But I can do awkward parties in real life. I wanted a headier glimpse of our supposedly fantastical future in the metaverse, so we logged onto Adopt Me!, a confection of a game with Candy Land-esque graphics, where users collect and tend for pets, some ordinary, some mythical, spawned from eggs. “I just got offered a fluffy kitten” Anton said, moments after logging on. “That’s how kid-friendly it is.”
On the surface, the game seemed to offer enough emphasis on early childhood development and affordable health care (you actually get paid to take your pet to the hospital, Anton told me) to please any red-rose progressive.
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But at a deeper level, the game seemed to hum with a “Succession”-level spirit of scheming and avarice. As in Mr. Zuckerberg’s metaverse, much of the good stuff is for sale, in this case in the game’s virtual currency, which Anton informed me can be earned by accomplishing tasks in the game, or with real money, which can be siphoned from parents. (Last year, a Roblox-loving 6-year-old in Australia racked up an $8,000 bill from his parents’ bank account.) The real point is not to win or lose, but to covet and acquire.
And there are plenty of come-ons, just like in the real world. Anton explained that his starter egg, which spawned a puppy, was free, but if he wanted a cooler pet, he had to pay up. I could barely keep up with the moves he was making, but soon he informed me that he had dropped more money (about $3.50 in American dollars) to make it a winged Fly Ride Dog which he could soar on, like a Pegasus, through the game’s Whoville-esque village, ringing up cash as he snapped up water for the pet, or a shower.
An honest day’s work, however, only goes so far in Adopt Me! The more exotic the pet, the more the cost. Artificial scarcity drives up prices even further. Anton, for example, simply had to have a limited-edition frost fury, a wingless white dragon that once traded for $800 Robux ($9.99 in actual currency), but is now highly coveted and only available through trade for a hefty haul. Because it’s beautiful? “Because it’s rare,” he said.
This explains why players young and old look for any angle to build up a spectacular menagerie that even the Joneses would want to keep up with. Anton and his friends swap assets with zeal, consulting online value charts like pint-size Wall Street quants.