You don't need a house in the metaverse
Read to the end for a conversation with The Atlantic's Charlie Warzel
Yes, Metaverse Real Estate Will Be A Big Deal, But It Won’t Work Like Physical Real Estate
I recently got myself an Oculus Quest 2 VR headset. And, yesterday, I attempted to meet a friend in VRChat, the anarchic cross-platform VR platform responsible for the wildly problematic “Ugandan Knuckles” meme from a few years ago. Finding each other in VRChat, when we weren’t friends to begin with, was not intuitive. We eventually picked a Kingdom Hearts-themed map that only had a few other players in it, found each other there, friended each other, and then hopped around different maps for a while together. Once we got it all working, it was a blast.
I was thinking about that VRChat map hopping experience while I was reading through a16z Crypto’s newest article, “Metaverse Land: What Makes Digital Real Estate Valuable”. Even though I think Andreessen Horowitz is totally biased about the future of crypto, I do think some of the analysis their crypto team is doing is pretty solid. But their newest look at the metaverse uses the same completely ill-informed “metaverse real estate” concept that I see parroted everywhere else, that valuable real estate in the metaverse will look and function like valuable real estate in real life.
The screenshot above is from the the White Sands metaverse project and it’s what they’re calling a luxury villa. According to a16z Crypto, White Sands does not allow users of their metaverse platform to redesign the virtual interiors and has even imposed real-world-style zoning restrictions. “Parcel passes” for White Sands, which randomly assign you a parcel of “land” in their platform, are selling for around $800 on OpenSea right now.
This is patently absurd. In fact, it’s so absurd that I think people are uncomfortable admitting how genuinely bananas it all is. I assume that people think they must be missing something here, so let me spell it out very clearly. There is no reason you need a virtual reality house!!! None of the things that a house is used for in real life apply to a virtual world. You do not need to protect yourself from the elements. You do not need to store physical objects. You do not need to sleep. This is a scam and everyone involved should be embarrassed. Most importantly, if you had the limitless creative freedom of a virtual world, why would you live in a mansion? How utterly devoid of imagination do you have to be to buy a digital simulation of big house on an island?
One thing that a16z Crypto rightly notes in their piece, though, is that location proximity in a virtual environment doesn’t really matter anymore. For instance, in VRChat, you can pull up a menu, scroll through hundreds of different “worlds” and then drop a portal and hop in one. Yesterday, I jumped through a portal into a world called “Udon Bird Sanctuary” and was greeted by four 20-foot-tall Kermit the Frog avatars and one super jacked Among Us astronaut who all took turns calling me a “bitch” and dabbing.
“Distance can be less of a factor thanks to the possibility of fast travel or teleportation,” a16z Crypto wrote. “People (or rather, their avatars) might walk out of a virtual concert together and then meander down an adjacent virtual shopping strip. Just like in the physical world, then, the shops closest to the virtual conference hall will get the most ‘foot traffic.’” This just isn’t true! This is nonsense. There is no foot traffic. There is no meandering out of a virtual concert. You have fast travel. What are you talking about? Also, the idea of scarcity in virtual estate has already been fixed. If too many people are on the same map at once, a new instance of that exact map is created, and then fills up with more people. There is no need for scarcity.
But we do already have really good example of how “premium” metaverse real estate would work thanks to the Dream SMP. If you’ve never heard of it. An SMP is a Survival Multiplayer Minecraft server. The most popular Minecraft player of all time, Dream, has an invite-only SMP. The members of that SMP all livestream themselves using the server and over time it has evolved into a WWE-style kayfabe story. There are battles and betrayals and new storylines and millions and millions of fans. In a sense, the Dream SMP is the most valuable server in all of Minecraft. And it has nothing to do with “foot traffic” or its proximity to a virtual shopping mall or concert. It’s popular because of what the Dream SMP members are doing with it. There are no NFTs involved. It is a server like any other on Minecraft, made valuable by the limitless imaginations of its users.
