HomeWorldYour Wednesday Briefing: A Race to Dominate the Metaverse

Your Wednesday Briefing: A Race to Dominate the Metaverse

We’re covering Microsoft’s huge bet on the metaverse and the contenders at the Australian Open.

Microsoft bets on gaming and the metaverse

Microsoft agreed to buy Activision Blizzard, the video game maker behind hits like Call of Duty and Candy Crush, for $68.7 billion in cash. The deal will position Microsoft for the next generation of the internet.

The acquisition, Microsoft’s largest ever, would catapult the company into a leading spot in the video game industry and could strengthen its hand in virtual and augmented reality. The takeover would make Microsoft the world’s third-largest gaming company by revenue, behind Tencent and Sony, the company said.

U.S. regulators face a challenge in deciding how to approach the huge deal. Microsoft has expanded its gaming business to surpass $10 billion in annual revenue. In anticipation of a longer review, Microsoft said it did not expect the Activision deal to close until the next fiscal year, which ends in June 2023.

Metaverse: The name for the virtual worlds many companies are putting money into is more of a buzzword than a big business for now. But the Activision deal could give Microsoft a significant boost against Facebook, which is considered the leader in the metaverse. Our tech columnist explains what the hype is about.

Context: One main driver of video game deals is the race for exclusive content: Locking up a major franchise like Call of Duty or Skyrim, for instance, could force fans to switch from Sony’s PlayStation to Microsoft’s Xbox, if Microsoft chose to make a game exclusive.

Omicron in the U.S. hits hospitals hard

A wave of Omicron cases may be cresting in the northeastern U.S., but the number of Covid patients is at a record high and climbing, overwhelming hospitals whose staffs have been hollowed out by the coronavirus.

The average number of Americans hospitalized with the coronavirus is 157,000, an increase of 54 percent over two weeks. And the number could continue increasing for some time. Experts say data on deaths and hospitalizations tends to lag behind case numbers by about two weeks.

Hospital staffs are severely stretched, doctors’ groups say, after relentless surges in the U.S. that have surpassed those of most countries. Many workers are sick with Covid and others have quit under the pressure of the pandemic.

Though the idea of the virus becoming a manageable part of daily life has gained traction, experts warn that there is no guarantee that the population is building enough natural immunity and that there is no certainty around future variants.

Data: More than 790,000 new infections are being reported in the U.S. each day. Deaths now exceed 1,900 a day, up 50 percent over the past two weeks.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

Big comebacks at the Australian Open

After a tumultuous year and a four-month layoff during which she questioned what she wanted from tennis, Naomi Osaka is back on the court.

Today she will play Madison Brengle in the second round at the Australian Open after winning her Monday match.

Before her pause from tennis, Osaka was the dominant figure in the sport and the world’s highest-paid female athlete at just 23 years old. On her return, she said, “I’m not sure if this is going to work out well.”

Also on Wednesday, Simona Halep will play Beatriz Haddad Maia.

Ashleigh Barty, the women’s No. 1, is back, too, after ending her season following the U.S. Open last year. Her possible matchup with Osaka will be her toughest test.

Men’s players will make the most of Novak Djokovic’s absence after Djokovic lost a visa battle with the Australian government. Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer are tied with Djokovic for 20 Grand Slam titles each, and both want to be the first to hit 21 and make history.


Asia Pacific

Many Georgians believe that Bidzina Ivanishvili, an eccentric billionaire and the former prime minister of Georgia, still wields power behind the scenes. A park that opened to the public in 2020 is a manifestation of his opaque but overwhelming presence in Georgia. Ivanishvili personally vetted most of the 200 trees that were transplanted to the park, which cost him tens of millions of dollars to create, on Georgia’s Black Sea Coast.

What Is the Metaverse, and Why Does It Matter?Card 1 of 5

The origins. The word “metaverse” describes a fully realized digital world that exists beyond the one in which we live. It was coined by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel “Snow Crash,” and the concept was further explored by Ernest Cline in his novel “Ready Player One.”

The future. Many people in tech believe the metaverse will herald an era in which our virtual lives will play as important a role as our physical realities. Some experts warn that it could still turn out to be a fad or even dangerous.

Fuller views of motherhood

Mainstream films and TV often paint motherhood in broad strokes. A mother is either endlessly devoted to her children, or her absence serves as fodder for a protagonist’s origin story, as our critic at large Amanda Hess writes. But more productions are now challenging those notions with complex portrayals.

In “The Lost Daughter,” Leda (played by Olivia Colman), an academic, leaves her young daughters to pursue her career, as many deadbeat fathers have done before her. “Children are a crushing responsibility,” she tells a pregnant character. Yet the movie reserves judgment and depicts Leda as a human being, not a monster. “We can dislike her, but we are never permitted to revile her,” Jeannette Catsoulis writes in a review.

There’s also Penélope Cruz’s character, in “Parallel Mothers,” a pregnant 40-year-old woman who befriends a teenage mother-to-be and makes an immoral decision about their newborns. “Instead of reassuring audiences that mommy is always a bastion of safety, these filmmakers have created mother heroines who are unpredictable, erratic and even a little bit frightening,” Emily Gould writes in Vanity Fair.

Even the “Sex and the City” reboot “And Just Like That …” is part of the trend. At one point, Miranda — a mother to a hormonal teenager — tells a character who is considering having children that there are many nights she wishes to “go home to an empty house.”

These works, Gould writes, “present their mothers as full human beings, even when their needs are structurally opposed to those of their children.”

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