Look, we've all been dunking on the whole 'metaverse' concept for a while now. As Phil Iwaniuk wrote for us back in February of last year, anyone who has played video games knows that the metaverse's promised digital wonderland has existed since the days of the CRT monitor.
Second Life, Everquest, World of Warcraft. Heck: if you need a headset to make the comparison, VRChat got there first in 2014. Now there's an actual challenger to that assumption. As reported by Automaton (translated from a press release on PR Times), there's a metaverse project I'm weirdly optimistic about.
It comes from the company Aominext, which develops distinctly anime-styled metaverse spaces that slough off the disturbing, soulless avatars we're used to from Zuckerberg and his crew—revealing the cute anime avatars underneath, like a VTuber butterfly cracking open its uncanny chrysalis.
What's more, this doesn't smell much like a PR stunt to me—helped by the fact that the company is working with an actual Japanese high school (Yushi International) which already exists in the flesh-world. Automaton reports:
"The virtual high school will have a three-year, credit-based course with a curriculum recognized by the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology." Meanwhile, the press release promises virtual events like cultural festivals and e-sports tournaments for participating students.
I want to be sceptical, but this genuinely does feel like the first metaverse-focused project I've seen that makes absolute sense to me. While it might be easy to point fingers and laugh at a bunch of VTuber-looking kids gathered around a school table, correspondence learning has existed for years. While it became more common during the Covid-19 pandemic, it's always been a thing, and it's always been kinda socially isolating.
As the press release points out, correspondence schools often use programs like Slack or Zoom calls, which don't replicate the feeling of being in an actual classroom. If you're an adult with other stuff going on that's not so bad, but they're certainly no replacement for a young mind desperate to actually make friends and socialise.
Obviously, VR isn't a one-to-one replacement of that, but I think we can agree that it's definitely a step up. Marrying the concept of a correspondence school with a VRChat-style space that lets you customise an anime avatar—which is something kids might actually like? It feels like a natural fit. Conceptually this whole thing rules, especially since the press release promises it'll loan the equipment to students free of charge.
Whether it'll work at all in practice is another thing entirely—but I'm rooting for this funky little experiment, especially if it helps remote students feel a little less isolated. The fact that you'll be able to earn an officially-recognised diploma while donning an anime avatar is the kind of futurism I'm here for.