Introducing a model to dissect and evaluate Metaverse narratives

Dirk Songuer
15 min readMar 16, 2023


In my last article “Five perspectives on the nature and form of the Metaverse” I looked at how five distinct narratives emerged over time to establish their own purpose and form for the Metaverse.

I also stated that the Metaverse was a contested future vision, claimed by different stakeholders, each with very different perspectives, assumptions and goals.

They are currently narratives:

Narratives are effectively stories that describe visions, hopes, dreams, and desires for how a yet abstract and amorphous thing should look, feel, and behave.

As we encounter Metaverse narratives from different stakeholders, it is interesting to dissect them: What is their purpose? What does a specific narrative have in common with others? What are the differences? Who do they benefit and who do they discriminate against?

This article introduces my personal model to understand the core properties and purpose of a Metaverse narrative, regardless of its form —pure definitions, formal papers, informal reports, books & novels, or movies.

It looks at how the narrative interprets four core properties of the Metaverse: Impact, modality, identity, implementation — as well as the purpose of the narrative itself.

The outcome is a card: A character sheet of the Metaverse narrative, revealing its nature and form.

Impact: Is the Metaverse part of reality or disconnected from it?

This property looks at the real-world impact of the Metaverse. The question is if the Metaverse is something entirely disconnected from reality, if it’s a part of it, or an adjunct.

If it is something disconnected, then the Metaverse can fend off any attempt to bring aspects of the physical world into it. As a result, a disconnected Metaverse cannot have any direct impact on physical reality. Likewise, any action in the physical world has no consequences within the Metaverse.

There are no rules, no rights, no expectations in the Metaverse beyond what the designers decreed. Physical rules or laws would not automatically apply.

The Metaverse would also have its own economy, which is detached from the physical economy. Personal wealth or abilities within the Metaverse would not automatically transfer into the physical world and vice versa.

  • These narratives are usually about escapism, creating a world separate from reality to “go and be somewhere else”. Example: Escaping a dystopian world into an Entertainment-Metaverse in Ready Player One.
  • Some narratives use this as a “reverse-escapism” to create an “Us-vs-Them” narrative. Example: Humans against AIs in The Matrix.
  • Separation from reality might also create a safe space, providing a boundary between the real world and imagined worlds, where the Metaverse can create its own rules for what is socially accepted (see: Magic Circle). Example: Hunting, shooting & killing other people being encouraged in Fortnite.

If the Metaverse is part of reality, then there is no meaningful way to differentiate both. In this case, rather than adding some virtuality to reality, the Metaverse drags the entirety of reality into virtuality.

As a result, such a Metaverse has a direct and immediate impact on the physical world. Likewise, any action in the physical world has consequences in the Metaverse. Rules, rights, and expectations transfer over into virtuality, as will rules, rights, and expectations typically associated with digital experiences shape expectations in physical environments.

Both economies are entangled, with the Metaverse and physical reality using the same currencies, financial and value systems.

  • These narratives often describe a digitally augmented world, where people can seamlessly transition between reality and virtuality, with both being inseparable. Example: MetaGame by Sam Landstrom.
  • The same is true for narratives that aim to create a full digital twin of reality in virtuality. Example: The full integration of reality into virtuality, equating to total surveillance in The Circle.

Some narratives find a middle ground where the Metaverse is something adjunct to reality. It is separate in theory, however in practice too much of reality is brought into it to be considered truly separate.

This parallel Metaverse might have its own rules, rights, and expectations, however they are modelled on or at least influenced by our physical experience. The Metaverse can affect reality and vice versa, using either formal or informal ways.

While both have distinct economies, there is usually an official or unofficial way to convert and transfer value from one to the other.

  • This is how many persistent online game designers see virtual worlds and MMOs, for example Second Life or World of Warcraft, where in-game economies have a direct or indirect link to real money.

Modality: Is the Metaverse ubiquitous or situational?

This property describes the way the Metaverse is accessed: Can it be entered / experienced at any time or are there limitations?

If the Metaverse is something ubiquitous, it is accessible anytime and anywhere. These narratives typically incorporate multiple ways to access the Metaverse, with varying degrees of immersion, including text-based, audio, video, 2D and 3D experiences on any type of screen, headset, or other sensory devices.

A user might start with a mobile device “peeking into the Metaverse through a window” and as the scenario unfolds switch to Virtual Reality to “step into the Metaverse”. This can be seamless as Metaverse platforms in these narratives might be able to serve several types of endpoints, similar to “adaptive websites” today.

