The voice was coming from a cartoon avatar of a bald man in small, 2000s-era sunglasses and a trench coat, although the trench coat only extended to his waist because everyone’s avatars stopped there, so it looked more like a trench jacket.
“Never,” Greg said, immediately. The presence of this traitor to the Metaverse made him start to sweat a little in his virtual reality visor, and he tried to wipe his forehead, instead causing his avatar’s arms to flail, like a windsock advertising a car sale. “Everyone agrees that the Metaverse is a cutting-edge solution to the problem of remote work that allows people to build their lives’ most important relationships: their relationships with their co-workers.”
“How?” the man in sunglasses said. “How does it do that?”
“Well,” Greg said, “uh, you notice how when you talk, it really sounds like you’re on my right, and when I talk, it really sounds like you’re on my left?”
The avatar looked at him through the sunglasses in a manner Greg thought might be deadpan. “And?”
“Well,” Greg said, “everyone knows that this is making us feel closer. Like we’re really in the room together.” The avatar didn’t say anything, so Greg added, “Which is so important.”
“Why is that important?”
“Because,” Greg said. He wanted to wipe his face again, but he also knew there was a coffee cup somewhere on his real desk, and he had knocked it over before and damaged his keyboard. “Because we have to be in the room together. Because we’re co-workers.”
Greg had never contemplated this question before, and doing so made him nervous. “It’s — an accepted fact.”
“Do you feel like we’re in the room together?” the man asked. “I am a cartoon avatar that glitches at any hint of disruption to my connection, as are you. If you fidget, you will knock over your coffee cup, which will spill onto your machine and expel you permanently.”
“How do you know about the coffee cup?” Greg asked.
“I’m Morpheus,” the avatar said, which didn’t really explain how he knew about the coffee cup. “Do you ever think, Greg, when you put on your visor in the morning and set up your laptop so that you can sit in a virtual meeting typing on your virtual laptop, ‘Golly, we took a wrong turn here, as a society’?”
“Certainly not in those words,” Greg said.
“This is virtual reality, Greg,” Morpheus said. "The Metaverse. And yet here you are, in an office conference room, taking notes on your laptop."
“That’s just one of five thrilling gameplay actions I can engage in,” Greg said. “The others include sitting at a desk, doing a presentation to other people who are sitting at desks, talking in a meeting, sitting in a meeting not talking, and a bonus, sixth action, communicating with your co-worker on Slack while your avatar sits in a virtual meeting.”
Morpheus sighed. “Shouldn’t you be able to be anyone and go anywhere?”
“I can go anywhere,” Greg said, “as long as it’s the office. And I can be anyone, as long as that person is also going to the office.” He cleared his throat. His avatar just sat there dead-eyed; the combination was jarring. “Emily in accounting is an Orc Warrior with a detailed backstory. And technically, according to the lore of the Office Metaverse available online, this office is located on Jupiter’s moon Europa.”
“Then why are you just sitting in this conference room?”
“Well,” Greg said, “we need the whiteboard. What if it didn’t sound like you were on my right and I was on your left out there?”
Morpheus sighed heavily. “Greg,” he said, “don’t you feel like something about this is terribly wrong? Isn’t this maybe the goofiest use of virtual reality you could possibly think of? Do you ever want to take off your headset and say, ‘This does nothing but make me miserable and give me a headache, and I just want to communicate with my colleagues via email and not—’” he gestured—“'you know.' Do you ever want to take the red pill and see how deep the rabbit hole goes?”
“You haven’t introduced the concept of taking any pills before,” Greg pointed out. He tugged at his real collar. “But no. This is how jobs are now. I need my job.”
Morpheus threw up his hands. It sounded as though he was maybe muttering something about capitalism, but the action of gesturing caused him to glitch and vanish as though he had never been there at all.