But, Mr. Zuckerberg, How Do You Play Basketball Against a Hologram?

This is a serious question.

Oct 29 2021, 4:35pm

On Thursday, Mark Zuckerberg hosted a 75-minute video introducing “Meta,” Facebook’s new parent-company name, and the concept of the “Metaverse,” which Motherboard described as a “delusional fever dream cribbed most obviously from dystopian science fiction and misleading or outright fabricated virtual-reality product pitches from the last decade.”


There is one question about the Metaverse that keeps bugging me, a seemingly silly one that I cannot stop thinking about. It is such a basic question that nevertheless encapsulates all the larger concepts regarding the viability of the entire “Metaverse,” an issue so fundamental I wonder what would have happened if anyone inside Facebook had bothered to ask it.

That question is: How can a hologram basketball player play defense?

I ask this because in the “Fitness” section of the presentation, Zuckerberg lays out his vision of playing a three-on-three pickup basketball game against people “on the other side of the world.” For all of the confusing reality-bending ideas in the video, this one is presented relatively simply. You’re on a court with two friends in a real (?) place and you are playing against three digital projections.

Now, in the sport of basketball, there is one thing every player has in common, from the greats like LeBron James to my sorry ass on the pickup court. We are all three-dimensional figures of solid mass. The entire sport depends on it. Players use their physical presence in the three-dimensional world to block, obstruct, resist, and otherwise prevent the opposing team from doing whatever they want, such as running right through you because you’re literally a figment of a computer’s imagination. Real Ass Team defeats Photon Phantoms every time.

It is possible to imagine, however unlikely, a world in which an all-virtual-reality basketball experience feels something like the real thing using technology that hasn’t been invented yet. But that is not what Facebook is pitching in its video. It is pitching some sort of mixed reality in which some of the players are playing basketball in the real world on a real court and some of them are playing in the exact same game in the metaverse. 

This is the main issue: There’s no shared objective reality here. Both teams would be nothing but light to the other, meaning somehow both teams are real and both teams are not. Both teams have the distinct advantage of being solid mass against opponents made of light. Real Ass Team defeats Photon Phantoms every time, but everyone will see themselves as real and everyone else as phantoms. The lack of shared reality here seems like a big problem for the viability of a coherent game of pick-up. For this to work, we would need to design basketball courts in which the Photon Phantoms are not only digitally projected, but in which they are digitally projected and given mass or some sort of physical force field that gives realistic feedback to IRL players in real time. We would also need a ball that is both real in the real world and is somehow being tracked in (and feels real to) the players in the metaverse at the same time.

As I said, this seems like a trivial part of a much larger presentation, but it also highlights the bigger problem with Zuckerberg's vision, namely that it uses technology that doesn't exist and may not ever exist to pitch an absurd virtual world that is not measurably better than what can be achieved with a $20 basketball and a public basketball court.

If anyone at Facebook knows how this is supposed to work, please tell me. I’m serious. I do not understand this very basic question and I really, really would like to know if anyone thought about it before presenting it to the entire world.


Basketball, Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, please explain this to me

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