Enter the Paraverse: Challenging Assumptions of Live Music in the Metaverse
Keywords:Metaverse, virtual worlds, liveness, covid-19, social media
The Metaverse, a concept and buzzword echoing throughout industry and academic spaces, does not exist. In this paper we theorize about the object that does exist: the Paraverse, the global set of disconnected virtual worlds and virtual world platforms working independently to advance virtual world technology and culture. We present a novel system within the Paraverse named Soundscape.social: a multi-user virtual world where participants explore concert spaces containing pre-recorded, synchronous performances by independent musicians during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. Through its design and implementation, we demonstrate how small teams of independent developers may quickly contribute to the fringes of the Paraverse, and thus play an essential role in driving innovation. We assessed the platform’s ability to foster communal listening experience through virtual ethnography, in-game data collection, and interviews with attendees and performers. Soundscape.social was successful at preventing abusive behaviour despite anonymous communication, respecting participant privacy through minimal in-game data collection, modelling anarchic community through a performance format that challenged hierarchical structures of listening, and fostering a novel understanding of liveness through listener autonomy and a novel asynchronous communication feature of interest we name "virtual graffiti." We further discuss opportunities for future work developing technologies that aid developers looking to create independent Paraverse applications, contributing to the future of virtual worlds and, perhaps, the Metaverse.