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What is the metaverse and how does it work?

The metaverse: Join us in exploring the frontiers of this digital world as we plot its evolution from figment of a sci-fi author’s imagination to today’s (virtual and augmented) reality. What is the metaverse exactly and where is it headed? How do you get there? And what can you do once you arrive? Wherever your virtual footsteps take you, make sure you have a high-performance online security and privacy solution in place, like Avira Free Security.  


The evolution of the metaverse: From sci-fi to (virtual) reality 

Welcome to an emerging 3D virtual space that blends our physical with a new digital reality. Most of us think of Mark Zuckerberg as the founder of the metaverse as we know it, but its story began long before Facebook. The virtual “universe” was originally the brainchild of science fiction writer Noel Stephenson. In his book Snow Crash, he describes a dystopian future where rich people slip into virtual disguises to become programmable avatars that interact with each other in an alternative reality—they can even buy real estate! It was Stephenson who first popularized the term avatar, in case you’re thinking only of blue aliens. 

That was in 1992 and overlaying graphics over our real view started catching on. Remember the virtual-reality arcade machines like the SEGA VR-1 motion simulator? Yet it would be years before Silicon Valley dreamers and investors would attempt to create a worldwide common platform. In 2010 an 18-year-old inventor, Palmer Luckey, created the prototype for a virtual-reality (VR) headset with 90-degree field of vision. This was the Oculus Rift and it ignited Mark Zuckerberg’s dream of the metaverse—or to be precise, his version of it. Facebook acquired Oculus VR in a $2 billion deal and was so intent on shaping the future of the metaverse, that it changed its name to Meta in 2021. As Facebook, it was “merely” a social media giant, but synonymous with the metaverse, it hoped to conquer a new world: a totally immersive virtual one.  

So where are we now and how does the metaverse define itself today? Is there even an exact definition? That’s where things get a little complicated…  

What does “metaverse” mean? 

What exactly is the metaverse? Buzzword for a new type of online experience? The next generation of the internet? Web 3.0? Technology experts and users still struggle on an exact definition for many reasons: The metaverse is a continuous work in progress and is designed to blur boundaries, not exist neatly inside them. Plus, it’s not about a single technology but a blend of many, including virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), cryptocurrency, and, of course, the internet. But perhaps eluding definition is the point? The metaverse is about total immersion—so we can only discover it if we interact with it ourselves and as we further explore this digital realm, we’ll re-shape it and change what it means.   

There are however key components that can help mere humans living in “just” a physical space understand this digital universe better. The metaverse is always:  

  • Immersive and virtual: To access the metaverse, users typically need an array of technology, including a VR headset, AR glasses, and a computer. 
  • Persistent: It’s always there, even when individual users log off, making it a space for long-term interactions and continuous changes (much like a house in the real world, it doesn’t cease to exist when we leave it).  
  • Interactive: Users interact with each other and the digital environment in real-time. This interactivity can include social interactions such as drinking (virtual) coffee or going to parties, purchasing things, and playing games.  
  • User-created: Users can often create, buy, sell, and modify content in the metaverse, such as avatars and virtual real estate.  
  • A multiverse: The concept of a “multiverse” within the metaverse implies the existence of multiple interconnected virtual worlds, each with its own rules and characteristics. These worlds may be created by different companies or communities and could be linked together in various ways.

With virtual currencies, digital assets, and opportunities to buy and sell virtual goods, the metaverse is a business model as well as a social hub. So, it can host its own gatherings, meetings, work events, and parties plus its own shops, estate agencies, and economies—and do it all in interconnected virtual spaces. To quote the Meta homepage (status 02 October 2023) on Facebook’s version of the metaverse: “We believe in the future of connection in the metaverse… (It) will be built by everyone, with creative ideas and practical applications being developed every day by all sorts of imaginative people.” 

Is it Facebook’s metaverse? 

No, Facebook doesn’t own the metaverse although many people use the term “metaverse” when they really mean only Facebook’s contribution to it. The metaverse is larger than any single provider. Currently, there isn’t just one interconnected space, but many individual worlds owned by different entities. Other large companies, including Microsoft, Apple, and Nvidia, are building the infrastructure to create virtual worlds that more closely mimic our own physical lives. To complicate matters, some companies even refer to any single immersive video game or platform as “a metaverse” so we may never agree on or create a single metaverse! Where this will ultimately lead is uncertain, and there are still stumbling blocks to overcome. Will users ever feel comfortable wearing clunky headsets, for example?  

Are you curious and want to see the metaverse for yourself? There are various routes there.   

