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A Roadmap of The Many Worlds of the Metaverse

The Metaverse includes virtual worlds, mirror worlds, lifelogging, and more.

Key points

  • The Metaverse refers to a complex set of possible virtual worlds and augmented realities and is not limited to a single unified entity.
  • Many "social virtual worlds" are open-ended and open source, which is different than multiplayer games, but the two can be combined.
  • Mirror worlds or "digital twins" are models of the real physical world and are limited by reality, but useful for prediction and decisionmaking.
  • Lifelogging is made increasingly possible through real-time tools that capture data about our everyday life.
Source: Buonnarroti/Pexels

In the summer of 2001, while I was researching philosophy of the mind, I spent many hours of my free time attempting to recreate everyone I knew as “characters” or “avatars” on the computer game The Sims. This project of creating a digital replica of a "community" was an early attempt at creating a “mirror world”— an accidental venture in the many potential worlds of the Metaverse.

The concept of the "metaverse" has been around for longer than one might think— long before the recent attention to it since Facebook announced its new brand Meta in 2021. The term "metaverse" was coined by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 cyberpunk science fiction novel Snow Crash, which envisioned an immersive 3D virtual world. Since then, the development of complex Metaverses is moving along as forecasted by researchers, technologists, developers, and designers.

In 2007, the Acceleration Studies Foundation (ASF) published a “Metaverse Roadmap” based on contributions from an interdisciplinary team across many disciplines. This roadmap recognized early on that there is no single unified entity called the Metaverse. Instead, there are multiple ways and modalities in which virtual and 3D tools will increasingly become seamlessly integrated into our worlds and daily lives.

The 2007 ASF Metaverse road map highlights two specific dimensions of Metaverse worlds:

1. Augmentation versus simulation technologies

  • Augmented technologies add to existing real systems. This means technologies that add layers of control or information onto our perception for the physical environment.
  • Simulation refers to technologies that model reality or parallel realities, including completely new environments.

2. Intimate versus external technologies

  • Intimate technologies focus on the identity or actions of an individual or object. This refers to technologies that allow the user to have agency in the environment, such as an avatar to function as an actor in the system.
  • External technologies focus on the outward world, providing information about the world around the user.

The 2007 Metaverse roadmap describes 4 different worlds:

  1. Virtual Worlds – simulation + intimate (e.g. Second Life, Roblox)
  2. Mirror Worlds – simulation + external (e.g., Google Earth, Google Maps)
  3. Augmented Reality- augmentation + external (e.g., Pokemon Go, Google Glasses, Smart Contact Lens)
  4. Lifelogging – augmentation + intimate (e.g., Apple Watch, Nike Plus, smart fitness tracking sensory devices)
Creative Commons// Smart, E.J., Cascio, J. and Paffendorf, J., Metaverse Roadmap Overview, 2007
Diagram of 4 Types of the Metaverse
Source: Creative Commons// Smart, E.J., Cascio, J. and Paffendorf, J., Metaverse Roadmap Overview, 2007

Virtual worlds are virtual spaces of alternative realities where there are social and economic interactions can occur among multiple users. These can be both asynchronous single-user or real-time multi-user modes, like Second Life, which is an online multimedia platform which started in 2003.

Virtual worlds are typically distinct from multiplayer games, or massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs), in which the primary goals are entertainment and task completion. Social virtual worlds, like Second Life, are open-ended and often open source, and the user has the freedom to create objects and is not constrained by reality. But this distinction can be blurred. Games do occur within social virtual worlds, such as Roblox, an online game platform that allows users to create games for other users to play.

Mirror worlds are data-rich informationally-enhanced virtual models of the physical world (e.g., virtual mapping, modeling, and annotation tools). Mirror worlds are distinct from virtual worlds in that they are constrained by reality. The most common example is Google Maps, which digitally documents houses, roads, and stores at their physical location. This concept is taken further with “digital twins” or “digital mirror worlds” which are virtual or digital replicas of a physical entity like a device, person, building, process, or system.

Digital twins are useful to predict situations, solve problems, and improve decision making in many industries such as manufacturing, health care, supply chain management, and retail. For example, companies may use digital twin of a warehouse to find a more efficient design of the space. Some companies are offering digital versions of people using artificial intelligence to offer “digital immortality” or the ability to have one’s digital self exist indefinitely.

Augmented reality (AR) are technologies that enhance the external physical world for individuals. This includes the interfaces that add a layer of networked information on top of our everyday world. During the pandemic, QR codes for menus became more commonplace. QR codes are increasingly being used to enhance information in many places—from museums to tombstones. At the moment, smartphones are the most common AR interfaces

Lifelogging is the recording, capturing, and storing of everyday experiences and life histories of people and objects. In The Road Ahead, Bill Gates refers to this as the “documented life.” In 2000, Gordon Bell and Jim Gray, Microsoft researchers proposed that two-way “digital immortality”—the ability for people to digitally preserve their experiences and have them take on a life of their own—would be achievable within this century. Important to lifelogging is the ability of augmented technology (like the Apple Watch) to “record and digitize” everything.

These are glimpses into some of the many worlds of the Metaverse -- and more variations will iterate and evolve. These many worlds highlight the need to research and understand the psychological, legal, and ethical impacts, including privacy, security, and safety of users. There will also be important differences in how these virtual spaces will be adopted and integrated in difference counties and cultures. These Metaverse worlds will change the way we live, think, work, connect, communicate, create, learn, and capture moments and memories.

This is Part 3 in my series on The Psychology of The Metaverse.

Part 1: Can Empathy Exist in The Metaverse?

Part 2: Five Types of Empathy in The Metaverse

Marlynn Wei, MD, PLLC Copyright © 2022


Smart, J.M., Cascio, J. and Paffendorf, J., Metaverse Roadmap Overview, 2007. Available at:

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