  • Although many narratives see Virtual Reality and full sensory replacement as the primary way to enter a Metaverse, some add additional forms of access for accessibility reasons. Example: Snow Crash envisioning a virtual reality-based successor to the internet, but also adding the option of public terminals and non-VR access.
  • The Metaverse Roadmap first introduced a model that separated the Metaverse from representation and modality.
  • Similarly, narratives around the concept of ubiquitous computing also fit this interpretation, as described by Walt Mossberg.

Describing a situational Metaverse constraints the access to one context and modality. For example, a narrative might state that the Metaverse “must be a real-time rendered 3D world in Virtual Reality, experienced through a headset”.

This means that usage is limited to situations where a user can safely engage with the desired modality: Somebody walking along or driving a car will not be able to use a fully immersive VR headset to enter the Metaverse.

  • Narratives that desire high immersion and a feeling of presence regard Virtual Reality and full sensory replacement as must-have. Example: Being able to be fully present in the virtual world in Ready Player One.
  • Some narratives use situational access to gatekeep the Metaverse, limiting it to specific actors or groups. Example: Some people being stored away in virtuality and their bodies reduced to minimal function to save societal resources in Blindsight by Peter Watts.

Identity: Are people entering the Metaverse as a representation or as an exploration of themselves, or anonymous?

This property describes how people identify in the Metaverse: As themselves, as an extension of themselves or as something abstract?

If the Metaverse narrative is about representation, then users wear an accurate image of themselves in virtuality — they come as they are. Their physical properties like sex, age, height, skin-, hair-, and eye color are the same or at least an abstraction of their actual properties.

This is not a technical distinction, as users would also be able to just as easily generate an avatar different from their physical properties. However social norms in these narratives dictate that an avatar should be close to the actual physical properties of the user — for example have at least the same sex.

The same is true for behavior — it is expected that people think, speak, and act as they would in reality. People behind the avatars are held directly accountable for their actions.

The relationship of real and Metaverse identity in these narratives is 1:1, meaning a user has only one Metaverse identity and representation, tightly coupled to their real one, although this still allows many variations like clothes, tattoos, and other cosmetic alterations.

  • Social-based Metaverse narratives start from the real person, then create a digital twin in virtuality. Example: A Metaverse layer tightly linked to your real identity in Minority Report.
  • Some narratives might use representation-based narratives to have characters subvert these expectations. Example: Helen Harris, an African-American woman presenting as Caucasian male in virtuality to be more respected by her peers in Ready Player One.
  • Visual narratives like comics or movies require recognizability of characters throughout the narrative so the reader / viewer can follow the story as it switches between reality and virtuality. Example: The “residual self-image” synchronizing physical and virtual appearance in The Matrix.
  • Every avatar-creator that limits the range to humans also fits this interpretation. Example: Ready Player Me offering only human shapes.

If the Metaverse narrative is about exploration, then every physical property is accepted as completely fluid: sex, race, culture, body types, even human nature itself. In exploratory narratives, it’s socially accepted to for example present as a different race without any notion of “digital blackfacing”.

Every external attribute is thus changeable and merely temporary. Users might not even be recognizable as humans as they can identify with things, presenting (and acting) as cars, battle ships, or attack helicopters within the Metaverse.

The relationship of real and Metaverse identity in these narratives is 1:n, meaning a user might have many Metaverse identities, some used for representation, some used for exploration. Identities can constantly change, with varying avatars, to further explore aspects of identity and representation in different contexts. As a result, they might not always be recognizable as a specific user.

  • These narratives are most prominent in science fiction narratives where society has moved beyond standard-human expectations and biases. Example: The Cyberpunk 2020 pen & paper RPG, in which humans, AIs and hybrids have a fluid understanding of embodiment in virtuality and (to a degree) in reality.

Finally, there are narratives where the identity of a user within the Metaverse is completely detached from their real identity. Users entering the Metaverse can create one or more distinct, separate, and thus anonymous identities.

Any physical property and behavior can be — and is expected to be — obfuscated. When encountering somebody else in the Metaverse, you cannot know who they are in the real world (except if they tell you).

The driver of such narratives is not so much exploration, as it is privacy and security.

The relationship of identity within the Metaverse and reality in these narratives can be n:n, meaning that a Metaverse identity can even be assumed by many users in the background, posing as the same identity. A user might also have many Metaverse identities, none of which tightly links to their real identity.

