The company formerly known as Facebook is taking a step toward its goal of transporting us to the metaverse. Now Horizon Worlds – Second Life’s VR apps or Meta’s Minecraft – expands from the invite-only beta, opening to all users over 18 in the US and Canada. This is a milestone for the app, which was first announced in 2019.
The free app is a social playground for world building. When you enter the app (after a short tutorial if this is your first time), you are presented with three options: play (games), participate (events) and exit. You can explore experiences that Meta itself has created, as well as community-generated spaces that anyone can create. In October, the company announced $ 10 million in funding for the creators creating these virtual reality experiences, prompting users to create new games and hangouts.
Before entering any of these virtual spaces, the platform reminds you that anyone you interact with is a real person.
In the main menu, which you access by looking at your left wrist, there is a safety button you can press, which instantly sends you to your “Safe Zone”, a private room where you can pause or block, mute and report people.
One of the first meeting spaces that users might come across is the Plaza, a space created by Meta. Our legless avatar launched paper planes with strangers and even spoke with a community moderator, who chatted with the newcomers and helped explain how the controls work (they’re pretty intuitive, but take a few minutes to get used to). It was an eerily enjoyable experience, absorbing the futuristic landscape and listening to the people around us discuss their avatar outfits, making little chats about the metaverse.
But in user-generated spaces, there won’t always be those human moderators who could step in if something goes wrong. It’s unrealistic to expect to see a Meta representative in every space in Horizon Worlds – it might even seem a little scary – but the Metaverse poses new challenges to keeping people safe online.
Meta has struggled to remove hate speech and violent images from Facebook, and the company is reeling from leaked internal documents that show how dangerous its Instagram app can be to the mental health of adolescents. Just yesterday, Instagram director Adam Mosseri testified before Congress on online safety for children and teens. But a metaverse world poses additional challenges, as it’s a more immersive audiovisual experience. Clubhouse has struggled to moderate its live audio rooms, and even Twitter has encounter problems with damaging content on Spaces lately. Twitch streamers also referred to “hate raids”.
Right now, if you’re using Venues, you’re just dropped off in a blocked entry area, like a hallway in a movie theater. You can choose from a few venues to enter, where you can watch a pixelated recording of a Billie Eilish concert on repeat, for example. Worlds already looks more engaging and promising than Venues. But as Horizon Worlds opens up to millions of users, Meta must prove that it is capable of protecting a social platform.
To run Horizon Worlds, you will need to download the free app on a Quest 2 device. As of January 13, 2022, it will no longer be supported on Quest 1.