The word “Metaverse” is made up of the prefix “meta” (meaning beyond) and the stem “verse” (a back-formation from “universe”); the term is typically used to describe the concept of a future iteration of the internet, made up of persistent, shared, 3D virtual spaces linked into a perceived virtual universe. The metaverse in a broader sense may not only refer to virtual worlds, but Internet as a whole, including the entire spectrum of augmented reality.
The term was coined in Neal Stephenson’s 1992 science fiction novel Snow Crash, where humans, as avatars, interact with each other and software agents, in a three-dimensional virtual space that uses the metaphor of the real world. Stephenson used the term to describe a virtual reality-based successor to the Internet. Concepts similar to the Metaverse have appeared under a variety of names in the cyberpunk genre of fiction as far back as 1981 in the novella True Names. Stephenson stated in the afterword to Snow Crash that after finishing the novel he learned about Habitat, an early MMORPG which resembled the Metaverse.
The concept cyberspace, which first appeared in the short story ‘Burning Chrome’ by William Gibson (Omni, July 1982), was a central theme in his 1984 groundbreaking novel, Neuromancer. The Metaverse is distinct from “the more inclusive concept of cyberspace that reflects the totality of shared online space across all dimensions of representation” Unlike, for instance, in the fictional concept introduced in Neuromancer, which was typified by a Cartesian separation of body and mind, the Metaverse allows its users to access its environs while still aware of their world. This is demonstrated in a technology called invisible to visible (I2V) that Nissan is developing, which overlays a car’s windshield with virtual information as well as features that include an ability to summon an in-car 3D avatar.
Since many massively multiplayer online games share features with the Metaverse but provide access only to non-persistent instances, that are shared by up to several dozen players, the concept of multiverse virtual games has been used to distinguish them from the Metaverse.