Metaverse Design Manifesto
Undystopianizing the Metaverse
Metaverse Design Manifesto is a speculative artwork created with Unity and Vuforia. It consists of an interactive AR experience that serves as a cautionary tale for Metaverse and a design manifesto proposing ten tenets to make Metaverse a positive evolution instead of a dystopia.
Metaverse is neither inherently good nor bad. It is merely a tool that opens the door to either a positive future or a full-on dystopia. Given the stake, designers and world builders of the Metaverse should be absolutely conscious of the decisions they make.
This artwork aims at reminding Metaverse designers to avoid building a dystopia and proposing paradigms to help the industry move forward. Specifically, it invites viewers to think about the following questions.
What are the problems with the current mainstream depiction of the Metaverse?
What should Metaverse designers do to create a positive, instead of dystopian, Metaverse?
A Cautionary Metaverse
When participants point their camera to the AR marker, their screens show a person wearing a tiny XR headset sitting in a windowless room full of garbage. Meanwhile, there is another room-size XR headset pointing at the room. If the viewers view the room through this XR headset, they can see the person in a beautiful beach. However, the image is interleaved with glitches and flashes of the harsh reality. The whole experience is mediated through a constant stream of liminal background music.
Metaverse Design Manifesto
In light of the cautionary tale, I synthesized the Metaverse design philosophy into the following ten tenets.
1. No hype
Excessive hype is harmful to any kind of revolutionary technological idea. Think less about blockchain, crypto, and NFT. Think more about productivity, creativity, and social connections. Back your design with solid user research and testing.
2. Deception is an anti-pattern
Every pixel is manipulatable, no matter how real it seems. By looking at the world through a pair of XR lenses, users delegate their immense trust in Metaverse designers. In return, designers have a fiduciary duty to avoid any interactions that deceive users.
3. The real world is beautiful
The real world has nothing to be afraid of. There is no need to hide or escape from it. Build a Metaverse that extends from reality instead of obstructing reality. Fix real-world problems through Metaverse rather than dodge them in Metaverse.
4. "Wading" over immersion
Total immersion is almost unnecessary outside of gaming, meditation, traveling, and a few other use cases. Start from reality and increase virtuality bit by bit. Design experience that blends the real and virtual world in a useful and intuitive way.
5. Create the Metaverse as a place to visit, not a place to live
Metaverse is not our home. Like the Internet, users are visitors, not residents. Avoid the assumption that users will spend a prolonged period of time in the world that you created. Encourage users to take off their headsets when they are not needed.
6. Accessibility and affordability as a first-class citizen
Think about who is excluded in your design, who cannot afford an advanced headset that enables your special features, who cannot interact with the system in the "supposed" way. Make accessible through traditional computer medium.
7. Metaverse is as free as the real world
Every avatar is a real person. Things that should not be allowed in the real world should also not be allowed in the Metaverse. Transparent and reasonable restrictions and moderation maintain the health of the ecosystem.
8. Stop re-creating, start re-imagining
The law of physics does not always need to be applied to the Metaverse. There is no need to restrict content inside windows and canvases nor exactly replicate the real world. Take advantage of the extra dimension and interactivity to realize its greatest potential.
9. Embrace digital materialism
Give virtual objects a touch of physicality and materiality. Avoid pure photorealism or minimalism. Embrace a balanced mediation between digital augmentation and physical affordances.
10. Make the Metaverse open and communal
We did it once for the Internet to some extent. Let's do this again by making the Metaverse extensible and cross-platform compatible. Individual creators and developers should feel welcome to contribute, collaborate and share.
There are multiple layers of realities in the entire body of work.
Metaverse Design Manifesto utilizes markers to anchor the spatial position of the scene objects. The AR marker was specifically designed with glitches covering a dangerous skull symbol to match the theme of the project. The strips help improve the quality of the marker and make it more easily recognizable.
The entire scene comprises three layers - Virtual World, "Real" World, and XR Headset. The camera in each world can only see the objects in its own layer, and similarly, light sources can only lit objects in their own layer. However, the main AR camera can see both the "Real" World and the XR Headset layers.
The data from both the virtual camera and "real" cameras is streamed to the "Screen" object through their corresponding RenderTextures. A glitch effect shader is specifically added to the result of the virtual camera as a URP post-processing step. In addition, the "Screen" randomly switches between the two RenderTextures to show a flash of the "real" world.
Both virtual and "real" cameras track the movement and rotation of the main AR camera. They have the same relative positions to their reference points, which are the virtual "screen" and "screen" respectively.
Also, background music and poem are added to provoke emotions and thoughts. The poem titled The Room of My Life was written by Anne Sexton. Although it was originally a reflection of her mental stability, the poem is also riddled with voyeuristic imagery of pervasive objects that appear to control the poet. Such sentiment aligns with the theme of this artwork very well.
Blender was used as the main modeling tool in this project. Both the "real" room and the XR beach scenes are isometric models created by combining various online and self-made assets. The XR headset was also modeled from scratch by myself. The result was exported from Blender into Unity as an FBX file. In Unity, the model is unpacked, and the individual materials are extracted so that they can be modified in Unity and fine-tuned specifically for the Universal Rendering Pipeline.