Former Jeju Province Gov. Won Hee-ryong enters Korea's homegrown metaverse platform "Zepeto" to reach voters in the lead-up to the March 9 presidential election next year. Photo courtesy of Won Hee-ryong’s office

South Korean politicians brace for metaverse

South Korean politicians are trying to find a new opportunity in metaverse, a collective virtual shared space, to reach voters in the run-up to the presidential election early next year.

The ruling Democratic Party of Korea announced this week that it will communicate with people at a metaverse platform “Metapolis,” built by real estate application Jikbang.

On top of the interest in metaverse, the country’s failure to contain COVID-19 seems to have affected the decision.

As the country’s daily tally of new virus infections reached record highs this month, Seoul restricted social gatherings of more than two people after 6 p.m, causing troubles for presidential hopefuls.

“As candidates can meet their supporters in a virtual world, they will feel quite comfortable,” Rep. Kang Hoon-sik of the Democratic Party said. “The competition will be less heated, and policies will come to the fore.”

The Democratic Party leased a total of seven floors at a Metapolis building. One floor is for the party’s control room, while the other six are for each of the six presidential candidates.

Each floor can house 300 people at the same time and is equipped with a conference room where 16 people can join.

The party’s candidates also take advantage of another metaverse platform, called “Zepeto” made by internet company Naver, to present their election promises and have virtual town hall meetings.

Candidates from other parties, including Won Hee-ryong of the main opposition People’s Power Party, also embraces Zepeto. He is a former governor of Jeju Province.

This year is not the first time for politicians to resort to metaverse composed of the prefix “meta,” which means beyond, and the stem “verse,” which alludes to the universe.

For example, Democratic candidates, including Hillary Clinton, entered “Second Life” as part of their campaigns for the 2008 U.S. presidential election.

Launched in 2003 by Linden Lab, Second Life is an online virtual world with its own currency called the Liden Dollar. It is regarded as an early version of an immersive Metaverse.

Last year, incumbent U.S. President Joe Biden also ran his head office in “Animal Crossing,” a life-simulation video game for Nintendo Switch, for his election campaign.

“I am not sure how many young people would listen to the voices of politicians at metaverse platforms,” Prof. Shin Yul at Myongji University said.

“I think they just try to put on an image of hip and trendy. In fact, they have few other options to reach voters at a time when face-to-face meetings are strictly banned.”