Field notes weekly #1

This is a weekly update on my progress to document the history, perspectives, and narratives of the metaverse. For more on the contents and structure of the book, please see “Structuring my field notes“.

Current book word count: 68,810


Writing about Cryptocurrencies and Web3 is messy.

Before we start: Yes, I am on the record stating that Blockchains – and by extension cryptocurrencies and Web3 – have nothing to do with the Metaverse. But I’m very aware that many people would disagree with this statement. And since this book is not about my personal preference, they have a legitimate place in a book about the history of the metaverse.

But I’m struggling. Not because my reservations, but because Web3 is messy. Bitcoin and the resulting cryptocurrencies are easy to enough to explain as a concept born out of mistrust for central authorities and an ideological view of economics. It’s a great proof point that all technology is political.

Web3 initially is an effort to apply these principles of mistrusting central authorities and a specific ideological view of social dynamics into the wider context of computing. More specifically, apply them to social media and governance systems. Again, this is simple to verify and a great example of the constant cycle of decentralization and recentralization in technology.

But then there is the situation that the cryptocurrencies market has since turned into a speculative asset. Specifically one that lives within an unbacked, unregulated zero-sum casino with pyramid schemes, wash trading, securities fraud and overall market manipulation. We can easily point to many bad-faith actors that try to lure investors into the crypto-space to dump their bags onto them.

While there might be some overlap, these can be seen as distinct groups:

  • An idealistic group that believes in a specific decentralized, politicized technology concept as a basis for a new financial, social and governance system
  • A pragmatic group that uses the same specific decentralized, politicized technology concept to extract as much cash from uninformed (or hopeful) investors as they can

All use the same technology concept (Blockchains) and terminology (decentralization, tokenization), only for very different goals. And so, Web3 has turned into a duality. It is the dream of decentralizing power AND the dream of getting rich by exploiting others.

Explaining this in a coherent and engaging way is, well, messy. Recently, I interviewed a couple of Web3 experts and natives to get a better idea of the landscape and narratives. And as a result I decided that all this really needs its own section in the book: “The Tokenization of Reality.”

While I already had milestones around cryptocurrencies and Web3, they were part of other sections. As I started expanding on these concepts, it didn’t really feel coherent and was hard to follow. Instead, they now are a proper section with their own introduction and fieldnotes. Current milestones include Bitcoin, Ethereum, Web3, NFTs, “The Crypto Casino“, and Decentraland.

It’s more work, but I feel it’s worth it to disentangle and analyze this narrative properly over the next week or two.


I recently had the pleasure to talk to Raph Koster, veteran virtual worlds designer, frequent writer on issues of interactive design, and the CEO of Playable Worlds, Inc.

In January 2000, Raph posted a seminal thought experiment on a mailing list, proposing “A Declaration of the Rights of Avatars.“ We sat down to discuss the context around the declaration, why player rights in virtual worlds are such a contentious issue, and why the document is still very much relevant today.

The interview is now live here: Interview with Raph Koster, The Declaration of Rights of Avatars.

I also talked to Dr. Richard Bartle, writer, professor and researcher in field of virtual worlds. He co-created the first virtual world with MUD1 in 1978, and is the author of two defining works in the field of virtual worlds: “Designing Virtual Worlds” and “How to be a God“. I’m currently transcribing and cleaning up the interview, planned to be published next week.

Reading & Watching

Explaining the Metaverse | ANU School of Cybernetics and Metaverse as a Cybernetic System | ANU School of Cybernetics

A fascinating look at the metaverse as a cybernetic system by the amazing team at the ANU School of Cybernetics. It is looking very deep at the origins of the metaverse as a social and technological promise, and from there analyses it as a system. This is easily one of the best reports I have read about the metaverse, period.

“The metaverse, as imagined and articulated in so many places already, is a complex open system with multiple goals and amongst the many other challenges it raises is an epistemology one: can you take a cybernetic systems approach to a digital born system? And equally important, are there things we can learn from prior socio-technical systems that might better inform our approaches?”

