Keke Palmer Answers the Question: “What Is the Metaverse?”

Keke Palmer in the Metaverse
Courtesy of Meta

It seems like everyone’s talking about the Metaverse these days. Brands like Thom Browne, Balenciaga, and Prada are designing “clothes” for your virtual reality avatars, and the digital frontier has a better concert lineup than Madison Square Garden. But what exactly is the Metaverse? Is it just another, more interactive corner of the Internet? Or something else entirely? The concept can be complicated, which is why self-proclaimed Millennial Diva, Keke Palmer—who herself has been the topic of much conversation after her stellar turn in Jordan Peele’s latest box office hit, Nope—teamed with Meta (née Facebook) for an educational three-part series, Are We There Yet? Each episode dives into the most talked-about technological breakthrough in the past decade. With the help of some Meta employees and VR creators, Palmer explores and breaks down the Metaverse like only she can. Luckily for you, W tapped Palmer’s newfound knowledge and asked her to provide an explainer on virtual reality, extended reality, and everything in between—because honestly, we’re still confused too.

Courtesy of Meta

What made you decide to sign onto this show?

I’m just super into technology and the evolution of the Internet. I still remember when I first got dial-up Internet, which led to social media and all the great things we have now.

Did you come in with any knowledge of the Metaverse or were you a blank slate?

I’ve been in the Metaverse before, but I don’t think I fully realized what that meant at the time. We all hear a lot about the Metaverse, but we don’t necessarily know what it is.

Who were your guests on Are We There Yet? What did you learn from them?

Oh my gosh, I talked to so many amazing people. I talked to Yonk, who creates really cool creatures and art sculptures in real life, but also in the Metaverse. I talked with Vishal Shah, who is the vice president of Metaverse at Meta, which is a really cool title to try to explain. I talked with so many people about all of the different ways you can create within the Metaverse, and also the aspirational aspects of what the Metaverse could be.

Shah and Palmer on the set of Are We There Yet?

Courtesy of Meta

Okay, so what exactly is the Metaverse? How would you describe it?

The Metaverse is the evolution of the Internet. Currently, you can enter the Metaverse through places like [the online virtual reality game] Horizon Worlds. You put on a simulation headset and you go into all these simulated places. Right now, through Horizon Worlds, you can go to comedy clubs and virtual concerts—they’ve even got a virtual Nope set in the Metaverse. So, it’s essentially a virtual expression of the Internet.

What is Horizon Worlds?

Horizon Worlds is a virtual world where you can create an avatar that does a bunch of different things; think of it like Sims on steroids. You put on a virtual headset and you go into Horizon Worlds and you pretty much just hang out. You talk and meet new friends with your avatar, which you can personalize. They even have speakeasies and beaches. You can also meditate. There’s a limitless amount of things you can do.

That sounds like the Steven Spielberg movie, Ready Player One. Is that what the Metaverse is like?

Yeah, that’s very much what it’s like. [But] I think we’re 10 or 15 years away from that. You have to be phased in, of course. That’s also the exciting part about Are We There Yet? We want to encourage all Millennials and Gen Z—and honestly, any generation of people—to get involved with the Metaverse. The more people know about it, the more we can create new things. It’s about getting people to understand it so we can invest in it.

Palmer with digital creator, Yonk.

Courtesy of Meta

Some people seem a bit scared of the Metaverse. Should they be?

People are scared because they think of the Metaverse as a replacement for the real world, but it actually has nothing to do with the real world. It’s not a replacement. The real world is always going to be there. Nothing can stop you from having a genuine experience in the world. The Metaverse is just a better version of the Internet. It’s an evolution and upgrade for the world we already actively live in.

If you’re going to do a Zoom call, imagine holding it in the Metaverse, where you can create an environment that feels a little bit more real. If you think about COVID, we were really depending on our technology and our digital platforms, and now, people are working and interacting together from all across the world. If you go into the Metaverse, you can have more integrated social experiences via the Internet.

So, hypothetically, we could have this interview in the Metaverse with our avatars chatting?

Exactly. So, there’s VR, right? But in Are We There Yet, we also talk about extended reality (XR), which is my favorite. Essentially, with XR, you can actually be in the Metaverse and mix and match your actual personal image with filters and cartoons and avatars. When you talk about Ready Player One, that’s XR. All of those things exist in the Metaverse and continue to grow in the Metaverse.

Now that you’ve done this show, are you going to stay involved with the Metaverse? Are you going to hang out there?

Oh man, yeah. This is my vibe. They don’t call me the Millennial Diva for nothing. I love all of this digital stuff. I want to learn as much as I can. To me, it’s all about being able to sharpen my skills and finding different ways to support my creative ideas. That’s why I’m into it and why I love it, because it allows everybody to be creative. I remember, back when I first got Instagram, I started using the functions on the app to film things, and it helped me realize I could take on the role of a producer, writer, star, anything. I was like, “Oh wow, now I can edit my own video, post it, and immediately get it to my audience.” The Metaverse is like that, times 10. The opportunities for creativity are endless.