Strolling about the Metaverse
I just read through Cory Ondrejka’s article (pdf) linked from a post at Terra Nova, and it was intriguing. Cory, I agree with a lot of your points, and they correspond with what I have found studying MUDs. I do however not agree that the Metaverse is a MMORPG.
As far as I am concerned, the Metaverse is the web itself. While Stephenson's vision does not overlap Gibson's vision and the concepts Cyberspace and Metaverse may not be synonyms, they are more closely related than the Metaverse and computer games. I find that limiting the Metaverse to the different graphic games limits, as you argue excellently in your paper, the user - or inhabitant - in a manner that runs counter to the desire for personal expression and creativity.
But when your article opens with: "However, despite the enormous technical advances of the last decade, the concept of a broadly appealing online world has not yet been realized." I wish to point out that the image of the Metaverse can be restrictive as well as inspiring. The Metaverse and Cyberspace are metaphors for how the web CAN be used and developed, not how this will or should happen.
1) It might be that graphic interfaces are not the ideal medium for the expression of user creativity. At the moment graphic interfaces rule the net because we have few other technical options. A world where we navigate by sound or by touch may be as efficient, as soon as the technology supports that. While visual interfaces rule out most other simultaneous operations, sound lets us sort through and focus by utilizing the much more efficient selective perception through the ear. Our eyes can only see in one direction at the time - our ears have no such restrictions, nor does our three-dimensional bodies. A lot of our physical interface with the real world depends not on vision, but on the sensations of the body.
2) I think there is already a budding Metaverse out there, an online space where people express themselves freely, dependent on their abilities and desires. MMORPGs are part of this, but not all of it, nor even the most important aspect. It is called the internet. All the different communication clients and clients for interaction and experimentation are parts of this Metaverse - the digital space of human interaction.
Being of the firm belief that computer games push the development of the computer industry and technology forwards innovatively and as a good alternative to the weapons industry (even if they at times overlap) I have great sympathy with the MMORPG=Metaverse analogy. But I think the present-day computer games are still just one more step towards realising the full potential of computer-generated communication.