looking at a “gray area” . Because companies active on Meta build their own company avatars that will represent their brand to the AI world, they need to be incredibly careful. “Ethics must be a key focus when creating virtual spaces and characters,” Tera Randall of Epic Games told Vogue. So, while there is freedom in being able to build out avatars to represent people of all shapes, sizes, and backgrounds, there is a fine line between being inclusive and going too far. Designing an avatar always comes with the risk of playing into stereotypes, such as body types and gender norms.
When it comes to personal positioning, there is not as much at stake on a public sphere, but that doesn’t make the change any less. A core pillar of the Metaverse “ledger” is the fact that those signing up to join the Metaverse do not need to provide gender or ethnicity in their background history. Users can build an avatar from scratch, without any prompts if they so desire. However, many speculate some abuse to the ledger will come soon enough but are confident it won’t mean much. In a recent article from LoupFunds.com, author Doug Clinton claims “those who attempt [to use gender or ethnicity to get ahead] are likely to be disappointed. Removing the issue of genetic bias is a natural feature of play-to-earn games. The playing field is inherently level”.
While there is a major gray space and far more needs to be studied in terms of ethically functioning within the Metaverse, the argument for the personal freedom and expression Meta allows can’t be overlooked. Though some of the fears with the vast amount of freedom are valid, this is an entirely new option the world has not seen. As with most things, don’t rule Metaverse out, but approach with caution and awareness of the 3D world around you.