What is the Metaverse?
The short answer: "It's the Internet, except you can walk around in it."
The long answer: "An Internet-like system, except using a three-dimensional world metaphor with which you interact using a three-dimensional virtual representation of yourself (see Digital Avatar) instead of a two-dimensional hyperlinked-document metaphor with which you interact by clicking links and buttons."
The trope answer: The Internet becoming Cyberspace for real and everyone knowing about it and interacting with it that way.
The advent of Second Life and its open-source equivalent, Open Simulator, may make this future arrive sooner than you think. Some might argue that it already has, what with real-world governments and businesses setting up shop in Second Life, people making real-world money entirely within Second Life, and successful experiments at teleporting avatars between the Second Life grid and various Open Simulator grids. However, with the drastic decrease in the use of these services, the concept fell by the wayside for years... until projects like Oculus Rift and Janus VR started bringing it back. In 2021 Mark Zuckerberg renamed the parent company of Facebook and Instagram to Meta and officially announced his intention to create this trope, titled Horizon Worlds. Of course, whether this will ever be more practical than today's Internet is up for debate.
This is a subtrope of Cyberspace where it's widely known and used as a replacement for today's Internet by the public at large, not just by a few lucky hackers, discoverers, or inventors' friends.
Not to be confused with the Metaverse Web fiction.
- Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex - See the episode where Major Kusanagi visits a chat room, for example.
- Mnemosyne has "2.0". We see it grow in importance over the course of the series.
- Serial Experiments Lain mixes this with an incredible amount of Mind Screw.
- Dennō Coil, to a degree. Augmented Reality, combined occasionally with Astral Projection is a closer description.
- Real Drive: from the same creator as Ghost in the Shell.
- Summer Wars has Oz, and its big brother, the Digimon movie Our War Game takes the same approach to the Internet. Superflat Monogram also has a similar Internet representation.
- The manga for Densha Otoko has a very primitive version of this, with round, dumpling-like users floating in a gray cyberspace and talking in text, as a representation for a chatroom.
- In The Matrix and its sequels, the Matrix is a "neuro-active simulation" which human minds are jacked into to keep them under the machines' control. It's a very convincing simulation of late 20th century civilization, except to those few that don't take to it and are sought out by the rebels to become redpills.
- The Idlewild series has Immersive Virtual Reality. Users can meet in common areas or build their own domains from scratch.
- Murderworld features the Loka, a virtual space that hosts a variety of entertainments and experiences, the most popular being the violent Murderworld game itself. The user interface for this system is described as a kind of skull-fitted webbing that deciphers brain patterns, which allows users to generate in-Loka actions, and they in return receive feedback in the form of a limited range of sensations.
- Tad Williams' Otherland books combine Sci-Fi and Fantasy tropes by being set 20 Minutes into the Future, and creating Fantasy environments within the bounds of cyberspace. It's worth mentioning that travel time is normally nearly instantaneous, but specific virtual environments can be configured to simulate realistic movement, and this is considered something of a cachet of the eccentric and well-off.
- Cyberspace/The Matrix in William Gibson's Sprawl Trilogy.
- Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash is another notable example of the "cyberspace qua operating system" network and is the trope namer for The Metaverse. It's a particularly bad offender with respect to UI inconvenience... walking between sites in the metaverse takes time, and in one particularly unpleasant example a giant animated, unskippable intro flight sequence was required to visit a particular site. It also notes how inconvenient the general interface is; Hiro works in Flatspace (a plain 2D GUI like the one that you are probably using right now) when he gets serious.
- The Sidebar Universes in Justina Robson's Living Next Door to the God of Love are a lot like this. Robson makes it difficult to tell where (or if) reality ends and virtual reality begins.
- The Infosphere in Dan Simmon's Hyperion. Also the Megasphere, the true home of the AI Core, and the Metasphere, aka the Void Which Binds.
- Nero Manson's Sex Drugs And Violence In The Future depicts "The Grid" as a metaphysical overlay of ASCII characters on the real world.
- Inscape in several of Karl Schroeder's book, especially Ventus, Lady of Mazes, and Permanence.
- Used on a massive scale in the Golden Age trilogy by John C. Wright.
- Used in the works of Kawahara Reki. The idea is just starting to pick up steam in Sword Art Online, but by the time of Accel World it's become commonplace. It helps that between the two series "diving" technology is miniaturised from bulky NerveGear headsets to the slim NeuroLinker collar, the latter also having an Augmented Reality function that essentially replaces mobile phones.
