Metaverse adoption has been rapidly accelerating and left many of us making hasty judgments about its impact on mental health, identity and our collective futures. But rather than jumping to conclusions, let’s hear how Gen Z feel about this new world.
VICE Insights began a deep exploration of the Metaverse through several major studies, including ‘Screenwear‘ and ‘The Metaverse: A View From Inside’. We interviewed thousands of Gen Z contributors, community experts and creators to investigate the implications of Metaverse adoption for society and brands.
For generations that grew up in a world where IRL was the only reality, the idea of an alternate, immersive universe with avatars and augmented experiences can sound threatening and disruptive to young people’s cognitive development.
Yet this augmented reality is becoming our new reality.
Young people are growing up in a world where the “Metaverse” is eclipsing their IRL experiences more and more each day. And with any rapid technological adoption, no one can guarantee that it will be a utopia. But there are numerous opportunities for us all to ‘do good’ in the Metaverse, and we uncovered some surprising insights from Gen Z that might just debunk a few of our most common concerns and assumptions around metaverse adoption:
Assumption 1: The Metaverse Harms Your Mental Health
False! Many Believe the Metaverse Improves Mental Health
As our world continues to be marked by stress and political turmoil, people turn to games as the antidote. The average gamer plays for 12.2 hours a week, nearly double the time spent with friends in person. The intensity of our digital immersion leaves many questioning whether this is causing damage to our mental health.
In fact, half of Gen Z reported feeling that gaming improves their mental health.
Gaming is now the #1 “place” in which Gen Z “hangs out” with friends, with 60% of Gen Z gamers saying they enjoy hanging out with friends through gaming just as much as they do in real life. Gen Z cited using gaming as a source of play and as a way to unwind and release pent up negative energy. 77% of Gen Z say they play video games to release stress and anxiety, 78% of Gamers say they play games to relax, and 75% view it as their time for self-care and relaxation.
So, how can brands step in, step up, and support Gen Z in this new space?
Make the Metaverse a Positive Place:
Young people use the Metaverse as a space to unwind, release stress and anxiety, and foster connections that bring positive emotion. Brands can play a role by enhancing their online experiences. Ask ‘how can we foster a flow-state that allows young people to be present to the experiences they’re building in this new world?” “How can we create communities that allow young people to create and build the connections they deem important?”
Assumption 2: A Digitized Identity Is Just An Avatar
False! Identity in the Metaverse is More Than Just a Profile; It’s The Real Them.
Gen Z is a more introverted generation (35% identifying as fully introverted vs 26% of Millennials). For them, the Metaverse lifts many limitations and expectations “real life” often places on them, freeing them to be more open with their inner thoughts, beliefs, and goals. It gives them the space, tools, and creative outlets to explore who they truly want to be and share that with others.
52% of Gen Z, compared to 41% of Millennials and 24% of Gen X, say they are most able to be completely themselves in a game vs IRL. Many of them attribute this to Gaming’s ability to help them explore and express their identities more deeply.
And this journey of identity and expression doesn’t stop when they turn off their screens or take off their headsets; more than half of Gen Z Gamers believe that who they are online influences who they are in the real world. 2 in 5 Gen Z Gamers even say they use their avatars to try out looks they might implement on their physical selves.
The #1 drive of purchase is tied to their identity; to create/enhance a digital identity, to own something unique, and/or to express themselves.
So, how can brands step in, step up, and support Gen Z?
Design for Identity:
Young people navigate the digital world similarly to the real world: they explore and express their identity as they meet people, forge relationships, and establish themselves. The virtual goods they buy play a pivotal role in supporting identity enhancement. Whether trying out pink hair on their avatar before dying their real hair IRL or experimenting with unique digital clothing, the Metaverse is a place and space ripe with opportunities to present youth with products and experiences to elevate and enhance who they are.
Assumption 3: The Metaverse Detracts from Community
False! The Metaverse is Creating Equitable Communities of the Future
As discussed, for many young people the Metaverse is not simply an “escape” from their reality, it’s an extension of it. Gen Z is growing up in a world where tuning into Web.3 is the same as turning onto Main Street – it’s just another place for them to live their lives. That’s why they don’t just see it only as a place to hang out with friends or play video games, but as a world in which they can make money (52%), travel to a new place (37%), and build careers (33%).
But as they explore and establish themselves in these communities of the future, it’s essential that the world-builders behind the scenes have ethics in mind.
Sustainability continues to be a growing concern for young people. Whether it’s the products they purchase: 59% of global respondents say that ‘sustainability’ is likely to influence their desire to purchase a piece of digital fashion, or the inclusivity they demand: 46% of global respondents believe the Metaverse will create a more equitable arena for plus-size shoppers, 44% for people with disabilities, 39% for non-binary individuals, and 38% for people of colour.
The Metaverse presents an opportunity to build something new. Something different. Something better.
So, how can brands step in, step up and support Gen Z?
Code for the Collective:
To build the world they want to be in is to create communities and a space they’ll keep coming back to. There is a win-win opportunity for brands to develop products and experiences for the virtual world produced ethically and with sustainability and inclusivity in mind so that the world online reflects the vision young people strive for offline.
Brands that do this right will undoubtedly be noticed and appreciated by these younger consumers of the Metaverse.