Can-D presents a nightmare vision of just how terrifying an alternative world where “you’re really going to feel like you’re there with other people” can be. In short, a simulated community can have disastrous consequences in the real world as people retreat from it into their dreams.
The Promise of Eternal Life
There is another vision of the metaverse, however, one described by Matthew Ball, author of The Metaverse: And How It Will Revolutionize Everything:
I describe it as a massively scaled and interoperable network of 3D-rendered, real-time virtual worlds, which can be experienced persistently and synchronously by an effectively unlimited number of users, each with an individual sense of presence.
What I am effectively describing is a virtual plane parallel to the physical world, which, in addition to being able to do many things that we can’t do in the real world, replicates it. We all participate at the same time, with no cap to what we can do, and why we can do it, and how many people can participate.
This is a vision of the metaverse that is not merely an alternate reality within which simulated communities exist but parallel virtual realities unburdened by the constraints of creation itself. It is analogous not to Can-D as described in The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch but to its competition, Chew-Z, whose slogan is “Be choosy. Chew-Z.” The industrialist Palmer Eldritch returns from a neighboring star system with the new alien hallucinogen and rapidly brings it to market.
Chew-Z does not require the use of external layouts and thus is completely separate from reality itself. As Palmer Eldritch claims: “It will only be after a few tries that they realize the two different aspects: the lack of time lapse and the other, perhaps the more vital. That it isn’t fantasy, that they enter a genuine new universe.” The experience of Chew-Z is near instantaneous within our reality. “When we return to our former bodies—you notice the use of the word ‘former,’ a term you won’t apply with Can-D, and for good reason—you’ll find that no time has passed.” Chew-Z is a gateway to “a virtual plane parallel to the physical world” with “an effectively unlimited number of users, each with an individual sense of presence.” The tension within this description is noted by Leo Bulero, chairman of the board of Perky Pat Layouts, who rages, “But the worst aspect of Chew-Z is the solipsistic quality. With Can-D you undergo a valid interpersonal experience.”
While Can-D offers a grotesque parody of religious transcendence, Chew-Z advertises itself with the boldest of blasphemies: “GOD PROMISES ETERNAL LIFE. WE CAN DELIVER IT.” There is, of course, a catch, as there always is when promises such as these are trusted. There’s always a cost to attempting to circumvent the order of creation and seeking to free ourselves of “caps to what we can do, and why we can do it.” New worlds offered to us are always tethered to their authors; lurking behind each is its own Palmer Eldritch.
The Banality of Being Yourself
There is, as we have seen, possibilities for both pathetic and sinister metaverses: alternate realities both escapist and solipsistic. What will perhaps come first, however, is the banal.
In 2017 the retail giant Walmart, working with Mutual Mobile, designed a demo of “an immersive VR simulation that gave users an idea of a smart shopping experience.” The demo was designed under a tight deadline for the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival. It featured a poorly rendered shopping cart that the user pushed down poorly rendered aisles as they filled their virtual shopping cart with virtual milk and wine. While doing so, a floating virtual clerk, or rather the clerk’s head and torso, assisted by providing recommendations and reminders to the virtual shopper. How this was an improvement over now ubiquitous online grocery shopping and delivery remains a mystery to this day.