By Hyperlinked Library student Martin Martinez:
What is the next step for gaming? Today’s most popular video games such as Fortnite, Roblox, and Minecraft are creating virtual environments where people can come together to create, play, entertain, and socialize with one another (The Science and Technology Correspondents of the Economist, 2021). On the other hand, tabletop games such as Dungeons and Dragons are extending their presence to virtual worlds, extending the game to a 3D virtual tabletop environment (Hall, 2023). As games continue to create their own virtual environments, it seems that we are in the early stages of the development of the Metaverse. The Metaverse is a concept that was first coined by Neil Stephenson in his 1992 novel “Snow Crash,” a virtual world where people can be fully immersed and interact with the environment just like in our own reality (TSTCE, 2021).
To access the Metaverse, you need to wear a virtual reality (VR) headset, a technology that we have today. VR technology is commonly used for gaming devices, such as Sony’s PS5’s VR2 headset and Valve’s Index. However, there are other applications of VR that extend from the typical gaming experience. VR is also used for virtual field trips -like perusing a museum’s collection thousands of miles away, or exploring the International Space Station, or even the Juno mission to Jupiter (McShane, 2018). There are also virtual ecosystems that are not game based, such as Spatial, Engage, and Mozilla Hubs. People can create their own virtual spaces and explore others. In addition, people can meet those from around the world within these virtual environments. Schools, museums, and libraries are testing out their own virtual spaces for their users. As VR and virtual worlds are becoming ubiquitous, we will see more people engaging in virtual spaces which will lead to the development of the overarching virtual ecosystem called the Metaverse.
One of the biggest developments I’ve seen recently that will lead to the Metaverse was an interview between Lex Fridman (2023) and Mark Zuckerburg. What makes this interview different from others is that both are hundreds of miles away from each other, yet they are having an intimate experience in a metaverse environment. What makes a metaverse experience? Simply put, experiencing a metaverse environment is to be immersed within a virtual space where you cannot discern between what is virtual and what is physical. Meta, the recent new company name of Facebook, has developed a technology called “codec avatars,” which scans a photorealistic 3D virtual version of a person to be displayed as an avatar of that person within the virtual environment.
Fridman (2023) and Zuckerburg had themselves scanned to create their codec avatars, which took many hours. Meta researchers are trying to make this process faster–a couple of minutes to scan yourself and have a codec avatar of your own made through your mobile device. That will be later in the future. As I was watching this interview, I had a huge smile on my face; I have been a supporter of the concept of the metaverse, and this shows that fully virtual worlds are possible through human ingenuity. There is so much potential with this technology, and I am excited to see how libraries integrate their own virtual worlds to support their users.
In our Module 4 lecture on the Hyperlinked Library model–participatory service and transparency, Dr. Stephens (2022) mentioned a quote from William Gibson: “One of the things our grandchildren will find quaintest about us is that we distinguish the digital from the real, the virtual from the real. In the future, that will become literally impossible.” This quote really resonated with me as I believe we are at a turning point of reaching a fully enveloped reality that integrates both the real and virtual. I believe that now is the time for librarians to be proactive in trying out extended reality technologies. Doing this now will better prepare for the future when the metaverse becomes more than a concept–integrated into our own reality. It has been a long road for gaming, and it is amazing to see how this medium has paved the way for virtual ecosystems to thrive. I’m excited to see how libraries will take on this challenge of serving users within a streamlined reality of both the virtual and physical leading towards a new horizon.
Hall, C. (2023, May 24). D&D’s virtual tabletop is off to a slow start, but designers say that’s very much the point. Polygon. D&D’s new virtual tabletop is surprisingly good for playing in person – Polygon
Fridman, L. (2023, September 28). Mark Zukerberg: First interview in the Metaverse [Video]. Lex Fridman Podcast #398. YouTube. youtube.com/watch?v=MVYrJJNdrEg
McShane, M. (2018, June 13). Is Virtual Reality the Future of Field Trips? Forbes. Is Virtual Reality The Future Of Field Trips? (forbes.com)
Stephens, M. (2022). Hyperlinked library participatory service & transparency [Video]. Panopto. https://sjsu-ischool.hosted.panopto.com/Panopto/Pages/Viewer.aspx?id=2a19a4b6-e945-4d2e-abf1-aef3014172a5
The Science and Technology Correspondents of the Economist. (2021, November 8). What Next 22 Emerging Technologies to Watch in 2022. The Economist. What next? 22 emerging technologies to watch in 2022 (economist.com)
Minecraft and the Uncensored Library
I have so many stories to tell when it comes to the video game called Minecraft. In simplest terms, the game is like a virtual Lego set—stacking blocks together to create buildings, contraptions, and more. One fond memory is when my spouse and I made a theme park together in the game. We made our own roller coasters and tested each other’s ride. I had a coaster going through a volcano and she created one underwater. I love how this game fosters creativity and helps us make new stories with family and friends. This is why I believe that these factors have made Minecraft the number one best-selling video game of all time with over 300 million copies sold—nearly the entire population of the United States (Parrish, 2023)! But there is something more to this game than creating new experiences, it is also a platform to keep and share stories, even those that are banned in certain countries.
This is where the Uncensored Library comes in, which is a Minecraft server that contains a collection of banned reporting from countries that do not have the freedom of press (Mojang, 2023; Reporters Without Borders, 2020). The server was created by the Reporters without Borders organization and a Minecraft community called BlockWorks in 2020 to enable access to forbidden articles written by journalists who have been persecuted and even killed for their speech. The Uncensored Library uses a loophole where oppressive countries cannot censor information within Minecraft, thus those within those countries can have access to the censored literature. Also, Minecraft is a great platform for this project because it is geared towards younger players. Young people can easily access information through the server that has not been manipulated by their governments.
The virtual library is designed in a neoclassical fashion akin to a government building and courthouse. Most of the rooms inside the library are dedicated to a country—featuring Russia, Iran, and Saudi Arabia to name a few (Reporters Without Borders, 2020). The banned articles are stored in digital books where people using a virtual avatar can access. Who thought a video game had the potential in preserving and sharing stories that have been censored by oppressive governments?
This topic makes me wonder about the current political climate in America, as more and more people want to ban and censor books in libraries. I currently live in the US, and I am fortunate to have the freedom of press, where I can speak out my mind through websites, social media, and blogs such as this one. However, as the US becomes more focused politically and socially in censoring information to the public, I believe that librarians in the future will have to seek out virtual platforms like the Reporters without Borders to preserve and share stories that have been banned. Gaming may be a solution to uncensored books and other literature in the upcoming years. That is why as a librarian I will keep on exploring the different ways to keep, make, and share stories through gaming in order to protect the freedom of the press.
Mojang. (2023, November 1). The Uncensored Library. Minecraft. https://www.minecraft.net/en-us/article/uncensored-library
Parrish, A. (2023, October 15). Minecraft has sold over 300 million copies. The Verge. https://www.theverge.com/2023/10/15/23916349/minecraft-mojang-sold-300-million-copies-live-2023
Reporters Without Borders. (2020). The Uncensored Library. https://uncensoredlibrary.com/en
Stephens, M. (2022). The hyperlinked library: The Power of stories [Video]. Panopto. https://sjsu-ischool.hosted.panopto.com/Panopto/Pages/Viewer.aspx?id=25a905bc-6739-4f68-afea-af10013f32fb