Does the Metaverse Already Have an Inclusivity Problem?

Investigating the digital world

Don’t worry, you’re not the only one who struggles with the concept of the Metaverse. And by the looks of it, it might not have been built for everyone anyway. And not in the way you might expect. 

Like everyone, the first time I ever heard of the term was when Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook Inc. would be rebranded and take on the Black Mirror-esque title. At face value, it seemed like the tech genius was bringing back the golden days of the Sims. Of course, there is much more to it than just that. 

To break it down, the Metaverse can be described as the next-gen way of living, communicating and interacting with people. A futuristic world that would completely transition our concept of reality into something new. It’s a place where users can create, buy, and sell goods. It’s also where people can meet, exchange and converse from the comfort of their own physical home. 

It’s all very promising at first sight. But I couldn’t shake off the sense that this fully digital way of life would come with problems far beyond the feeling that AIs and robots are taking over what’s left of humanity.

As it turns out, it might just be a reflection of what already exists in our current reality. In recent years, we’ve come to know the importance of representation and inclusivity offline. And although we’ve made strides outside of the Metaverse, the race to reach racial equality online is ongoing. 

According to a recent report led by Opinium in 2020, the (not-so-novel) Coronavirus pandemic witnessed a huge increase in the usage of digital spaces. This means that it’s time to acknowledge how important the Metaverse is about to be, with many speculating it to be our access ticket to the world of tomorrow. But how can we make sure that it involves and includes everyone regardless of race, gender and orientation? 

In its short-lived experience so far, the issues of the real world have already managed to impact the digital one too. Prices for avatars fluctuate drastically depending on their skin colour or gender. And you don’t have to dig in too deep to notice the ongoing problem.

All you need to do is hop on to any NTF Marketplace to see it for yourself. On OpenSea, one of the leading marketplaces for non-fungible tokens, the problem becomes evident upon setting the price criteria from low to high and then from high to low. The cheapest avatars on the market are dark-skinned, whereas the most expensive ones are the white or totally fictional characters.

This reveals two things. The first is that the main demographic investing in the cyberworld is white, hence why their avatars come with bigger price tags as they are more sought after. Yes, those buying them literally want digital twins. 

Secondly, for those of us who struggle with racism IRL, one way to circumvent that in the Metaverse is by going completely anonymous. That means masking your identity via an avatar of a different ethnicity or species. While that might be one way to circumvent issues of racism, is that the digital universe we really want to live in?  

And this is just the tip of a much bigger iceberg. We still don’t know how the whole realm is about to develop and what importance it will have in the future. But one thing is for sure, the metaverse is still at its embryonic level – so let us be the architects of this new universe, before we eventually end up allowing the same poisonous discrimination that plagues us in real life into the digital days that are about to come.

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