Thirty minutes in Decentraland: A metaverse adventure
Decentraland is one of the best known 'metaverses' that currently exist. It is a giant virtual world where users can create 'avatars' (a digital representation of yourself) and interact with one another. Users can also buy and develop virtual land, the mechanics of which involve purchasing an NFT (non-fungible token) connected with the relevant land plot. Users can then develop their land and build unique 3D environments.
The Crypto Fraud and Asset Recovery network (CFAAR) is set to host a webinar exploring Decentraland, on Tuesday 27 June 2023 at midday (sign up here). A true metaverse native, Tara Annison of Elliptic, will provide a guided tour.
In advance of the webinar, Chris Whitehouse and Becky Baker of CFAAR Founder Member RPC each spent thirty minutes exploring Decentraland for the first time. Here's what they found.
'Art or DAI'
After hurriedly creating an avatar, I entered the tutorial area which gave me a quick run through of the basics of interacting with users and manipulating virtual objects. I was then given the choice of three portals going to various areas of interest.
I made my portal choice and was transported to an area called 'Art or DAI'1 containing a number of virtual art galleries. Walking around them was not totally dissimilar to exploring a real gallery. I was able to wander around and paused to take in any particularly eye-catching pieces.
'HQ Vech' and 'Barter Town'
Next I decided to pick a random direction and see what I came across. After traversing some empty land plots, I found 'HQ Vech' selling various wearables (items you can use to customise your avatar). As I was only using the demonstration link I was not able to purchase anything so instead admired an explorer themed outfit that I felt would have been thematically appropriate.
I pressed on and ended up in an area called 'Barter Town', an open-air shopping area. Various digital wares were displayed in floating windows, which when approached provided you with a web link connected to the product.
I was intrigued to see you could collect rent on land plots (presumably in the form of MANA, Decentraland's internal currency). I will have to ask Tara about the economics of that during the webinar.
The final area I visited was 'Hen World', which was marked nearby on the main Decentraland map. I had been expecting some kind of virtual farm, but it was actually an educational building for people to learn about health. Its different floors included a corridor lined with educational posters, an interactive quiz floor and a communal visitor area.
I spent way too long trying to make my avatar look cool to fit into the hip world of Decentraland, but ended up in a blazer and kitten heels. I'm clearly a lawyer to my core.
After the demo, I was then offered a tantalising choice between several portals, just like Chris. I picked the portal going directly to Genesis Plaza, the main transport hub of Decentraland, a bit pedestrian compared to Chris' more adventurous choice. Or so I thought.
On arrival, I was faced with a diving board and a mysterious whirlpool.
I immediately jumped in, expecting to find myself standing in a foot of virtual water. Instead, this happened:
My confusion only grew when I was faced with a well-muscled, giant Doge at the bottom:
It really was!
The Pedigree Fosterverse
After walking around the "whirlpool", I explored on foot for a little while to get a sense of the more unstructured parts of Decentraland that belonged to other people. The first place I stumbled across was The Pedigree Fosterverse.
I could pet, talk to, and adopt any of the rescue dogs you can see, both in Decentraland and in real life.
The Gold Rush
However, my favourite interaction was back in Genesis Plaza, where I met this elderly gentleman carrying a sack of (virtual) gold:
I thought I was about to be encouraged to buy some bogus coins, and would be able to report back about the sophistication (or lack of it) of cyberfraud in the metaverse to our CFAAR members. However, it was actually Decentraland giving me a gentle reminder not to get caught up in the crypto "gold rush". The old man told me about all his mishaps chasing the latest coins, with the strong implication that none of them had yielded quite what he'd hoped.
He left me with this hopeful farewell as he hurried on to better things:
Chris: Decentraland is a little underwhelming when you first enter, the graphics are quite basic, and it seemed to be largely empty, although that may just be because I don't know where the popular hang outs are. The social aspect would have been an interesting thing to explore, maybe on my next visit…
It's pretty hard though not to see the longer potential of metaverses like Decentraland. Virtual museums and shopping complexes could be fantastic experiences, particularly if consumed via a VR headset which would allow complete immersion in the experience. I particularly like the idea of the technology deployed towards education (along the lines of 'Hen World') with stimulating interactive learning environments supplementing classroom teaching.
Becky: I was impressed by the creativity and purpose of the areas I found in Decentraland. Nothing seemed gratuitous or chaotic, despite how wonderfully unusual it could be – it was all there to achieve a certain goal, whether to educate, advertise, or simply show the vast range of possibilities in the metaverse.
I didn't try to communicate with anyone in Decentraland, so the only interactions I had were automated (for example, the monologue above from the old miner, or from the various dogs I met in the Plaza and the Fosterverse). My experience was tightly controlled as a result, especially when I was in the central areas. The Decentraland powers-that-be were determined to guide and educate me through the various characters I met before I was set loose on the virtual world, which I thought was an admirable and engaging way of setting out one's house rules.
I think a more well-rounded metaverse native would have a very different story to tell about the dynamics of Decentraland once real human beings and their avatars are involved. This is why we will be introducing CFAAR members to the metaverse on 27 June through the eyes of Tara, who knows Decentraland like the back of her virtual (and, as Chris said, slightly pixelated) hand. You can sign up for the virtual tour here.
1 DAI is a stablecoin on the Ethereum blockchain