“The Overstory” is a Pulitzer-winning novel that explores the entwined relationship between trees, ecological order, and human life. Still, the novelist Richard Powers also paints a brilliant picture of a virtual game created by one of the book’s central characters, Neelay Mehta, who was paralysed as a boy when he fell from a tree. Turning all his attention to programming, Neelay goes on to build a wildly successful global gaming company that creates open-source games, a Robin Hood of sorts among the gaming fraternity. His defining work is the creation of a virtual world, a true metaverse, with Earth as inspiration.
It’s no surprise that Powers was a developer in his previous life, and there’s little doubt he had in his browser at the time more than a few links to decentralisation and blockchain papers while writing “The Overstory” in 2018. In his world, gamers are more than players; they are participants who can go where they want, do as they please, live a virtual life free from arbitrary rules or player bans. And for the Neelay character, free from physical limitations.
In the same year that “The Overstory” was published, Fortnite became the highest-grossing game in history, earning Epic Games $2.4 billion in the process. Free-to-play (f2p) games accounted for 80% of global gaming revenue in the same year and grossed 458% more in 2018 than the previous year.
In 2020, the f2p title Honor of Kings raked in $2.45 billion!
Gamers have always been seeking out these worlds, and they will continue to gravitate towards the next logical step in gaming, which is decentralised gaming.
Any game that uses blockchain technology can hide under the blockchain umbrella, but most blockchain games today are simply marketplaces posing as games.
Do you recall CryptoKitties released by Dapper Labs in 2017? It is arguably one of the biggest blockchain games in the world, but the aim of the game is to sell NFTs, which are essentially decoratives for the digital mantelpiece.
The real deal - and this is yet to be fully realised - are games built on blockchain technology that offer all the mind-melting narratives, graphics, and other fireworks that mainstream f2p games are known for, but with the functionality that blockchain affords these games. And this comes down to outright ownership, security, and a decentralisation of power from gaming company to gamer.
The current challenge for blockchain gaming lies in building blockchain games that speak to mainstream gamers who don’t want to deal with the fact that they are playing a game built on the blockchain but want to instead participate in a blockchain-enabled environment. This means the freedom to create skins, for example, and sell and buy these skins as they please, whether it is in-game, between different games, or outside of a gaming economy, without interference by the gaming overlords.
As Mo Mozuch writes in Inverse, “Blockchain gaming has already found an audience of enthusiastic participants, but its future rests on finding a much larger one.”
And much of this mass adoption rests on providing the same quality gaming value as that of centralised games. In other words, these games must be fun to play. When these two worlds merge, the exodus to decentralised blockchain gaming will be swift.
Blockchain is the bridge that holds the potential for an alternative metaverse — one where gamers can alternate between games and 3D life as they choose. Powers’ AI-generated metaverse in “The Overstory” is gaming evolution taken to the extreme, but these blockchain principles and the promised possibilities won’t be the sole domain of the novel for much longer.