What exactly is the metaverse, and how will it affect your family life? Read on for a brief overview to learn what it could mean to be a family in the metaverse.
When I first heard the term “metaverse,” I thought of tech geeks with virtual reality glasses. They’d have digital experiences that don’t necessarily translate into the real world. Now, I think of Mark Zuckerberg rebranding Facebook to Meta. With that, he can make more money from consumers and make us reliant on Big Tech. So the question remains:
What Is the Metaverse?
The term “metaverse” isn’t exactly new. It’s actually been around since 1992 when it appeared in Neal Stephenson’s novel “Snow Crash.” In this imagining, people would escape their dystopian reality by entering an alternative reality, aka “the metaverse,” through digital avatars. But the current iteration of the metaverse is a bit less immersive.
In real-world terms, there isn’t one overarching metaverse, at least not yet. Instead, any basic virtual space where people can interact with one another is considered a metaverse. While many large companies have invested billions in improving this user experience, even a simple online interactive game could be regarded as a metaverse. So the metaverse is much more mainstream than you might realize.
Will Your Family Be Part of the Metaverse?
Maybe the better question would be, when did your family enter the metaverse? Because if you or your kids have played video games like Roblox, Minecraft, or Second Life, you’re already there.
In 2020, Roblox told The Verge that over half of American kids under 16 play Roblox. While some might be casual players, over 23.1 million kids under 13 are daily active users on Roblox. The average user spent about 2.6 hours on the platform in 2021. So factor out about 9 hours for sleeping and 8 hours for school. You then have a decent percentage of American children spending about half of their free time playing Roblox.
In addition to being able to play one of countless apps, Roblox users can meet together for group events or purchase and spend the Robux digital currency. So by many definitions, if your kids are playing Roblox or some other online games, not only have they been dabbling in the metaverse for years, but they’ve also been investing a substantial amount of their time there.
My Family in the Metaverse
Even in its early stages, the financial implications of this metaverse are real. My kids occasionally ask me for $5-$20 for Robux from my kids, which can quickly add up. Even worse, someone within this space somehow hacked into my credit card account. They started spending hundreds of dollars on Robux in increments of $50 and $100.
My bank eventually resolved the issue. But because I had been spending money within the game, it didn’t flag these purchases as fraud.
The scariest part of the scenario is that they hacked into this information through my then 7-year-old’s account. He then had to rebuild his virtual world and then had to spend even more allowance on different virtual pets. So even though I was reimbursed, we still spent even more money on items within this metaverse.
How Can You Protect Your Family in the Metaverse?
Your kids might not be running around the house with Oculus virtual reality headsets or investing millions in cryptocurrencies. At least not yet. But, there’s a high probability they’re still experiencing the effects of the metaverse in smaller ways.
In the same way that the government is often several steps behind Big Tech when it comes to legislation, parents are often unaware of the ways their kids are using technology. But there are several ways to remedy that situation so you can better protect your family. Here are a few.
1. Understand the Metaverse.
You don’t have to become completely immersed in a digital world and start giving your kids non-fungible tokens (NFTs) for their birthday presents– unless you want to. But it’s important to have an idea of what’s going on in a virtual space.
Read some articles, listen to a podcast, and try to educate yourself. You’ll almost definitely read some extremely conflicting information when it comes to family in the metaverse. Some experts believe the metaverse will never exist in the way some futurists imagine it. In contrast, others have been operating in some version of the metaverse for years. Read both perspectives, so you’ll be able to make well-informed decisions and set reasonable boundaries.
2. If Your Kids Are Already in the Metaverse, Meet Them Where They Are.
This step is pretty challenging for me since my one attempt at playing Roblox was pretty pathetic. But even if you’re not ready to morph into gamers and don a VR headset, you can ask your kids questions about their virtual worlds and houses they’re building.
Talk to them about their virtual house or new pet they traded for on AdoptMe in the same way you might ask them about what they did at school or a book they’re reading. You might not quite understand what they’re saying, but you’re bridging the gap between the meta and physical worlds. They need to know that you can protect them in both places.
Don’t let them lock themselves in their rooms for hours playing or watching things you don’t understand. Considering the tens of millions of kids spending considerable time within various metaverses, like Roblox or Minecraft, there’s something incredibly appealing to young audiences. While these games could be beneficial, as they facilitate virtual interactions with friends, there’s also a dark side of the metaverse. Don’t let them go on this journey alone. You don’t have to watch them play each level, but don’t be caught off-guard.
