data and identity, gaming , people culture


Krystle Tabujara, Culture Director, dentsu good 

A new hope? 

When we are on the verge of a new paradigm of interaction enabled by technology, we often wonder whether it will unlock new possibilities for progress and good. This has happened in a recent past for innovations like social media,1 which is somewhat ironic to recall today, after the recent boycott of advertising on Facebook on behalf of brands like Lego and Clorox to take a stance against its lax policing of hate speech and violence on its service.2 The reality is that true progress is achieved when technology and creativity are democratized and open up tangible opportunities for the greater good of everyone. 

The Metaverse is expected to represent the next tech-enabled paradigm shift in how we will interact with each other and with brands and much speculation is bubbling up as to whether, once it comes to full fruition, it will be able to live up to its promise: we believe that as an ecosystem comprised of shared hybrid spaces that bring closer physical, digital and virtual experiences, the Metaverse has the potential to enrich consumers’ lives with serendipitous, inclusive connections. However, potential isn’t always reflected in reality and both media and industry insiders are starting to wonder how tech companies will be able to keep misinformation and toxic behaviors at bay in the much more complex Metaverse, when they struggled to do so on simpler platforms.3 

What seems to have changed, in comparison to when earlier innovations got traction and started to become part of our daily habits, is consumers’ attitude towards brands and their ethos. Research from dentsu’s Recovery Navigator series shows that as many as 65% consumers regularly stop purchasing brands based on their perception of a business’ behavior and values. This trend is especially evident in the younger consumers of today (74% among Millennials and Gen Z) and is therefore likely to inform expectations for the still somewhat distant emergence of the Metaverse.  

As businesses either build the technology that enables it or develop branded experiences that will populate it, the hope is that their desire to meet this consumer expectation with authenticity and commitment to social purpose will inform their behavior. 

Virtual identities as a propellor for inclusion 

What are the ways in which the Metaverse could become a force for good? The closest we have to it today are open world videogames and certainly the gaming world has been at the epicenter of the controversy around negative online behaviors, especially with the #GamerGate online harassment campaign that started in 2014. While some maintain that sexism and misogyny are intrinsic to gaming culture,4 in recent years the major console brands have agreed to work together to address the issue by creating safer spaces for their customers.5 

Virtual worlds present a great opportunity for inclusivity and representation. For instance, Electronic Arts’ The Sims 3, released in 2009, allowed full, equal same-sex marriages, while the United States only granted same-sex marriage rights six years later.6 The Sims has now fully embraced gender fluidity, lifting all gender restrictions to allow for more representative, inclusive and realistic gameplay.7  

We don’t know if in the Metaverse ‘cartoony’ avatars will keep being predominant as they are in open world gaming today, or whether there will be an explosion of realistic avatars generated by virtual engines. Regardless of which standard will become commonplace, both the virtualization of identities and the freedom of expression enabled by the underlying tooling that the Metaverse will leverage hold the potential for people to start seeing ‘otherness’ in a less divisive way than they do today, as a result of interactions and cross-cultural exchanges with others that are not present or expressed in one’s physical local area.  

Similarly, virtual identities as a performance could prove to be a source of equality and inclusion, by offering safe spaces for gender exploration or opening new forms of accessibility and learning for people with disabilities.8 

A new economy requires new forms of economic empowerment 

A second area in which the emergence of the Metaverse could open up new opportunities for the greater good is economic empowerment.  

We are only in the early days of decentralized technology, yet we are seeing a burgeoning creator economy fundamentally redefining the notions of ownership, financial value and exclusivity, especially with the booming of NFT collectability which has transformed a new art scene into something similar to a crypto-goldrush.9  

Play-to-earn models are also a new trend that is challenging the traditional economic construct, capturing the attention of both the investment market - startup Yield Guild Games (YGG) completed a $4 million Series A round of funding - as well as the attention of brands: in June 2021, for example, Burberry announced a partnership with Mythical Games, a play-to-earn developer.10  

While both the creator economy and play-to-earn games open up new, exciting ways to thrive financially, they also could contribute to a future where opportunities are not equally available to all. Equality in a tech-pervasive future will largely be dependent on the fair distribution of connectivity, tooling and specialized education, but today circa 15% of homes with school-age children in the U.S. lack internet access and UNESCO reports that as many as 14% of the households in Europe are not connected, while in sub-Saharan Africa nearly 82% of students have no way to get online.11  

Another aspect to consider when we think about the potential impact caused by the wave of innovation that is expected to merge in the rise of the Metaverse is the production of new devices: when a technology standard becomes widespread, the entry price point for the tools that enable it tends to lower to meet market demand. This, historically, often goes hand in hand with unfair working conditions exploited by manufacturers, as well as with an impact on the environment due to widespread abandonment of earlier models. In addition to this, we are starting to realize the massive toll that NFT production currently takes on the environment.12 In order for the Metaverse to be an agent of progress, the brands that contribute to building it will need to make sure innovation is met by responsible and sustainable business behaviors. 

How brands can help pave the way for good in the Metaverse 

To have different perspectives and true intersectionality inform the world in the age of the Metaverse, brands need to embrace diversity in leadership. The current makeup of most enterprise tech companies is still predominantly male and white, as a result of systemic issues that businesses have only recently started to address. The Metaverse will be a truly inclusive successor of the internet if and only if the brands that build it make sure that intersectionality is understood in the rooms where the decisions are made. 

Another crucial step to take for brands is addressing the digital divide, so that the economic opportunities created by the emergence of the Metaverse become equally available. Companies like Dell Technology, Intel, Microsoft, Comcast and P&G recently joined forces to address the digital divide in education with a $25M investment, but more needs to be done and on a global scale.13 

Lastly and most importantly, brands should ensure their integration within gaming communities, the forefathers of the Metaverse communities of the future, is authentic and transparent: don’t exploit consumer attention within virtual worlds to push a one-sided advertising agenda at all cost, but rather build enriching experiences and stand up as an ally against misinformation and hateful behaviors.