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Simulation Theory: The Theatre of the Metaverse

It’s me: Kelly Vero, creative badass, future-gazer, game developer and general metaverse nerd. What does entertainment have to do with the metaverse? As it turns out, quite a lot. Entertainment plays its biggest role yet and needs cutting edge technology which is driven by consumer demand. Are you sitting comfortably? Gabsida!

old games console

Enter Stage Right

In 2019, a freak phenomenon happened in no other place but China. A book, Mo Dao Zu Shi (The Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation), was adapted for the screen as The Untamed.

A television series of 50 episodes, it was created for WeTV through Tencent video.

So far, so good.

But this book was controversial. And this genre would quickly be banned from Chinese state publications, broadcasts, and anything purporting to create the citizens of tomorrow. Unstoppable as the brand and IP was, it allowed itself to be interpreted into national fashion crazes (Hanfu) and adapted verbatim in everything from cosplay to merchandise, and branded consumer goods.

It gave advertisers the opportunity to connect with entirely new audiences and from creating an animated series to developing a mobile game: The Untamed exploded the much bloated genre of Xianxia, becoming one of the most popular dramas of the last 10 years.

It surpassed 9.5 billion views on Tencent Video in June 2021, which was a few days before the second anniversary of its airing date, making it one of the highest viewed dramas in the world, let alone on a Chinese platform.

You’ve definitely never heard of it.

The Spokesmodels of Simulation

The premise of the story is that we follow the life and tragedy of Wei Wuxian, who is a cultivator of dark and demonic arts. Resurrected 16 years after his tragic death, his return to the world brings him to reunite with the people in his life, including his soulmate Lan Wangji. Though gripping and intense (and I might add not entirely as homoerotic as some might report), the plot is not the most interesting part about this IP. It is of the two leads, namely Xiao Zhan (playing Wei Wuxian) and Wang Yibo (who plays Lan Wangji). Both performers, models, and actors in their own right, this series propelled them into mega stardom - creating fan fiction and idolatry on a level of the Beatles or BTS.

Through the freedom of fanfiction came the metaverse. A world of opportunity began to appear for people who were passionate superfans of Xiao and Wang in recreating or simulating this particular universe. Social platforms alone could not sustain, not maintain the deepest requirements of the fandom: to see, be and play with their idols whenever, wherever.

The Sims is a popular RPG IP. It is a world contained in a beautifully crafted core loop originally developed by Will Wright. It is a bona fide metaverse, though we often don’t see it as anything more than a game.

In the usual business of games, as consumers we might wait patiently for a few years to see our favourite books, or tv shows represented as video games.

But something changed, and the simplicity of Mo Dao Zhu Shi’s fiction allowed us to take the world and repackage it into life, creating the author’s vision onto other platforms and in other experiences giving rise to opportunities in the metaverse for other activities to be lived out or experienced. The Untamed is not the only perfectly crafted reproduction in the metaverse if indeed you count The Sims as a/the metaverse.

Games are Life, Not Make Believe

From Fallout to Mass Effect, you don't have to travel very far in the metaverse to find recreations of well known games, and IP.

One of the more famous, such as Halo, doesn't get a mention in this infinite platform where tech meets aesthetics. Most off-the-shelf metaverse interiors are purchased with recreating the expansive battlefields of Halo in mind and yeah, folks can even buy a “private car garage” in Sketchfab with gunmetal grey walls and neon orange trims and decals in hexagonal shapes and patterns.

So, why is simulation happening in the metaverse? What is the psychology of creating an LA beach scene in GTA Online or going on the party yacht in Avakin Life?

It's a really simple answer, and that is because they can.

Anything that you feel passionate about in the metaverse you should be able to create. But the why perhaps, is that all of the simulations inside the metaverse feature the gamification of the original cinematic or written experience. Like transposing the feelings of the book or film into the rudimentary routines of games in the metaverse.

Companies like Rockstar, Roblox et al have been looking at the metaverse as the ideal platform for gaming, therefore the potential barrier to entry for anybody wanting to recreate everything from the detention room in the Breakfast Club, to creating an aviation construction or simulation for safety policies inside the Boeing metaverse. This can happen in any place where there is access to 3D models, avatars and environments. And if the goal is to simulate experiences in the virtual world before moving into the physical world, then this is exactly a perfect playground for industries that wish to create simulations of everything from office spaces to training exercises.