“Backbones & Blueprints: Cybernetic approaches to the metaverse”

VR users need an emotional connection to virtual worlds, not better graphics – study finds (

This is an interesting study by the University of Bath looking beyond immersion to create presence: When it comes to virtual experiences, player agency (i.e. the ability to meaningfully interact in the world) is more important than graphical realism or immersion (any technical capabilities):

Field of view and visual realism – achieved through cutting-edge graphics and usually powered by high-end headsets – can be relatively unimportant in creating a believable VR experience. Far more important is the way a user is made to feel (e.g. happy or scared) within the virtual environment, the study found. Dr Crescent Jicol, principal investigator of the study, said: “A lot of money goes into making headsets and screens better and into rendering virtual worlds more realistic, but more effort needs to be centered on improving the user’s emotional experience.”

“Realism and Field of View Affect Presence in VR but Not the Way You Think”

NYLSstateofplay – YouTube

If you have read the interview with Raph Koster or the one with Dan Hunter, you have read about the State of Play conferences. These were organized between 2003 and 2009 by the Institute for Information Law & Policy at New York Law School and the Information Society Project at Yale Law School to deal with the intersection of virtual worlds, games and the law.

It turns out that their official YouTube channel still exists and contains a number of interviews and panels in which prominent legal scholars discuss how to approach governance, laws, and regulation in virtual worlds.

2024: Metaverse Trends – The next phase in scaling the metaverse – The Metaverse Society

A somewhat “run-of-the-mill” report on the state of the metaverse by The Metaverse Society and Enders Analysis. It contains a nice set of numbers and statistics, but otherwise there is nothing really new here. There is also a fair share of performativity, for example being overly optimistic on AI, especially in it’s ability to solve social problems within virtual worlds. Or pushing Web3 and cryptocurrencies in the context of play-to-earn / play-to-invest.

All that said, if this is literally your first metaverse report, or you want an update, it’s a nice one and very thorough.

“The metaverse is not one single entity, environment or service. To judge the health of the industry overall we must assess its constituent parts. Our working definition of the metaverse is therefore focused on those broad components and their utility:

• A combination of physical and digital worlds—with a unified user presence across physical and virtual lives
• Fully formed high-fidelity 3D worlds that embrace mixed reality via AR/VR
• Always on, persistent, and real time
• Unlimited immersive and social interaction that can occur at any scale
• A seamless digital economy delivering creation and marketplace opportunity
• An advanced workspace with new forms of collaboration, productivity and communications

“Metaverse Trends – The Next Phase In Scaling The Metaverse”

On Spatial Computing, Metaverse, the Terms Left Behind and Ideas Renewed

Matthew Ball is back, working on a the fully revised and updated edition of his 2022 book “The Metaverse.” The revision will include topics around the Apple Vision Pro and Spatial Computing as a paradigm and the article gives a detailed outlook on some of his thoughts.

“I liked the term Metaverse because it worked like the Internet, but for 3D. It wasn’t about a device or even computing at large, just as the Internet was not about PC nor the client-server model. For passthrough or optical MR to scale, a “3D Internet” is required – which means overhauls to networking infrastructure and protocols, advances in computing infrastructure, and more. This is, perhaps the one final challenge with the term – it describes more of an end state than a transition.”

“On Spatial Computing, Metaverse, the Terms Left Behind and Ideas Renewed”

Capgemini to acquire Unity’s Digital Twin Professional Services arm to accelerate enterprises’ digital transformation through real-time 3D technology

Interesting. As more metaverse solutions emerge, there will be a professionalization of solution and service providers, as well as a need for unified protocols, tools, and forms of access, creating the conceptual and technical foundation for a larger metaverse. Capgemini gets the first aspect, Unity re-focuses on the latter.

“Capgemini plans to scale a range of sector-specific solutions that are currently in high demand. Particularly relevant for automotive, consumer products & retail, energy & utilities, aerospace & defense, healthcare & life sciences, and industrial products/manufacturing.”


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