  • Identities are handled more like phone numbers that can be added, burned, and exchanged at any time. Example: Some Blockchain-based narratives linking identity to wallets instead to people.

Implementation: Is the Metaverse a type of experience, a protocol, or a platform?

This property looks at how the Metaverse is realized in the narrative: Is the Metaverse an application type, a protocol, or a platform?

If the Metaverse is seen as an application type, then the narrative classifies some applications as “Metaverse Experiences”, similar to some applications being classified as “A game” or “A website”. The Metaverse can be seen as the sum of all separate Metaverse applications.

New experiences can be added to the Metaverse as specialized applications, if they satisfy the collective understanding of what constitutes a “Metaverse application”.

That also means that there is not “one Metaverse”, but many metaverses — as many as there are applications. These metaverses will be governed individually, as well as have individual business models.

Interoperability might happen but is usually limited to data exchange between individual applications. There might also be SDKs and frameworks that will help develop Metaverse experience, taking the place of a “Meta Layer”, providing the glue for such interoperability.

  • This is used by narratives that see the Metaverse as a means of application classification. Example: The media equating partnering with specific applications as “entering the Metaverse.”
  • Other narratives get back to the “one Metaverse” perspective by defining the app store as the core experience, with every experience in this store being part of the Metaverse. Example: Equating the Oculus Quest Store to the Metaverse.

Narratives that see the Metaverse as a protocol often see the Metaverse as a successor to the Internet: A similar set of basic standards handling the structure and transfer of data. Only in this case it is not websites, but extends into volumetric and spatial visual representations, real-time communication and potentially means to synchronize reality and virtuality.

New experiences can be added to the Metaverse like websites: If the experience is based on the protocol and can be experienced through the agreed “protocol viewers”, then it is considered part of the Metaverse. This is either similar or an advancement of web browsers.

Interoperability happens through use of the protocol. However, there might be virtual worlds on the protocol that want to isolate themselves from others in terms of data exchange, governance, and business model.

While experiences can have full control over themselves, there needs to be a governing body for the protocol itself, defining the standard.

There also might be protocol components without a visible endpoint, providing a broader meta layer, like how to represent and move people and goods along the protocol.

  • Such narratives look at the current Internet or Web and assume a linear progression of concepts. Example: Matthew Ball’s essays and subsequent book stating that the Metaverse will be built on community-based standards and protocols.
  • Other narratives are driven by the creators of such meta layers, wanting to establish themselves as a part (or the governing body) of such a protocol. Example: Ready Player Me aiming to define and own the avatar meta layer.

In narratives where the Metaverse is a platform, there is usually one dominant virtual world, operated by a single entity. Every Metaverse experience happens within this platform while everything outside it is considered not-Metaverse.

While decentralization creeps into these narratives from time to time, for example through offering levels of self-governance within such platforms, the ultimate arbiter of law is the platform operator, accountable for safely and legally running it. Similarly, the operator usually defines the central business model, also controlling or channeling the virtual economy.

Interoperability is meaningless in this scenario as there is only one Metaverse platform. New experiences are created within the platform, based on methods and tools provided by the platform operator.

  • Many “traditional” Metaverse narratives are based on a monopoly operator, emerging from a hyper-capitalistic dystopic society. Example: The Oasis in Ready Player One.
  • This perspective also describes current virtual worlds like Roblox or Second Life, assuming eventually one platform eventually becomes the de facto monopoly.

Purpose: Is the Metaverse narrative actionable or meant as pure inspiration?

Purpose is not a property of the Metaverse narrative, but describing the purpose of the narrative itself: Why did the authors create or do people believe in the narrative?

If the narrative was created to provide an actionable blueprint, then it tries to describe a tangible and achievable Metaverse. The goal is usually to provide a guideline towards a specific implementation of “their” Metaverse, as defined by the properties above.

  • Actionable narratives may be created by technology companies invested in specific layers of the Metaverse. Example: Ready Player Me providing a meta layer for avatars and virtual representation.
  • Another reason is communicating a specific ideology, set of values, or otherwise social guidance. Example: The XR Guild aiming to drive ethical decision-making in Metaverse design, considering the effects on real people and long-term societal implications.

If the narrative was created to be inspirational, then it is detached from any kind of feasibility. The goal is not that such narratives can ever be achieved, but to drive discourse, explore concepts and sometimes as commercial marketing campaigns.

