What is the metaverse? Overview of risks and advice for parents

The metaverse is tipped to be the next big development in digital technology. But what exactly is it and what risks does it pose to children and young people?

What is the metaverse?

The metaverse refers to the development of an online environment that allows you to take part in day-to day activities that mirror your experience of the ‘offline world’. For example, you could go shopping, watch a film at the cinema or have dinner with friends. Some experts have referred to it as a ‘3D internet’.  

Companies are currently using technology like virtual and augmented reality to help them develop parts of the metaverse. These can be accessed using a headset. This gives users a first-hand view and helps to create more of a real-life experience.

The metaverse refers to the development of one virtual world that can be accessed through a single-entry point, similar to how we currently access the internet. For example, you’d be able to use the same headset to go supermarket shopping and check your social media accounts.

What does the metaverse currently look like?

Many tech companies are starting to experiment with different technologies to see what the metaverse could look like. Facebook recently changed its name to ‘Meta’ and launched a new virtual reality platform called ‘Horizon Worlds’ in the United States.

Virtual reality has been popular in the gaming industry for a few years. Both Roblox and Fortnite have developed online gaming environments that can be accessed using a headset. This allows players to use their body movements to play games instead of using a console. Roblox also recently partnered with Nike to launch a virtual store called ‘Nikeland’ where players can try on and purchase virtual trainers for their avatars.

Augmented reality is another technology used to enhance game-play and create more immersive experiences for players. This is where they add computed generated graphics to the real-world environment that players can see through the camera on their phone or device. For example, in Pokémon Go, players are encouraged to travel to different real-life locations to collect Pokémon on their devices.

Some platforms like Mario Kart Home Circuit use a mixture of both virtual and augmented reality. This is known as mixed reality. There are also other technologies being developed that aim to mimic touch.  For example, wearable tech that allows you to feel touch in the offline world.

What are the risks of the metaverse?

There’s currently no age-assurance in the metaverse. This means that it’s easy for children to access digital environments where there might be adults or other people who could put them at risk. They could receive unwanted messages including bullying or grooming.

Because these experiences happen in real-time it is difficult to moderate what is being shared. This means that children could easily come across inappropriate content or conversations happening between other users. They could also have this content directed towards them.

Games that use augmented reality allow users to share their live offline location with other people on the platform. They also can encourage users to go to real-life platforms to collect virtual rewards that might help them progress further in a game.

 Platforms are partnering with brands, celebrities and influencers to sell products. This could encourage children to purchase virtual items and spend in-game or real money.

Top tips

Have regular conversations with your child about who and how they are talking to people. Many platforms that use virtual and augmented reality allow users to connect with others through different types of virtual rooms. These rooms might have themes or be designed to look like a space in the offline world. For example, a shop or park.

Ask your child about the different rooms they are using and consider setting rules around which ones they can have access to.

We would recommend exploring new platforms yourself before you let your child use it. This will help you understand some of the different functionalities available and decide whether it’s appropriate.

Look out for settings that might help to limit who they can connect with, and explore some of the different rooms or games available. 

We would recommend supervising them when going on apps that use virtual or augmented reality. This means you can be there in case anything happens.

You must have location settings enabled when playing some AR and VR games. Make sure to consider this when talking to your child about how you can help them to keep safe.

Make sure the headset or device is set up safely depending on who in your family is using it.

Before using a headset or platform always explore the different safety settings available. These are available on the platform or company website.

We have more information about setting parental controls.