by Mandy Sun
The sequel to Ready Player One and Blade Runner 2049 is imminently approaching. From uncanny avatars that resemble Mark Zuckerberg more than his physical self, to queen Ariana Grande dancing among Fortnite characters mounted on rainbows, the metaverse welcomes a futuristic realm of infinite possibilities.
In this post-informational age, the “metaverse” has become a buzzword that is ridiculed yet mal-informed. Akin to the Y2K era of the late 90s and the wacky predictions of Back To The Future, the media has become obsessed with this phenomenon, and Zuckerberg’s weighty promises of holograms, silicon chips, and augmented reality glasses has disillusioned the general public further.
The metaverse, however, does not require a hyper realistic 3D world where we can wholly exist with Mii-like limbs. It is a new era—one in which the trajectory for economic profit is centered on creativity and imagination. Non-fungible tokens, otherwise known as NFTs, are a perfect representation of how art and creativity can create insurmountable profit and uplift independent artists.
NFTs are digital collectibles with cryptocurrency values, and manifest as drawings by independent artists coded onto the internet. NFTs come in all forms, from iconic prints of cyber monkeys, to Bad Luck Brian memes, to a picture of the World Wide Web’s source code. These bits of ones and zeroes are sold and secured through the creator’s digital signature as proof of authenticity.
It is a ridiculous premise and hard to realize for those of us today who still prioritize our physical lives over our virtual ones. How can someone profit off of a non-tangible image that could easily be screenshotted and saved?
In order to understand this seemingly radical phenomenon, one should simply imagine the metaverse as a separate world that parallels our own, dealing with all of the same issues within our physical world, such as bullying, colonization, and even capitalism. To enter this world, one must value their virtual selves just as much or even more than their physical ones.
Today’s iPad kids and Fortnite dances are proof that future generations are immersing themselves fully into the digital world developing a codependence to it. If you asked a five year old about their hobbies or interests they’d probably answer through a discussion over their purchased Valorant skins or unlocked Fortnite outfits. Obsess Inc, the leading experiential e-commerce platform, found that 75% of current Gen Z shoppers have already purchased digital items within a video game, and 60% of them are pushing for brands to sell their products into metaverse platforms in their most recent survey.
This premise has been influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic. With people relying on Zoom and Facetime to connect with others, people are hungry to express themselves as quirky individuals who are “not like the others” in their online personas.
This is great news for independent artists, as they can fulfill that need by creating virtual images and content that are vehicles of self-expression. Artists have also been historically underpaid and undervalued, but creativity now has the potential to be lucrative. Similar to the 2010s era- Youtubers and Instagram influencers, independent artistry can be democratized—instead of wealth being concentrated in the pockets of a few large companies, it is now distributable amongst actual creative individuals.
ArinaBB, a 24-year old NFT artist, is among those creative individuals. As a BIPOC traditional artist, she began selling her NFTs in 2020 and is now making more than six figures through her digital art. She ultimately has creative freedom within her work and has donated a large percentage of her profit into philanthropy for both African artists and women’s shelters in Canada.
Large brands and companies have caught onto this vision as well; Microsoft, Apple, and Facebook have recently invested millions of dollars into this potential goldmine. The fashion industry has even hopped onto the bandwagon with Gucci and Nike actively transferring their goods into 3D crafted outfits, hoping to capitalize from online users. For example, a red and blue Ralph Lauren backpack is now available for five dollars on Roblox.
Additionally, fashion designers can create clothes for avatars that defy physics, benefit the planet, and expand freedom of expression. Last March, Decentraland, a browser-based 3D world, hosted a multi-day fashion event fit with luxury wearables, walking AI models, and an immersive runway experience open for the general public.
Fashion had previously been dominated by elite white men who exploit student designers from FIT or Parsons, and fashion lines require not only high social capital, but also funds for fabric and accessories. The metaverse evades these issues.
Virtual outfits are fantastical and almost unbelievable––with heavy metallic ball gowns to glass-blown dresses to dripping slime-like headpieces. There are no more rules, and fashion designers have the opportunity to explore and have fun. ThisOutfitDoesNotExist, an Instagram profile with over 11K, features some of these digital outfits for sale while paying homage to their original creators.
To me, the metaverse is an acquired taste. Like bitter black coffee, it requires many chances before its flavor profile can be fully understood and accepted. For me it took many months of perusing metaverse articles before I actually took it seriously.
Now, I’m an advocate for this world. Growing up, my immigrant parents had been adverse to me pursuing the arts because of its unprofitable nature, reminding me to focus on academics. They would consistently remind me that the priority in life is to be financially secure and that “passion is only for fun.” However, I believe this new paved path has the opportunity to inspire artists from underprivileged communities and offer them freedom in choice. The metaverse is a tool for marginalized voices to be uplifted and representation to be fostered, the emergence of digital expression will result in art transforming and adapting to technological change. We can look forward to a new cultural wave full of imagination and optimism.
Mandy Sun is a freshman in the College and is undeclared.