How to access the metaverse: A step-by-step guide 

Entering the metaverse varies by platform but you’ll always need some sort of technology, even if it’s just a computer or smart phone. To truly immerse yourself in the experience, you’ll need a crypto wallet, AR glasses or a VR headset and a powerful Windows PC—and we do mean powerful! Even a PC that’s been optimized for gaming might not be enough because metaverse platforms that can host millions of users are resource-hungry. You could try overclocking your PC to boost its processing power but be sure to do so safely.  

To help free metaverse visitors from the processing constraints of their PCs, companies are racing to develop sophisticated headsets and glasses—but it’s a myth that you always need a headset. Some platforms, like Meta’s Horizon series, do require a VR headset but others like VRChat, Horizon Worlds, and AltspaceVR let you use just your PC to navigate their worlds. Be warned that there may be limited functionality if you’re not using a headset.  

Meta has revealed the details of its Quest 3 headset, which promises the next evolution in dazzling graphics, stereoscopic depth perception, and 3D sound. Like its Meta Quest 2 predecessor (previously known as Oculus Quest 2), it also comes with hand-tracking capabilities so you can wave at other participants if you’re feeling friendly. It also offers an integrated graphics card and storage component of course.  

Here’s how to journey to the metaverse with a VR headset: 

  1. If you haven’t already done so, download the Oculus app onto your phone and create an account. 
  2. Put on and power up your Oculus Quest 2 headset.  
  3. Press the Oculus button on the right controller and the hovering taskbar menu will appear. 
  4. Click on App drawer in the menu and your downloaded apps will appear. 
  5. Select your app and launch it. Alternatively, if you don’t have a particular app yet, type the name of it into the search bar and download it.  
  6. If you’re entering the world for the first time, you can personalize your avatar. 
  7. Immerse yourself! In Altspace VR, for example, you can enter various worlds by clicking on Worlds. Fancy a pool party or a trip to a museum?  You can also just hang around at the campfire. 

Don’t have a VR headset? You don’t always need one.  

A computer, smartphone, or video game console can be enough to stroll around browser-based virtual worlds. Here are some platforms that you can head to now without a VR headset: Roblox, Minecraft, Pokémon Go, Decentraland, and Fortnite. Sandbox is another popular choice and although you don’t strictly need a headset for this NFT gaming experience, you’ll need a MetaMask crypto wallet to make the most of it.  

As an example, here’s how to access Roblox on a Windows PC, which you can play as a giant VR character without a headset. You’ll need to sign up for a free account to visit experiences, customize your avatar and chat with friends. On mobile phones, your Roblox camera moves as you move your device in real time. You can also pick up objects and wave your hands! 

  1. Visit the Roblox website. Create an account and log in.  
  2. Choose an experience and click on the green Play button. 
  3. A pop-up window will appear informing you that Roblox Player is installing. 
  4. Launch the player via any modern browser, such as Microsoft Edge, Firefox, or Google Chrome.  
  5. Choose a game on the Roblox website. Select Play. 
  6. A pop-up window will appear asking you to select a program. Click on Roblox and then choose Confirm. If you select the Remember my choice option, you won’t need to perform this action again. 

Although it takes great pride in its (expensive) VR headsets, Meta is now keen to make the metaverse available to a larger audience and is expanding beyond VR. It has just started rolling out an early-access version of the new Meta Horizon Worlds which is free on smartphones via the Meta Quest or find it online at 

What can I do in the metaverse? 

What can’t you do? The metaverse is still in its infancy but there are so many activities to choose from, ranging from house parties and coffee mornings to cheekier adults-only content. If the metaverse continues to expand and innovate, it will offer an ever-growing range of opportunities, whether you want to meet new people, play games, buy and sell things, run a business, or learn new skills.  

Imagine stepping into a vast sci-fi world… Here’s a quick look at what you can do there. Just be sure to fill your crypto wallet before you head off.  

