On Thursday morning, Alex Moss, a member of the Mutant Ape Yacht Club and CTO of an NFT company, tweeted a video from a "live rave happening right now in Decentraland."
"This is the metaverse," he said. The video quickly went viral because it shows a bunch of avatars aimlessly shuffling and standing around doing nothing on a "dance floor"—a bleak view of fun in the so-called metaverse.
As happens anytime anything metaverse-related goes viral, people began asking how this was any better than (or stating that it is obviously worse than) VRChat, Second Life, Fortnite, or any other video game. "Second Life" and "Metaverse" began trending on Twitter. Crypto enthusiasts tweeted that they had "triggered the normies" who were relentlessly dunking on this rave and the metaverse.
I decided to check out the party, called "THE LIGHTBULB MAN HATEFUCK METARAVE," myself. The rave was thrown by The Lightbulb Man, an upcoming NFT drop by Bjarne Melgaard, an established and quite good Norwegian artist who states that "All Lightbulb Man works are rare. But like the da Vincis, Warhols, and Munchs on the traditional art market, some pieces will be rarer than others."
Anyway, the Decentraland metaverse is easy enough to get into. You merely need a desktop internet browser, though it says that if you link a crypto wallet you will be able to "fully enjoy" Decentraland. I linked a MetaMask Ethereum wallet I signed up for for the purposes of a previous article, but didn't need to use it. (I also went to the rave as a guest without a crypto wallet and they had the same experience at the rave.)
After creating a Decentraland character, I was dropped somewhere (not important) in the virtual world. I didn't see any people, but clicked a menu that told me which events were currently happening. These included the "LifeOfMuskNFT Art Exhibit," the "Second Free NFT Golf Club Design! Only 100 Supply!" and, of course, "THE LIGHTBULB MAN - HATE F*CK METARAVE," which was subtitled "F*** everything, we are going full on metaverse!" The information sheet for the event explained that there were currently 61 people at the rave.
I clicked "Jump In" and was transported after a loading screen to a partially snow-covered landscape with blocky trees and a large stage. The area had a large stage like the one shown in Moss's video, but it was completely empty. You navigate Decentraland using your keyboard, and can look around with your mouse. You can jump with the spacebar key. I walked up the stage as blaring drum and bass music played, but still no people. When I finally got onto the stage, I saw some icons for Instagram, Discord, and other links. Tall stone people statues towered over the stage; a pathway of floating rocks that you could jump up like a slow-paced platformer game spiraled next to them. The floor disappeared several times; mountains appeared and disappeared in the distance. The stage flickered, my frame rate slowed, my character jittered. Still no people. I decided to walk next door, to "The Ocean Meta Gallery," a digital museum. No people there, either. I walked up a spiral staircase, through an invisible wall, and fell through the stairs back to the ground.
I decided to check out the Lightbulb Man Discord channel, assuming I had missed the rave. I asked if the rave was still going and was assured that it was very much still happening. Someone in the chat told me to refresh Decentraland and try again. Once I did that, people appeared! A handful of people floated 6-10 inches off the ground, traveling above the terrain without moving their legs. Strings of numbers or text or perhaps just lines floated from the ground into the blue, cloud-scattered sky but did not render. One person was stuck in the sky, floating but not moving.
I walked up to the stage and about 10 people were there. One or two were moving; the others were staring off into space, clearly away from their keyboards. A video screen where people were previously DJing showed a static image. Someone had scrawled "AMC" in red floating letters off in the distance. I walked around stage, jumping up and down. I tried to climb the rocks up to the stone statue men. I mistimed a jump and fell. I found an icon that said "Follow us on Twitter" and clicked it. A popup appeared and let me know I wouldbe leaving Decentraland. I did. A new browser window opened. It was Twitter.com. I closed the tab and went back to the rave.
Here is what it sounded like:
I walked back upstairs to the stage and clicked on the people who were still standing there but not doing anything. One person's profile said they were "making music and exploring." Another’s said to ask them for discounts on metaverse clothes. I found a hidden platform with a QR code that said "POAP" on it. In real life, I picked up my cell phone and held it to my screen and was taken to a Google Form that told me I can get a collectible if I give them my email address. I typed "is anyone here" in the chat. No one responded. A few minutes later, someone started typing the n-word in all caps in the chat. Another person asked them to "please stop."
I leave the rave. I go to the Light Bulb Man Discord to see if other people are having fun at the rave. Some people have posted screenshots of the rave. Another person says "Is anyone streaming the rave? I lost the image on the screen and the music, and can't get it back. Been trying to play with settings, reloading etc, but no luck so far." Another person says "good shit rave lol." Another person says "I tried on my desktop with 980 gtx and could barely move one frame every 10-20 seconds. Chrome. CPU running at 100%" Another person says "Where has everyone gone? Oh, I say that then everyone appears." "Anyone help finding it? feels like I looked everywhere," another person asks.
The question raised by all of these blockchain "metaverses," Decentraland included, is what we even mean by the "metaverse." If the metaverse is the embodied experience of existing in a virtual world, then Decentraland is a much worse alternative than basically anything else that already exists. If the metaverse is just NFTs on the blockchain, which is what Decentraland plots are, then sure.
Was the rave fun? Is a "rave" where everyone walks into the club, looks around, sees there's no one there, then walks back out the door fun? Is it a rave at all?