The strange world of CryptoKitties

It is hard to believe that cats existed before the Internet. They were the original memes, far behind when only Richard Dawkins knew what a meme was.

Cats are internet gold because they look like people who spend a lot of time online: you only see them when they want to be fed, do their thing and are absolutely terrified of cucumbers.

some, the appeal is not found in a real cat, or even in an image of one; an imaginative design of a make-up kitty can be enough to send certain corners of the web into overdrive that splash money. This is CryptoKitties – the blockchain-based game where people can breed virtual pets that cost up to £ 80,000.

These cartoon kittens are bought and sold using the cryptocurrency Ethereum, which is the cousin who is a bit less hypocritical than everyone's favorite millionaire, Bitcoin. Ethereum functions as a "decentralized platform that manages smart contracts" – being both a currency and a performer of digital transactions.

The CryptoKitties really took off in November and December 2017, when everyone and their mother thought they could get rich Bitcoins. Like every fashion, the value of every semi-well known cryptocurrency sky has risen to the stars and then collapsed soon after. Some companies even changed their name to capitalize on the bubble. One, On-line Plc has also seen its shares go up nearly 400 percent after doing nothing else but rebranding it as online Blockchain Plc.

CryptoKitties has been so successful during this period that it has slowed down the entire network on which it was built. Although the use has declined significantly since then, a huge value of $ 25 million (£ 19 million) of cartoon cats has been bought and sold during the game. And in March 2018, months after its 20,000 cats were sold every day, the company behind the game announced that it had raised $ 12 million in funding to bring the kittens into new territories.

The game itself sees you buying and raising stupid cartoons of gender-neutral cats and children. The goal is to bring them together to create a brand new genetically unique cartoon cat. Some – "imaginative cats" – have special traits that make them more valuable when you sell them.

Treating digital pets has been the basis for many video games over the years. A clear precedent is Petz on the various Nintendo DS consoles, which allow you to give a touch and nurture digital fur balls with a stylus (this was before the touch screens were dominant in the mobile market). There was also Tamagotchi an irritating bip that supposedly contained some animal that needed nourishment and love – and that on reflection probably tuned many young souls with the idea of ​​an in- app. And that's all without considering the pre-pubescent Master / Slave dichotomies at play in the human-animal world of The Sims .

What is different with CryptoKitties is that you do not pay only for early play. Every transaction in the game is paid with Ethereum (which you can also earn within the game). Sales cost an average of just over £ 45. Even letting your cat breed with another cat costs money.

So why do people also worry about playing and paying? There are cheaper and better games out there and far more established trades and collections that are not backed by such a volatile currency.

Fundamentally, the fact that spending hundreds of pounds on photos of cats that do not exist seems really strange is not lost in the game players. Evie from Phoenix, Arizona, describes her sense of guilt for selling what she describes as a "st-cat, with 0 desirable traits" for $ 30 to a stranger who had no other cartoon kittens:

"I I feel like I cheated a 12-year-old girl who just wanted a kitten, asking Dad how to mount the ether, crying because he could not get a nice purple cat because the bots continue to self-purchase the good cats market, and finally settling down for my S ** t Cat. Tears in the eye, she spends his hard-earned money on him, promising that he will love him forever, and proudly naming him Garfield I know it's probably not what happened But that's what I imagine, and it makes me sick, this game is a roller coaster of emotions. "

For those who are trying to make money with encryption but are perhaps too bored or overwhelmed by the world of currency trading, gaming is a fun / easy opportunity to get rich. CryptoKitties is also one of the few applications where you can actually see cryptocurrencies and a blockchain in action.

The idea of ​​digital ownership was another reason. As James, a Virginia player, said: "My Internet cat is now immortalized forever inside the blockchain.

Acting as a guarantor of any transaction in its network, Ethereum effectively appropriates any developer or supplier. Unlike other games where resources ultimately belong to the people who designed the game, your CryptoKitty is none other than yours.

A company that wants to make the most of this potential radical change in digital ownership is Rare Bits, which allows you to buy, sell and own CryptoKitties and other blockchain-based assets. As they put themselves on their company website: "We are thrilled to help bring the true ownership of digital assets to the world for the first time."

Although this statement is extreme, it makes sense. The fear of a computer crash, the anxiety surrounding the hacker has always meant that our online properties, whether they be a sword in a video game or an extravagant image stored somewhere in the cloud , they never really felt they belonged to us. We never felt like we could safely hide something if it was stored in a car.

As one of the founders of Rare Bits, David Pekar, he explained to me: " The first generation of digital assets is lived on the servers of the developer who created them even after a user has purchased a traditional digital good, the developer has maintained full control. Users were not able to resell the assets if they did not want them anymore, they could not bring the goods with them elsewhere to use them in a different context … This is what we were talking when we say real ownership of digital goods – all the rights you take for granted for the things you own in the real world. "

Oh technology, take away the property and then sell it to us! After centralizing the ownership of music (Spotify / Apple Music), movies (Netflix), cars (Uber) – not to mention the financial market crises caused by high frequency trading algorithms – we can now own the things we have always wanted: images of kittens This is the economy of sharing. Or as CryptoKitties says: "The future is meowing!"

Except that the future may have been largely already been. From the winter crypto-boom, CryptoKitties now only hosts about 600 sales per day. Some users remain even if the potential monetary gain has worsened.

Aaron is a 23-year-old who unsuccessfully attempted to negotiate day on the Binance cryptocurrency exchange. After burning, he wanted to find something to do with his leftovers. When he came across CryptoKitties, he really liked the idea that they could be bred and that everyone was unique.

Long after the bubble had exploded, what kept Aaron busy was not the decentralized nature of the pawns or kittens (he made some costly mistakes chasing "fancy cats") but the other people he met online during the trading.

According to him: "The CryptoKitties community is simply fantastic, absolutely the most useful community I've ever been in."

Despite the frenetic and uncertain nature of the cryptocurrency trading and the absurd form of virtual pet they can take, fashion has not yet completely disappeared. Even at this distant frontier of digital space, it is the community that keeps people alive.

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