It takes a village to raise a child, even in the Metaverse.
Recently Epic Games, the company behind Fortnite and Unreal Engine announced its cunning plan to build a child-safe Metaverse. This has been boosted by a $2bn investment from Sony and Kirkbi, the family-owned holding and investment company behind the Lego Group.
I took an in-depth look at the existing academic research on the current state of the gaming industry. What I learned is that the impact of gaming [and by extrapolation Epic Games] is often inconclusive. The majority of the findings (on either side of the debate) have been consistently challenged on the grounds of methodological issues and publication bias.
Research, now spanning decades, on the effects of online gaming — specifically multiplayer online games geared towards children’s virtual game environments, both immersive and non-immersive — has failed to produce consistent evidence as to whether video games increase aggression and anti-social behaviour in children and adolescents or not.
If you’re new to the world of gaming — you might not know that in the popular game Fortnite Battle Royale (Epic Games) the goal is to kill other players’ avatars and be the last survivor on the island. While you’re killing others, you might do a little dance — Fornite was responsible for the dance craze “the floss”.
In Minecraft (Mojang Studios) players fight computer-controlled hostile creatures such as zombies and skeletons, while they compete against other players to the death, they might also build some buildings and then proceed to defend them against the aforementioned enemies.
The controversy over whether or not playing video games with violent or aggressive content contributes to aggression in children shows no sign of abating. Despite the vast amounts of research on this topic, there is no consensus.
The only thing we can truly conclude is that opinion is swayed according to whether you’re a proponent of gaming, or not.
Side note: In my opinion, what’s more interesting is the fact that there is an abundance of research in the highly commercial and profitable gaming industry. Yet, there is minimal research investigating non-gaming technology applications that offer experiences to support children to flourish in meaningful ways. Where is the research that looks at ways to harness the power of technology to ignite imaginations, bringing awe and wonder to children?
But I digress, let’s get back to Epic Games and a Safe Metaverse. Look, I get it, Lego is currently looking for sustainable strategies for the future (plastic blocks are not ideal for the ever increasing eco-friendly family), while Sony is looking for a play to enter the Metaverse, which makes sense. So enter, centre stage — Epic Games.
Not only are they the creators of the game Fornite, but there’s a whole variety of MMOGs you can buy on the Epic Games Store — for example; Grand Theft Auto — where you can hire hookers, shoot at cops and steal helicopters, Robo Recall — a VR first person shooter for virtual reality headsets where you can “shoot your way through defective rogue robots, or blow up a rebellion” and Tiny Tina’s Wonderland full of “whimsy, wonder, and high-powered weaponry….plus you can roll your own multiclass hero then shoot, loot, and slash!”
Please feel free to browse Epic Games Store for yourself and see what has been designed for your children to freely explore and experience within the offerings of their current Metaverse.
O.K., I’m going to put my mom hat on here.
But seriously WTF?!
Clearly, I have a lot more to say on this subject (and we all should) and I’m happy to engage in evidence based debates — but let’s first discuss our priorities, duties and responsibilities — as parents, caregivers and the current facilitators of a future of health and happiness for our children.
It takes a village to raise a child.
But, choose your village wisely.
I recently hosted a series of workshops with children (aged 15–17) with 30 students each session. The workshop was titled “ What is the Metaverse and why should I care?”. We spoke about some of those abstract, big consulting companies like PwC, Accenture, McKinsey and their projections of the future of the Metaverse…..
- For example, Citi Group — recently reported a projection that the Metaverse economy will be as large as $13T by 2030.
- Claims that the virtual world will be the next generation of the internet with up to five billion users.
We talked about NFTs, blockchain and crypto and how influencers are leading the way;
- Snoop Dog’s latest music video and his investments in Metaverse real estate.
- Mila Kunis’s crypto-vision debuted last summer, when she crowdfunded her animated series “Stoner Cats” through an NFT collection, token-gating the episodes powered by Ethereum.
- Gwenyth Paltrow’s adventures with the Bored Ape Yacht Club and — BFF — her Web3.0 community for female identifying individuals pushing NFTs and crypto like it is the new Tupperware.
- Even the UK’s very own, “highly trusted”, Chancellor of the Ex-Chequer, Rishi Sunak wants Britain to be a global hub for crypto in preparation for a future of digital virtual worlds that intersect with our physical worlds.
Regardless how WILD you (and these kids) think these projections may be — the fact is that children are going to intimately coalesce with web3.0 technology — which integrally means that the Metaverse, will enter into their lives in capacities we cannot comprehend.
After summarizing the next evolution of the internet, the concept of the Metaverse - its individual components and current status of Web3.0 - we then discussed and shared ideas, thoughts, feelings, individual insights into the Metaverse and its cumulative impact on their futures; their relationships, education, future careers, their hopes, dreams, aspirations and how they see their life unfolding.
I intentionally facilitated to invite and encourage honest, open feedback, hard to ask questions, challenge views and opinions . This approach generated valuable conversations amongst the kids that opened their eyes to a future that they have the power to shape.
Here is what’s evident to me after these discussions — young people have a very present and very acute awareness that digital technology providers — including social media platforms, game designers, gaming engines and big tech activators of the Metaverse — have historically and perpetually manipulated the minds of children and young people their ENTIRE LIVES. This has come at cost to their health, their psychological wellbeing as well as their digital and real-life relationships.
One female participant compared it to being in an abusive relationship that she just can’t get out of.
The feedback from the students in my workshops is the very tip of the iceberg. Molly Russell was just 14 when she took her own life, in the last six months of her life she was using her social media account 120 times a day. After she died her family found graphic posts about suicide and self-harm on her Instagram account. Her father Ian spoke out, making headlines around the world and battling Instagram, for years, during the inquest.
Raising the village alarm.
The evolution of the internet into the Metaverse is set to have a far deeper psychological and emotional impact on humans than we’ve ever seen before. The Metaverse brings access to new levels of experiences and information in a 360 virtual environment — fully immersed, fully present and fully embodied humans interacting in digital environments with other humans.
The Metaverse brings with it much deeper emotional and psychological impact, especially for younger, still developing human bodies and minds — a generation that by their very nature, will be one of the biggest consumer adopters of the Metaverse.
I advocate for communities, parents, students, educators, caregivers, researchers, academics to come together and collectively demand and co-design the necessary safety measures and structures for the Metaverse. It takes a village, but not just any village. And certainly not those village leaders who continue to bring our children violence, aggression, and competitions to the death.
Furthermore, what I hear from today’s 16,17 year olds is that the damage has been done. They’re worried, anxious and fearful.
Like tigers backed into their cage, they will strike and they will demand technology that allows them to live their lives with the freedom to be healthy, balanced and happy individuals. Sadly, and at this point, not for themselves but for their children.
Thanks for reading.
Feel free to disagree with me. I’m happy to engage in intelligent discourse regarding children in the Metaverse.
Disclosure: As an Embodiment/Movement Psychotherapist, Nina has spent over two decades working at the intersection of mind/body connection, mental health, creativity and technology. As Head of Metaverse Research for Kabuni and Doctoral Scholar, Nina Jane Patel is developing methodologies to understand the psychological and physiological effects of immersion, presence and embodiment in the Metaverse.
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