Inside Decentraland: The Virtual City That’s All in Your Head
You would never have guessed, to look at it, that you were staring at the world’s most expensive plot of land. An unassuming 100m² square, suitable for development, close to a busy road and several dozen identical plots. And yet this 10x10m parcel went to an anonymous buyer this year for $175,000. The record-breaking transaction didn’t occur in San Francisco, Tokyo, or London. In fact it didn’t even take place in a city you can traverse. That’s because the conurbation in question has yet to be built, and besides, even when it’s finished, you won’t be able to set foot in it. At least, not literally.
Its name is Genesis City and its exists, for now, only in the minds of its prospective residents. It’s not unusual for investors to snap up real estate before the soil has been broken, only Genesis City will never resonate to the sound of cement trucks mixing or be redolent of diesel fumes; nor will its atmosphere fill with the dust of stonecutters as construction workers raise the walls and pave the sidewalks of the nascent city.
Enter the City of Dreams
Genesis City is the utopian virtual world at the heart of Decentraland, a project that blurs the boundaries between what’s real and what’s imagined, and yet, to all intents and purposes, it is as real as any urban environment whose coordinates you can punch into your GPS. For one thing, landowners in Genesis City retain their plots with as much certainty as their parents own theirs in the town where they grow up; with each 10x10m parcel associated with an ERC721 non-fungible token, no one can steal, seize or repossess it. It’s yours to build upon or, in future, to lease out as you see fit.
Decentraland might just be the boldest and most ambitious crypto project to have been attempted since Bitcoin. If it takes off, and the city gains occupancy – if its gridlines and civic squares fill with the stridulation of traders plying their wares, gamers gaming, and hustlers hustling – the possibilities are endless. Should that occur, those plots of land, close to the central spawn point on the map, that changed hands for over $100,000 might not seem so exorbitant after all. (Though such transactions, it should be noted, are the exception rather than the rule, with plots in less desirable locations going for an average of $800-$1,300.)
Above: the most expensive parcel ever purchased in Decentraland.
Believe, Barter, Build
The impediments to Decentraland going from a techtopian dream to a thriving digital world are, admittedly, significant. Aside from the technical constraints – reliance on the Ethereum blockchain, with its bottlenecks and sporadic gas spikes; the challenges of coding each wall, mall, and stall in a city whose land-owners are largely unfamiliar with 3D modeling – there are the ethical ones. What happens if someone sets up a sex shop next to the residence of a puritanical? Or a casino next to the crib of a devout prohibitionist?
The realities of living cheek to jowl in a digital gold mining town – a lawless and ungovernable frontier – are likely to be more prosaic and less problematic. Inhabitants will not be kept awake at night by noisy neighbors, nor will they be vulnerable to inebriated revelers trampling on their neatly manicured lawn. Virtual reality, for now at least, should not be confused with reality, and while land ownership in both domains is irrevocable, inhabiting Decentraland still calls for a good VR headset and the foresight with which to envisage the form its pixelated world could one day take.
It is no coincidence that the sort of characters drawn to Decentraland are the same ones who were lured to Bitcoin: libertarians, anarchists, cypherpunks, futurologists, geeks, hustlers, speculators, and visionaries. It is safe to say that with no other tokenized project could you find figures as eclectic as Grayscale’s Barry Silbert advocating its merits alongside 21st century real estate brokers and digital construction workers. But that’s the beauty of Decentraland: it’s anything you choose to make it and class, connections, and clout are no barrier. When the only limits are your imagination, if you can think it, you can build it – or failing that get someone else to build it on your behalf.
Daydreaming on the Brink of Reality
They said they were crazy when the concept of peer-to-peer digital cash started garnering attention around 2011. Six years later, as the great bull run of 2017 gathered momentum, those same naysayers fomo’d into bitcoin. It’s too early to tell whether Decentraland maximalists – those early adopters who trade land parcels on Discord and Telegram and upload React-based demos of 3D landscapes – are ahead of the curve or hopeless panglossians. By the time we know for sure, it will already be too late, and the only way to join the party will be to fomo in once again.
But to focus on the speculative value of Decentraland is to miss the bigger picture. Speculation is a necessary part of driving early adoption, but more than perhaps any other project to have launched via an ICO, Decentraland’s community seems genuinely in it for the tech. Really. Because while there may be money to make from flipping parcels, true believers take a longer view. They see the endgame, whilst acknowledging the irony that this life we lead may itself be a simulation, in which case Decentraland is a game within a game.
That endgame, for those who dare to dream big? To one day depart your mortal biological container and take up permanent residence in your own parcel of land on the blockchain, finally, eternally united with your own immutable plot of land. That might sound crazy, but no crazier than the fact that we’re teetering on the brink of the scientific breakthrough required to separate human consciousness from human body and make this possible. But all that can come later. For now, there are blockchains to scale, land to trade, and domiciles to render. What a time to be alive.
Images c/o Decentraland.org
Words by @Bitcoin101