July 20, 2021
5 mins

Which reality are you living?

Hello,

This week, SK Telecom unveiled a new metaverse named "ifland". What is a metaverse, you may well be asking.

Coined by the writer Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel, "Snow Crash," a metaverse is a continuous shared virtual space, which converges the real world and the virtual world.

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Metaverses are emerging online in increasing numbers and their scope is expanding too. Real world organizations now partner with metaverses; for example, the South China Morning Post has just partnered with a metaverse called "The Sandbox" to provide "cultural experiences".

With telecom operators and media agencies getting involved, it’s clear that metaverses will become a big thing.

While metaverses still feel virtual, some games I play are really starting to feel indistinguishable from reality. Last week-end, I played Playstation 5 games using a OLED 4K HDR screen with a haptic feedback controller. The reason they felt so real was down to the technologies I used. Let’s look at them in turn.

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Example of a Playstation 5 game.

1. Televisions

Televisions with 4K or 8K (4,000 or 8,000 pixels) and flat light emitting technology (OLED) are so high in resolution that what’s on the screen looks almost real. Not long from now, technology will make it hard to know whether you are looking at a screen or through a window. These advances already make it difficult to differentiate reality from movies. They are very immersive.

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OLED TV from LG

2. New generation of games

Dungeons & Dragons, a tabletop fantasy role playing game (RPG), came out in 1974. Since then RPGs have evolved in tandem with technology advances. Today, games like Demon's Souls, which I played over the weekend, feel like real life. They use technology like Ray tracing which is essentially a method of simulating realistic light in computer graphics; it means light behaves the way it would in real life.

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An example of Raytracing in the latest Spiderman game on PS5.

Imagine watching a movie on a screen that looks so real, you cannot differentiate it from reality, then imagine it with you in that movie as the hero.

3. Haptic feedback

The one element to the virtual world that makes it not feel real is using a keyboard, mouse or console of some sort.

Sony has made a first step towards changing this, with a controller that changes depending on the environment. For example, depending on whether you walk on sand, or on glass, the controller will vibrate differently. If, in the game, your character is tired, the buttons become more difficult to press. These functions form what is called haptic feedback. They connect the visual with touch and transform the overall experience.

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With this technology, you could, for example, immerse yourself in the movie 'Lord of the Rings' and, shooting an arrow, feel the strength of the bow.

It's not about the cutting edge

A lot of what is covered in media around augmented reality and virtual reality makes it feel far removed from our every day lives. Playing these games over the weekend made me realise these technologies are already in our living rooms. It felt like an almost existential moment.

Nick Bostram’s paper, arguing that we are already living in a computer simulation, has never felt more relevant.

Are you ready to confuse the virtual and the real?

Thanks as ever for reading and, if you like what you see, please consider sharing!

Best,

Jordan