  • Be whoever you want to be with your avatar: Your avatar is you in the metaverse but you’re welcome to be whoever or whatever you choose. Always wanted green hair? Go for it. You’re free to alter your gender, body type, accessories, and more. Nothing needs to be based on reality, and you can appear as a fictional character.  
  • Socialize: You can meet people from all over the world and network or make new friends without leaving your sofa. A virtual avatar gives people a sense of anonymity which can particularly help those who are shy.  
  • Create your own VR experience: Some metaverse platforms, like Horizon Worlds, have pre-built layouts making it easy for you to create your own spaces to hang out in, and even customize your own layered gaming experiences. 
  • Shop for metaverse fashion and more: You can find and purchase virtual versions of almost anything available in the real world, but why stop there? There are also items for sale that don’t exist in the physical sense (yet?). Levi Strauss and other major fashion brands are already using the metaverse to create an extended reality (XR) experience for customers who can’t get to their physical shops. There’s even a Burberry-Minecraft collaboration! 
  • Buy real estate: No travelling to viewings, no long approvals processes or reams of paperwork… if only buying a home in the real world was as simple as it is in a virtual one. Blocks of land are called “parcels”in the metaverse, and you can buy them using cryptocurrency. Digital real estate agents are on hand to recommend the best parcels. Do you like being close to passers-by? Do you want virtual stores around the corner? Once you’ve become the proud owner of a digital property, you decide what to do with it. You can develop it or customize it to suit your tastes and then sell it on various marketplaces or rent your property to others who might want to use it for a virtual event, for example. You could even use your virtual space to demonstrate products and services to your own potential customers. 
  • Attend a virtual concert: As the popularity of virtual reality grows, so do the events taking place there and music is no exception. Concerts here offer a unique experience. You can sit wherever you want, even on the stage, so you can choose the best possible viewing angle. And thanks to your headphones, you can feel the music vibrate through your body as if you were there. 
  • Play virtual-reality games: How about driving a Mario Cart in a 3D environment with 360-degree views? The metaverse uses AR technology to bring games to life in new and exciting ways. Gamers can also participate in “earn-to-play” activities to earn crypto currency. You can choose to play classic games like soccer and chess, card games like Magic: The Gathering, or complex games like Settlers of Catan. 
  • Collaborate with colleagues and clients: The metaverse hosts remote working environments with virtual collaboration tools such as virtual meeting rooms, infinite white boards, and VR keyboards. 
  • Develop and design products: The metaverse’s interactive and realistic 3D spaces are ideal for designers looking to develop their ideas, test them, and create low-cost prototypes. 
  • Participate in the metaverse economy: You could invest in NFTs, for example. These non-fungible tokens are digital signatures that help authenticate digital assets on the blockchain and can’t be replicated. You can use NFTs to buy digital works of art, for example. Why not join the digital marketplace by creating and selling in-game assets like gaming aids and avatar skins? 

See the metaverse in action with Paradox Metaverse 

Many companies have created their versions of a digital realm and one of the most popular is Paradox Metaverse, which was launched in 2022 by the London-based Paradox Studios. Fans consider it one of the most sophisticated open-world games of the action-adventure genre. It’s free to play and users can monetize their efforts to generate Paradox crypto tokens as part of the company’s new “play-to-earn” model. The game takes place in a virtual utopia known as Paradox City, which was created by the character Cain the Architect. 

Cain battles his angry brother Dexter with the help of a cast of friends but it’s the micro-transactions that power the game’s economy. Users buy ParaGuns, ParaClothing, and even Para Real Estate. Paradox Events hosts live events and shows in the metaverse. All in all, Paradox Metaverse is a powerful example of how virtual worlds of the metaverse can expand and operate beyond a mere gaming experience.  

Be careful out there: What are the risks of the metaverse? 

The metaverse has redefined the frontiers of virtual experience and opportunity but if you want to immerse yourself in this world you need to be aware of the potential risks. Like everything that occurs online, security and threats to your data and privacy are primary concerns when it comes to using the metaverse, and they’re not unfounded. Data collection is part and parcel of the metaverse experience and information about users’ activities and preferences is continuously collected. You won’t always know and be able to control what happens with your data. It could be used to target you with ads or sold to third parties without your consent—it could also be exposed in data breaches, putting you at risk of identity theft or fraud.  

The decentralized structure of the metaverse is a regulator’s nightmare. It’s highly fragmented and there is no single body of rules stipulating what and how businesses can gather information and what they’re allowed to do with it. Add to this that metaverse systems aren’t subject to the same regulations as traditional finance institutions or software platforms and the result is a greater risk of unethical practices like manipulations and blockchain fraud. If you’re tempted to try and use the metaverse to become a crypto millionaire, be careful. Unregulated marketplaces are notoriously unpredictable, and the value of your digital assets could fluctuate wildly—or, as mentioned above—you could be scammed out of your (virtual) fortune altogether in this poorly regulated world.  

The anonymity of avatars adds another dimension for exploitation. A user could, for example, buy and sell illegal products while remaining anonymous as a blue bunny rabbit. Mr. Bunny could also launch cyber-assaults, and no one would know who was behind them. Impersonation is another challenge in a dimension where you’re encouraged not to be yourself. A user might steal the identity of another user and then use it to steal information or serve up malicious content.  

The internet has always been awash with cyberbullying and harassment so it should come as no surprise that the metaverse is a welcome home for both. Sadly, when people can wear a mask of anonymity, they’re more likely to engage in harmful behavior like bullying, trolling, and even sexual abuse like grooming. Parents must beware of the pitfalls. The lack of censorship on some platforms also means children could be exposed to unsuitable content.  