- Ready Player One has the OASIS - the Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation - which specifically evolved out of an Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game to encompass all the others. Yes. ALL OF THEM. It's implied (or at least one could easily get the impression) that every fictional character and universe one could imagine (and everything from said universes) actually exists, though of course only a fraction of it is actually shown. Its source of revenue isn't even a subscription, but transport through the vast gamespace.
- In Unison Spark by Andy Marino, Unison is a social network that operates like this. Users access the virtual world by clapping their hands together. The protagonists, Ambrose Truax and Mistletoe, are trying to stop the new upgrade to Unison 3.0, which is more nefarious than it seems.
- The oneirochronon (literally, "dreamtime") in Aristoi.
- The titular RÉEL (the acronym is French for "real"), where every person on Earth has an individual account since birth. It allows an equal access to education, communication and entertainment.
- Hoshi and the Red City Circuit has Memspace, a computer-generated environment through which people's minds can retrieve data and interact with each other. People are legally required to have a Digital Avatar called a franca so that other people in memspace know who they are. Hoshi's looks exactly like her real self, but some people choose to look completely different.
- Puterspace in the Doctor Who New Adventures can be this, depending on what point in future history a given book is set at, and the tastes of the particular writer. Other times it's the "only used by the very tech-savvy" version of Cyberspace.
- Several points in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (the Magrathean planetary catalogue and the recording of Deep Thought giving The Answer in the first book, the documentary about the Krikketmen and the Wikket Gate in Life, the Universe and Everything) suggest that some form of total immersion video is a standard way of presenting information. Ford Prefect enters a metascape to fiddle the Guide records in Mostly Harmless, with the Lemony Narrator saying that if you live on Earth, you have no idea what a computer is.
A computer terminal is not some clunky old television with a typewriter in front of it. It is an interface where the mind and body can connect with the universe and move bits of it about.
- Caprica's holobands. You can walk around and interact with worlds like New Caprica City and also engage in pornography or lethal pleasures.
- Shadowrun has the Matrix, which plays this to its conclusion as nerds obviously would. Systems can use the default TRON-inspired iconography, but can be programmed to be anything; libraries with books for files and librarians for security to overgrown jungle ruins with treasures for files and angry natives for security. Deckers in turn can be anything from underage wizards with wands and glasses to BFG-toting commandos. Which leads to the awesome possibilities of Rambo clones getting their asses kicked by librarians or teenage wizards disabling angry natives with butterscotch syrup.
- In 2075 the Matrix was reformatted again and centralized through a massive server called "The Foundation", formed by networking together 100 technomancers, until they were killed and the Foundation continued running due to the massive amounts of Resonance and Dissonance energy they channeled converting the Matrix into a full-blown metaplane.
- Subverted in Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth. EDEN at first seems to be this, to the point of the introduction's narration outright describing it as a metaverse. Midway into the game, it's revealed that EDEN was merely created in cyberspace, which is just Another Dimension between the Digital World and the human world. People's avatars are actually artificial bodies made of data that their mental data is transferred to. The main plot begins when the Player Character is attacked by an Eldritch Abomination that corrupts their logout process, shunting their artificial body (and their attached mental data) into the real world as a Liminal Being, and must find a way to re-connect with their physical body before their mental data disperses. In the end, they fail, but the PC's boss/mentor manages to make a copy of their mental data using scraps of the PC's memories and combining it with the memories of the PC's Digimon.
- Mega Man Battle Network - The Internet has evolved into just this, except the avatars are independent, sentient entities instead of just virtual images of the users. Also, it's been extended into everything from water coolers to vases.
- The Nameless Mod: a meta example. The game (mod) is set in forum city-a fictional metaverse based on Deus Ex where player avatars are based on Deus Ex characters.
- The term "metaverse" is actually frequently used in conjunction with Open Simulator and has been since the late 2000s already due to its fairly open nature. That said, the term for the network of interconnected grids is "Hypergrid". Lots of places carry or used to carry "Metaverse" in their name, some having done so long before Zuckerberg's announcement made the term cool. There are sims like the Museo del Metaverso (Metaverse Museum), even entire grids such as the rather big Alternate Metaverse and the now-defunct Metropolis Metaversum. OSgrid, the biggest and oldest grid (launched in 2007 and now having more land area than Second Life), refers to itself as "The Open Source Metaverse".
- Kid Radd has the digital protagonists living in the internet, which to them looks much like this trope.
- In Futurama, after clearing the Valley of Pop-Up Ads, you reach a huge metropolis where Google and Yahoo are in the big buildings. The porn sites are in the red light district.