Cisgender. Gender fluid. Non-binary. Transgender. Many are having to learn what these terms mean. To some this is liberating, to others, this is an outrage. Often the fault line lies across generations with Gen Z (early 20s and younger) in the first camp and boomers (mid-fifties and older) in the second camp. But while many think society is only now starting to contend with these identities, in the metaverse, we are all already experimenting with our gender and other identities.
I’m using metaverse in its broadest sense – that is, our screen-based world rather than just virtual reality. So, whenever we interact with others through a screen such as our phone or computer, then we are in the metaverse. With this definition, most of us spend at least a few hours a day if not most of the day in the metaverse. It’s therefore more real than you think.
So where does gender come into it? Well, take Fortnite – one of the most popular online video games in the world. At any one moment in time, 3-4 million people are playing the game. For those that have never played it, a key feature is to pick a ‘skin’ as your player. You can be a banana, or sports player or superhero, or hundreds of other characters. And here’s the thing, some of the most sought-after skins that males pick are female. Skins like Evie, Renegade Raider, Aspen, and Lynx. And the same goes the other way, females pick male skins. Therefore, when players enter the Fortnite ‘metaverse’, they choose their gender.
It’s not just video games, where you see this. On social media platforms like Twitter, Reddit, or Discord, people use another identity than their physical world ones. These handles/avatars are often gender neutral or a different gender to their physical world one. On the negative side, this is most often seen when people assume another identity for marketing scams or political trolling. Think about the Twitter DMs you get from attractive-looking females selling you some new crypto scam. These are likely men in the physical world (!) who have switched gender in the social media ‘metaverse’.
When seen through this metaverse filter, our concept of identity changes dramatically. Many more people are already comfortably assuming identities that do not match their gender, race, class, or even the species they are labeled within the physical world. And the resistance to these identity transitions is much less acute in the metaverse than in the physical world. This shows there is another way to accept individuals defining their identities rather than the state defining it for them.