Parenthood in the Metaverse, aka the Rise of the Meta-children
Some of us may feel like we’re already raising our children in the Metaverse. Especially based on the amount of time they spend on games like Roblox, where they can make new friends in virtual environments and create new experience for others to enjoy, and Fortnite, where they can interact with a global gaming community and participate in virtual experiences, including concerts and global events.
Parenthood isn’t for everyone and, as a species, we are having fewer and fewer children. Improvements in access to modern contraception, and the education of girls and women, has led to a widespread and sustained decline in the global fertility rate. Over the last 50 years the global fertility rate has halved and, according to a 2020 study published in The Lancet, the world population will likely peak at around 9.7 billion in 2064, and then decline to around 8.8 billion by 2100.
As more and more people either delay or forgo having children entirely, will we look to the Metaverse to fill that child-shaped hole in our lives? Well, there’s already signs of an alternative approach to parenthood beginning to emerge. Thanks to a “mod”, an alteration to the game’s original code, in the Sims 4 life simulation video game, you can already adopt a virtual child. Players and fans of The Sims series, also known as Simmers, create child sims, complete with detailed back stories, and put them up for adoption via Instagram adoption agencies. Other players can then apply to adopt these virtual children, assuming they successfully navigate the application process, which requires you to plead your case, and prove to the agency that you’re the best person to raise this virtual child.
But where might the Metaverse take us? And what might the next 50 years hold for us? In a persistent, hyper-realistic, immersive, virtual world, where we are able to create and raise a virtual child, or virtual children, in a way that’s as identical to the real-life experience as we choose it to be, then will real-world parenting become an aberration? In a world where concerns about the environment, overpopulation, the rising cost of bringing up a child, will we all be opting in to having virtual children?
The prospect of a virtual replacement for children and raising a child in the Metaverse has recently been compared to the Tamagotchi craze of the mid-nineties. Some of you may remember these keychain-sized virtual pets from Japan that. If you wanted them to survive, required food, attention, and medicine when they fell sick. But what if the Metaverse could offer us hyper-realistic virtual offspring? Many of us would likely opt for real-world children, but many more, for a variety of reasons, may opt for Meta-children. Or perhaps a combination of the two?
These Meta-children will be, other than their lack of physical presence, indistinguishable from the real thing. They will grow and develop in response to your interactions, they will fall ill and may die, but only if you choose. You will have the option to gift you Meta-child with eternal life, or other superpowers. Flight? Invisibility? You name it, your Meta-children have it.
So who will provide you with these virtual offspring? Companies like San Francisco-based company Soul Machines are already busy creating digital people. Which they do by blending lifelike CGI characters and AI-based autonomous animation to imitate human behaviours and emotions. We’ll return to this topic when someone, somewhere creates the perfect, virtual child, especially if it comes with the ability to skip those difficult teen years.