Lighting the Metaverse

The Metaverse – we’ve all heard of it by now. Neal Stephenson came up with the term and Facebook made it mainstream. It’s used to describe virtual reality worlds that are accessed online, where users can interact with each other, within virtual spaces, with virtual objects, and in real time. What has emerged from these features is the potential for Metaverse users to interact with eachother and share a sense of presence, place, and community.
As a lighting designer, I find the concept of the Metaverse fascinating. One question that comes to mind is, “How will we design these virtual worlds, and what role will virtual lighting play?” I think it’s natural, and somewhat predictable, that we’d begin by mimicking what is real. After all, it’s what we know and familiarity is key when it comes to entering and navigating new worlds. However, as we continue to explore and develop the Metaverse, I’m excited to see how we may push beyond these initial self-imposed boundaries and create truly unique virtual lighting experiences.
As we delve deeper into the concept of the Metaverse, an exciting aspect to consider is the potential to break free from the physical constraints of the real world. The fact that the Metaverse is entirely digital allows for a greater degree of creative freedom and flexibility when designing environments. In the case of digital architecture, gravity can be manipulated to create floating cities or buildings, objects can be made to proportions that would be impossible in the physical world, etc. These are just some of the ideas already presented by architects that attempting to expand our understanding of virtual architecture.
Lighting Designers should also take part in the design of these new worlds. Just as architects, we’re trained to understand laws of physics, namely the physical properties of light and how it interacts with materials and surfaces – however I believe we can broaden our understanding of what our role is and actually attempt to redesign light itself.
To demonstrate one possibility, the inverse square law is a physical law of nature that is inescapable in the real world. It tells us that lighting intensity is inversely proportional to the square of the distance from the light source. So every time you double the distance of an object from the light source, it has a 75% reduction in illuminance. In other words, the further you are from a light source, the dimmer it appears to be and it dims at that rate.
What if rather than the inverse square law, virtual light followed a different set of laws altogether. Perhaps it could be logarithmic or a more complex function (that I’ll leave to those better skilled in math to come up with). Maybe we can vary the rate at which light dims as the distance increases.
I imagine a logarithmic function that presents a steeper curve when closer to the source than what the inverse square law (reality) tells us. Objects would appear dimmer for longer period and suddenly pop into life once you get close to them. It would be a hyper-real version of light as we would be exaggerating what occurs in reality. Perhaps this digital light would not suited for the faint hearted but it would be an exciting experience for those looking for it. At best, such tweaks could create spectacular new light properties unseen in the real world, greatly enhancing our experience; and at worst, it doesn’t work and we revert to what we know.
Additionally, virtual spaces can be designed to change dynamically in response to user interactions or events, allowing for more immersive and interactive experiences. This will further extend the shift from realism to immersion. With dynamic and real time rendering responding to our movement, eye focus, mood, etc., providing us with the potential for precise and hyper personalized experiences.
Overall, lighting design in the metaverse will be a complex and multifaceted discipline that requires a deep understanding of the principles of light, a creative eye for design, and a desire push beyond what we already know. A lot is yet to be understood on how digital light and virtual environments can affect human psychology and well-being, so it would be wise to tread cautiously. None-the-less, the Metaverse is an innovation that provides us with a wealth of opportunities to experiment with new lighting techniques and technologies, an exciting new frontier that can allow for limitless lighting possibilities.
Note: The log function presented above has been simplified for the purpose of the blog. In order to avoid the curve reaching near 0 too quickly, a tweak to the function is necessary. For those interested in further information, please contact me at