And that’s just a quick roundup of threats from fellow humans. Did you know that automated bots can present a major risk for metaverse visitors too? These “bad bots” can invade the virtual worlds and engage in various malicious activities, such as spamming and hijacking user accounts.  

No technology, no metaverse. Inevitably, technology outages are a threat to the smooth-running of the entire system. Internet connectivity is vital to the metaverse, and outages can disrupt user activities and transactions. Metaverse platforms also rely heavily on AI, which is equally fallible. AI can make mistakes or be misused via “deep fakes” to scam or manipulate users and spread false information.  

And don’t even get lawyers started on the problems within the metaverse as it can also be a hotbed of potential complications around intellectual property (IP) rights and copyright infringements. As a virtual entity it spans the globe, but laws vary by country and blurring physical and digital worlds can make it challenging for IP owners to enforce their rights.   

Please remember: The metaverse can offer lifelike experiences and new personal and business opportunities, but as a poorly regulated and largely anonymous space, the potential for misuse can’t be ignored. Be cautious and don’t miss our security tips below! 

How to protect yourself in the metaverse 

Thankfully, by following good “netiquette” (online best practice) you can help protect yourself in the metaverse, just as you would anywhere on the world wide web. Apply a healthy dose of common sense, caution, and awareness and always have a reputable online security solution in place. Follow these tips to more safely enjoy the metaverse: 

  • Be careful what you share: Limit how much personal information you share on the metaverse and try to keep as many real-world details, such as your real name and address, to yourself. Be ultra-cautious with financial details. Don’t be shy to use blocking or reporting tools, so you can stop someone you don’t trust from seeing your profile.  
  • Read the small print: Although it’s tedious, take the time to see the terms of service (ToS) and privacy policies of the platform you’re using, so you know what you’re agreeing to.  
  • Beware of phishing scams. Never click on links in unsolicited emails or download attachments from unauthorized sources. Follow these steps to stay safer from phishing attacks 
  • Use a VPN. A VPN, like Avira Phantom VPN, helps safeguard your privacy online and helps encrypt your communications, making it harder for hackers to access your information.  


  • Use strong, unique passwords as they’re your first line of defense and consider a password manager to help securely store them. Avira Password Manager helps generate, store, and even auto-fills passwords for you.  


  • Use two-factor, multi-factor, or biometric authentication. This provides an extra layer of security, making it much harder for unauthorized users to access your online accounts and metaverse profiles. For example, you’ll need a username and password as a first step. Then a code is sent to a designated email address, and you have to enter that code into a specific field before logging in. Find out more on the benefits of two-factor authentication here. Biometric authentication uses fingerprints or facial scanning and is considered by many to be the safest and most secure method as it’s both convenient and highly accurate. 
  • Use only legitimate metaverse platforms. Whatever immersive experiences you choose, make sure that the provider is reputable and has strong security measures in place. And make sure your software is regularly updated to plug any security vulnerabilities known to hackers! Tools like Avira Software Updater help keep your software and drivers up to date and you can rest assured that updates are clean.  

What does the future hold for the metaverse? 

It’s often referred to as just a fad and sceptics have long claimed that the metaverse is doing very badly, particularly as COVID-19 slowed the economy and interest in generative AI has grown instead. Some technology experts have accused Mark Zuckerberg of quietly burying his metaverse ambitions and the English newspaper The Guardian even published a sarcastic tribute to his virtual world in May 2023: “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to remember the metaverse, which was quietly laid to rest…” 

We can’t really know for certain. It’s important to remember that the technology that may fully realize the dream of the metaverse doesn’t exist yet. Constant technological advancements, like 5G, are taking us a step closer to allowing ever-larger, richer virtual worlds. The costs of AR and VR hardware are also declining—and the metaverse’s most likely fans are just growing up. See you there, Gen Z? Perhaps, for now, it’s only the hype that’s dead.  

Into the metaverse and beyond! Stay safer online with trusted security 

To help secure and optimize your digital life, reputable online security software is essential.  

Avira Free Security blends performance, online privacy, and online protection into a single convenient (and free!) app. The integrated Software Updater helps ensure you have regular, clean updates. VPN helps encrypt your communications for more private online browsing. And of course, there’s also Avira Free Antivirus to help defend you against online threats, including the latest ransomware.  


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Freelance Cybersecurity Writer
Nicola Massier-Dhillon is an experienced cybersecurity and technology writer. Nicola spent many years as a senior copywriter and creative lead in marketing agencies, crafting compelling content and campaigns for major tech brands like HP, Dell, and Microsoft. She originally hales from Namibia and is a passionate advocate for the conservation of wild habitats--also putting her words to work for charities, eco-tourism, and healthcare. Nicola spends her time looking after her (wild) twins, rescue cats, and a crested gecko called Giles.
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