  • PR- and marketing-based narratives are created by organizations to improve their image in the market. As the “Metaverse” represents a cyclical hype term, press releases and campaigns gather attention, and thus access resources — be it investor money or talents.
  • Novels use such narratives to explore unlikely premises or scenarios. The entire genre of “dystopia-based hyper-capitalistic Metaverses” is based on this — being neither desirable, nor achievable, but offering a look into such scenarios and sometimes transferrable learnings and warnings.
  • There are also ideology-based narratives, which approach a Metaverse from a specific core belief or state. Example: “The Metaverse must be decentralized, not governed by a central body, where people can go and experience a parallel world totally anonymous and free of real-world-laws, as such a Metaverse would represent a (my) libertarian ideal.

Summary & Examples

Here is a nice overview of the model:

Metaverse Narrative Evaluation Model (Dirk Songuer)

➡️ Download PDF / printable version 📥

With this model you can look at Metaverse narratives and classify their core properties and purpose, with the goal to gain a better understanding of the narrative itself: What is the narrative's purpose? What does it have in common with other narratives? What are the differences? Why was it created?

For Ready Player One, my evaluation would be:

Example 1: Applying the model to Ready Player One
  • The Metaverse is something separate, as virtual and real social and economic systems are detached from each other.
  • The Metaverse is something situational, as users must use Virtual Reality headsets to enter a fully immersive and encompassing experience.
  • Users in the Metaverse represent themselves, with most physical properties transferring into virtuality. As the exception proving the point there is the character of Helen Harris, an African-American woman masking as a Caucasian male to be more respected by her peers, showing that people expect the sex and race to be transferred. There are also no non-human avatars or constantly shifting representations throughout the book / movie.
  • The Oasis represents a platform, operated by a central organization.
  • The novel / movie is inspirational, as the described dystopia is neither desirable nor realistically achievable — it was created to be an entertainment piece.

When using this model, it is important to understand that these properties describe extremes. It is up to you if you classify narratives within these extremes or rate the properties as your own, more granular spectrum.

Contrast this to Sam Landstrom’s MetaGame, where the described implementation is not as clear:

Example 2: Applying the model to MetaGame
  • The Metaverse is completely integrated and part of reality, with no way to meaningfully separate both.
  • The Metaverse is something ubiquitous, with users being able to enter and leave it at any time.
  • Users in the Metaverse represent themselves, although there is a lot of freedom in representation and identity.
  • The Metaverse represents something between a platform and a protocol (leaning towards platform), operated by a central AI, which is governed by humans through the titular MetaGame.
  • The novel is inspirational, as the described scenario is neither desirable nor realistically achievable — it was created to be an exploration of society scale gamification trends.

With actionable narratives, it is important to differentiate between stated design decisions & their implications and the desired intents.

Looking at Matthew Ball’s essays and subsequent book about the Metaverse, he might desire the Metaverse to be a part of reality, but the stated properties, examples and their implications point to the Metaverse being an adjunct. Likewise, he recognizes the purpose of virtual worlds to be identity exploration but stops short of asking for the required social change for this to happen.

Example 3: Applying the model to Matthew Ball’s book

“Quotes” are directly from his works:

  • The Metaverse as an adjunct — although Ball describes it as “an experience that spans both the digital and physical worlds”, he also incorporates “private and public networks/experiences, and open and closed platforms,” which will inevitably bring their own governance and rules.
  • The Metaverse as something situational, which “provides each user with an individual sense of presence,” thus requiring
  • Ball talks about avatars & representation in terms of account systems, which point to the Metaverse as representation of identity.
  • The Metaverse “requiring a broad, complex, and resilient set of standards and protocols”.
  • The work is actionable, as it summarizes and builds on historic concepts, implementations, and the author's ideological beliefs to describe future opportunities.

While the model provides some solid guidance on how to analyze Metaverse narratives, it still is subjective. As mentioned, it struggles with fidelity and rating the difference between intent and implications. People applying the model might come to a different result.

But this is also where the model can help authors of Metaverse narratives to be clearer in their descriptions, avoiding this ambiguity. It can be used to validate with a group of draft-readers if they would categorize the described narrative or scenario according to the author’s intent.


So, what do you think? Do you find the model helpful? Do you miss a property or think one is not helping / misleading? Which narratives do you find easy to evaluate, which are hard?

I’d also be interested in your own models to analyze Metaverse narratives — or technology narratives in general. Feel free to answer here or ping me on LinkedIn.

Take care!



Dirk Songuer

Living in Berlin / Germany, loving technology, society, good food, well designed games and this world in general. Views are mine, k?