3. Engage With the Physical World as a Family.
These days, different sporting schedules and afterschool activities make it more difficult for us to enjoy family dinner together. But even though some of us need to eat earlier or later, we try to make sure we all spend time around the dinner table as a family. Sometimes it’s only for a few minutes, but it’s really important to prioritize the physical reality and togetherness.
For some families, playing video games together on their favorite gaming platform might be an ideal way to come together. Any type of interaction can be beneficial in promoting family unity. But if you’re able, get off electronics and do something outside together in nature. Because no matter how great graphic designers can be, they’re still a hollow imitation of real-world experiences.
4. Be Realistic About Real vs. Perceived Danger.
When it comes to child abductions and crime in the real world, we’re safer today than we were decades ago. According to the FBI, between 1993 and 2019, the violent crime rate dropped by 49%. Yet many helicopter parents today seem to be more watchful of where their kids are going and who they’re with.
Sometimes the same parents who might not let their teens ride bikes to the store for fear of abduction or robbery might give their kids access to a phone where any number of predators can easily message them and send them inappropriate information. Recent studies indicate that one in four teens receive sexually explicit texts and emails, among other sobering statistics.
Why do these conflicting statistics matter? Parents want to protect their kids, but their perception of danger might not necessarily reflect reality. While the metaverse is still relatively new, some reports of virtual interactions have been alarming. Instead of simply receiving an inappropriate text, you could have a similarly inappropriate encounter that might feel real.
Each family should establish its own sense of rules and boundaries. And understanding the risks and benefits of the virtual world can help us make wise decisions.
5. Keep the Lines of Communication Open.
I confess that I don’t understand the gaming world or little metaverses as fluently as my kids. But I DO understand that there can be real-world consequences for virtual reality. While social media can be a battlefield, think about those experiences taken to the next level with augmented reality.
As with any technology, there are benefits and drawbacks. Instead of watching music videos on social media platforms, your kids could virtually attend a concert in a way that feels real. Talking about these experiences with your kids and having engaging dialogue can be a way to make sure they’re having positive virtual experiences. Or, if they’re not, you’ll be more aware of any red flags.
6. Help Your Kids Understand Consumerism in the Metaverse.
When I started researching this topic of families and kids in the metaverse, I found articles on MGA Entertainment, which announced the new L.O.L. Doll NFTs in October 2021. I was struck by the phrasing on the press release announcing this launch.
“The motive with the LOL Surprise NFT platform is to further expose children to the world of web3 in order to prepare them for the future.” They also assure us that “Parents have no need to worry about online safety either as a number of measures are in place to protect kids while they play.” These measures include no-chat gameplay and not storing personal information.
The safety measures for these digital assets are great. But the company released over 10 million packs of collectible cards in real life that go along with the NFTs. Of course, you have to purchase various packs to make sure you collect all of them, which could quickly add up in real-world currency. While these NFTs aren’t that different than virtual Pokemon cards or even various computer games, it’s another example of how even young kids might be far ahead of their parents on the technological curve.
7. Pay Attention to Technology News.
You don’t have to completely geek out on these topics. But it’s helpful to pay attention to what’s going on with tech companies. On April 7, 2022, Lego and Epic Games, which produces games like Fortnite, announced plans to develop a “family-friendly metaverse.” Four days later, Sony and KIRKBI, the owners of Lego, announced a $2 billion investment in Epic to fuel this development.
There’s clearly a strong financial incentive to build a kid-friendly metaverse. So it’s helpful for parents to be aware of these upcoming developments. That way, they won’t be completely blindsided when your little ones want to try a new game or buy some new educational virtual experience. Instead, you’ll be prepared with the knowledge to make the right decisions for your family.
Will Your Family Get Stuck in the Metaverse?
Technology still has quite a ways to go before any metaverse becomes a fully immersive parallel universe. But investments and interest continue to grow. And companies are becoming increasingly sophisticated in the way they’re bringing young people into this space.
These technological developments have several benefits, including increased tools to foster creativity and the rise of decentralized platforms to help users own their own data. But there are also security risks, as well as the risk of becoming increasingly detached from the physical world.
Knowing and understanding these risks and benefits and talking about them with your kids can be a crucial key to creating positive digital experiences in this new frontier.
So, buckle up! It’s going to be a bumpy ride.