What we read in books or see on screen is playing into the deepest part of our psyche. The games industry has known this for a long time and through the barrage of space junk in the various platforms and points of sale, it is studios such as Square Enix and as previously mentioned Tencent who want to be able to give the world; and that’s the key phrase here, the world to the end user or player.

Tencent has, since 2019, developed a pool of experiences through its ““Global Digital Museums for National Treasures” Strategic Cooperation Initiated by Tencent and RMN” RMN being the France National Museums Union. Bringing game engines and aesthetics to new audiences through the medium of living technology.

Square Enix has long supported the theory that we should be able to live in our game and is slowly pulling its vision together through a series of carefully curated tools allowing us to do just that. As I write this I am excited about the possibility of finally buying that apartment in Sector 7 slums!

All the World's a Stage

Entertainment, in my opinion at least, needs some refinement than the usual “let’s just show up in Breaking Bad and see what happens” - though that is the desired effect, I have a better theory.

Somehow, looking at that image of Wei Wuxian and Lan WangJi makes me wonder whether we are opening the doors to live inside persistent theatre. And if that's the case, where does that leave the world of entertainment if as players we can spend time acting out our wildest dreams inside simulated worlds or stages, doesn't this provide the perfect foil to one of Shakespeare's most famous quotes?

This space is primed for theatre. The execution of intricate sets and dioramas into infinity allow us to grab more than 360॰ - something that takes us way back to the era of theatre in the round through playwrights from Aristophanes to Brecht and it paves the way for life inside a realised fiction (just like games).

Data-Driven Theatrics

All or most industry verticals have their own theatre that provides as much, if not more than entertainment or serious gaming/training can. They can provide a wonderful, rich feedback loop of data created in the metaverse flowing back into the real world and out into the metaphysical landscapes of where it came from. In algorithms, architectures and neural nets there is a need for them to play a role in increasing the coherence inside the metaverse.

Synthetic data is "any production data applicable to a given situation that is not obtained by direct measurement." And lately, a spike in synthetic data has shown us that it is not the most effective way to be able to extract the information for the feedback loop in the metaverse.

The role of people inside the metaverse seems more important in terms of being the key, or the gatekeeper of data as it passes through real life into simulation. But one of the things that we have to remember is the computing power of what is capable here. Whilst we're still still trying to figure out how quantum computing and edge computing can truly work to be able to save our GPUs and CPUs, perhaps forcing energy into creating a series of platforms and systems to test data is not the best use of the metaverse.

After all, the metaverse is a playground, so we should be able to play in it rather than use it as an academic lab where we study (that's another article entirely!). If you think about my analogy of the theatre, and how the metaverse allows users to connect with this platform as a persistent architecture, rather than as an instanced architecture then we have a good opportunity to be able to create worlds that contain very strong e-commerce opportunities for the end user.

The Money Shot

Full circle brings us back to Mo Dai Zu Shi/The Untamed. The discussion about branding, brand awareness and loyalty systems has long been earmarked as the main driver of the metaverse. The economic effects of The Untamed pre-Sims fan metaverse saw multi IP draws bringing in 3.27 million viewers paying between 30 to 50 yuan to watch the live broadcast of the actors performing songs inspired by the series. Pre-pandemic. Imagine if this was Travis Scott or Ariana Grande in Fortnite? Imagine if this was broadcast in Honor of Kings or QQ Speed?

Tencent Video returned an estimated 100 million yuan (almost $15m) in revenue from that concert alone. 100 million yuan.

These tickets sold out in less than five seconds and WeTV, who showed the series and related concert performances, saw growth by 250% with an average of 1 million application downloads per month since the drama was originally launched in 2019.

This data shows us that where there are strong enough IPs, as controversial as they are, there is an audience. But what this information tells me is that the pivoting of the metaverse towards something more functional, either in entertainment or industry, provides infinite data and revenue possibilities in persistent interoperability.


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