The metaverse real estate land rush you’re seeing from the crypto world right now is a direct reaction to that limitless imagination we’re seeing from kids on Minecraft or Roblox or VRChat. It’s a knee-jerk attempt to reign in the infinite sandbox potential that virtual reality platforms can offer us. And it’s really sad actually. There are plenty of ways to make money in the metaverse — custom avatars, cool maps, unique digital experiences, ad-supported livestreamed playthrough videos — but the folks trying to convince you to buy a digital mansion or a virtual yacht aren’t going to be part of that new economy. They know they don’t understand it, they know the way value intersects with creativity online is changing, they know NFT real estate is worthless, and they know they have no place in the future that’s quickly approaching. And it scares them.
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NFT Drama Comes To The Toronto Comic Arts Festival
Pink Cat, aka Saba Moeel, an artist whose cartoon NFTs feature slogans like “We don’t need Daddy we got crypto” and “Dismantle the central banking authority so I know it’s real,” was recently disinvited from the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, after a resounding outcry from attendees and other invited artists about her habit of tracing art, appropriating Black culture, and basically being terrible. But the whole thing really began with objections to her involvement in NFTs and spiraled from there.
Hilariously, according to Polygon, Pink Cat didn’t even know what TCAF was before being invited. By all accounts she was not a part of the tight-knit comics community that TCAF has long been a pillar of. The invitation was apparently partly due to “the personal importance [Pink Cat’s] work had to one of our team members,” per a TCAF statement, which is a little tricky to jive with the subsequent statement that no one at TCAF had financial ties or owned one of her NFTs. Was it like, a family nepotism type deal? Someone’s sister or cousin? I can’t imagine anyone being otherwise independently “personally attached” to Pink Cat’s incredibly generic daily comics, which are like a cheesy, Gen Z-ified crypto-heavy rip-off of the iconic Pon and Zi comics which dominated the scene kid internet. In response to her disinvitation, Pink Cat went off on some bizarre tangents, like proposing that her tracing Tank Girl art was activism in response to cultural theft of Middle Eastern artifacts by soldiers, which is just uhhhhhhh.
This latest disruption in the land of comics, which may seem like unimportant subcultural infighting, is indicative of a much larger trend. Essentially, right now, the world of creative production, down to the individual level, is undergoing a very visible mitosis into wholly separate parallel universes. The universe that TCAF exists in is, quite abruptly, not the same one that Pink Cat exists in, and that fundamental incompatibility at an almost atomic level is what resulted in the equivalent of an antimatter explosion. And this will just keep happening: irreversible bifurcation of previously contiguous cultural environments along increasingly inviolable lines, as we see in the gut-roiling and inevitable outcome of the Depp v. Heard trial, in which a huge population, including a laundry-list of beloved celebs, seems to exist in an entirely alternate dimension.
At one point in history there was (so I have been told, in tales around the campfire) such a thing as an avant-garde. Which is to say, culture that was separate from, and ahead of, and against, the mainstream. The indie comics world (plus the DIY punk world, among other islands) is a place where misty whiffs of that distant concept still yet linger. But what defined the avant-garde was its specific relationality to, you know, the garde it was avant of. It’s this position which is increasingly untenable, even in these final holdouts. And, instead, everything becomes, in the immortal words of Mac and Dennis, “Who versus? Who are we doing it versus?” And there are infinite answers to that question: crypto vs. anti-crypto being just one.
Is the crypto world a subculture? Certainly its proponents think so, characterizing themselves as stalwart rebels against centralized banking and the entire concept of top-down authority. It, of course, has close ties to Silicon Valley and the world of VC funding which is pretty definitely not punk, but that doesn’t mean it can’t take up a place as one of the many infinite and incompatible dimensions condensing down out of the postmodern thundercloud. Ryan’s “everything is fandom now” slogan is applicable here, of course — the emotional affect of “who are we doing it versus” are the rails that fandom chugs along. And because the boundaries of one’s fandom territory are the most understandable and accessible, they’re also the most patrolled.
What’s The Deal With Finnish People And Buckets?
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OK, look, I need some help here because this is driving me crazy. A few months ago, I came across this delightful TikTok video about how people in Finland are obsessed with buckets. Apparently, it’s very common for free buckets to be given out at store openings in Finland. I love it! That’s adorable. And, you know what, thinking about it, I probably could definitely benefit from having more buckets in my life. Anyways, the TikToker in the video, Kelly Louise Killjoy, who is verified and has over a million followers, explained that modern Finnish people love buckets because of “the Great Bucket Shortage Of 1842”.
During the recording of my podcast this week, we talked about Finland and its love of buckets and I repeated that fact out loud and realized how insane that sounds. So I tried to google it. While it does seem quite clear that Finnish people love buckets, the only thing I can find that references “the Great Bucket Shortage Of 1842” was this Reddit post sharing a 2016 YouTube video titled, “Finnish Facts, Fast! - Free Buckets,” from a channel called Nopia Oy. But nowhere else on the internet is there any information about a great Finnish bucket shortage! So what’s the deal? Do Finnish people love free buckets because of the 200-year-old cultural trauma of not having enough buckets at one point? Or is this just a big inside joke that has kicked around the internet for the last six years?
Tumblr Adds Un-Rebloggable Posts
I’m utterly fascinated by all the tweaks that Tumblr is doing to their platform at the moment. I think it’s very likely that we’re currently living through the end of the web 2.0 era, but I think a lot of the forward-thinking user experience work that Tumblr is doing right now could give us a glimpse at what social platforms might look like moving forward.
The site’s most recent innovation is a setting that makes your posts unable to be shared, or reblogged. Now, at first, you might say, “So what? Lots of sites do that.” But I think the bluntness here is interesting. Most platforms don’t let you completely turn off all engagement on public content, only temper it. For instance, on Twitter, you can change who can reply and you can make your account private, but it’s not really easy to just kill all sharing to a piece of content. So I think it’s notable that Tumblr will now let you just turn the hose off if you feel like.
The UK Is In The Throws Of Binley Mega Chippy Fever
For non-Brits reading this, let me catch you up to speed. A chipshop (a restaurant for fried food) in the town of Binley, which I’m told is near Coventry, has gone insanely viral on TikTok. Why? Because apparently British people think it has a really funny name: Binley Mega Chippy. I mean, it is pretty funny. A bunch of British newspapers have sent reporters to camp out there. It’s become a whole thing.
It’s also a terrific example of how easily TikTok can make physical spaces go viral. We’ve seen this in America with things like Adrian’s Kickback last year and it seems like it’s going to keep happening as TikTok becomes more popular around the world. Hopefully, the Binley Mega Chippy frenzy stays funny and nice and doesn’t get weird or violent.
This Mashup Is Actual Witchcraft
I’ve featured a few DJ Cummerbund mashups in Garbage Day before, but this one, featuring Lizzo and Linkin Park, is actually unreal. From what it sounds like, DJ Cummerbund was able to edit the acapellas for Linkin Park’s “In The End” so it sounds like they’re singing backup vocals for Lizzo’s “About Damn Time”. It’s outrageously impressive.
BONUS: Here’s Charlie Warzel’s Biggest Pop Culture Blindspot
I’m doing a new weekly miniseries for paying subscribers this summer. Everyone loves to ask the internet’s most-plugged in writers and creators questions like “what are you reading,” or “what’s in your bag,” or “what’s your money diary,” etc. So I decided to do something different! I’m reaching out to the most tapped-in people on the internet and asking them: What’s your biggest pop cultural (or web cultural) blindspot.
First up, we have Charlie Warzel, he writes the extremely excellent Galaxy Brain newsletter over at The Atlantic. What’s his blindspot? Find out after the paywall jump! (Hint: It involves superheroes.)