Just over a year ago, it seems like the whole world rejoiced as Mark Zuckerberg’s then Facebook—now Meta, obviously—began assembling a new team that would solely work on building and bringing the metaverse to ‘life’.
In a December 2021 note, analysts at Jefferies, led by equity strategist Simon Powell, said that the metaverse has “the potential to disrupt almost everything in human life.” Meanwhile, Bloomberg described the digital universe as an “$800 billion market opportunity.”
No wonder we all believed and fell for the metaverse hype. The initial concept sounded innovative and fun—we weren’t exactly sure what it was all about, but we were down for the ride.
That being said, when humanoid robot Zuckerberg announced Facebook’s rebrand to Meta, two things were clear as day. Firstly, the move was part of a strategy to distract from recent controversies plaguing the company (most notably, whistleblower Francis Haugen’s testimony that the tech giant knowingly harms children in pursuit of profit).
Secondly, it solidified the fact that Lord Zucko’s vision for his company had shifted—the metaverse was now the hill he was ready to die on. And boy does it look like this might just be the case given Meta’s tanking stock market value.
But as we continue to roast the awkward CEO’s Horizon Worlds and avatar graphics—they’re getting legs guys, great—it looks like Meta is not the only company entering its metaverse flop era. Enter Decentraland, the digital universe combining NFTs with the metaverse.
Decentraland first made headlines when people started banking profits of more than 500 per cent from buying and selling digital land. This was before Zuckerberg even joined the metaverse race too. Since then however, it seems things have been heading south for the virtual world.
New reports from data aggregator DappRadar have revealed that Decentraland had only 38 “active users” in a 24-hour period while competitor The Sandbox had 522 “active users” in that same time. According to DappRadar, an active user can be described as a unique wallet address’ interaction with the platform’s smart contract.
For example, logging onto The Sandbox or Decentraland to make a purchase with SAND or MANA—each platform’s respective native utility token—is counted as an “active use.” In other words, DappRadar’s analysis of the two virtual worlds’ daily active users doesn’t include people who simply log in and interact with other users on the metaverse platform or drop in briefly for an event.
What it really shows is that fewer transactions, like buying or selling a non-fungible token (NFT), take place on these platforms than the number of people that visit. When faced with such low numbers however, it’s hard not to worry about how many users actually visit the metaverse.
Though he didn’t specify how Decentraland itself defines what an “active user” on the platform is, Creative Director Sam Hamilton was quick to point out that DappRadar’s report was misleading, adding that Decentraland has 8,000 users on average per day.
Speaking to CoinDesk, he noted that while the virtual world saw peak attendees in March 2022, the number of “tourists and spectators” has since cooled down. “We are finding the core community of people returning every day is growing.”
Instead, Hamilton explained that the number of users on Decentraland can be more accurately quantified by looking at a dashboard built by the platform’s community. The data measures “unique visitors per day” and looks at different periods of time between 7, 14, 30, and 90 days. The same data tool measures the number of “parcels visited per day” and “marathon users,” which it defines as users with the most online time.
Shortly after CoinDesk covered the worrying numbers in its article, Decentraland took to Twitter to criticise the spread of “misinformation” and clarify that it saw “1,074 users interacting with smart contracts” in September.
Even if Decentraland is hitting 8,000 users a day, that’s still pretty concerning considering the metaverse project is meant to be the future of online communities with a valuation of $1.2 billion, no less.
DappRadar has since stated that it’s recalculating its data and that it’s working closely with Decentraland to more accurately track the metaverse’s daily active users in the future.
In December 2021, a female researcher claimed that she was “gang raped” in Facebook’s metaverse. “Within 60 seconds of joining—I was verbally and sexually harassed—3-4 male avatars, with male voices, essentially, but virtually gang-raped my avatar and took photos—as I tried to get away they yelled—‘don’t pretend you didn’t love it’ and ‘go rub yourself off to the photo’,” she wrote in a Medium post. Five months later, another female researcher witnessed her virtual avatar raped within just an hour of donning her Oculus virtual reality (VR) headset.
Now, as the VR industry is finally having a reckoning over toxic cultures of sexual harassment, a decade-old in-game display of dominance is making a comeback among the discourse it has gathered online. Yes, we’re talking about teabagging, briefly known as “corpse humping,” and the sexually-suggestive history of gamer taunts.
For the uninitiated, ‘teabagging’ refers to “the act of a man inserting his scrotum in another person’s mouth, in a similar motion as when a tea bag is juiced into a mug.” Brazenly-put, it is the hallmark practice of crouching over a fallen opponent and “rubbing your cyber-balls across his digitised forehead.” If you still haven’t perfected the mental image, here are some live visuals:
Although it’s impossible to trace teabagging to a specific player or group of players, it is assumed that the practice began somewhere around the era of Quake or Counter-Strike back in 1999. That being said, however, teabagging truly gripped the gaming community only after the release of Halo: Combat Evolved in 2001.
Nearly 21 years after it gathered traction as a universal gamer taunt, netizens across the world are once again debating whether the practice “counts as sexual assault” or not. The discourse was revived after screenshots of a Discord conversation went viral on Twitter.
“Yep and then we get into games where people think it’s okay to tbag and that it’s funny, when really it’s sexual assault. Ugh we live in a gross world, I just want to beautify it,” the first message reads. Another user is seen replying and stating, “If tbagging is sexual assault then I’m a repeated sex offender.” An average Discord conversation, if you ask me.
Meanwhile, another reply read, “I mean it is sexual assault. If I do not consent and someone rubs their genitals in my face that’s sexual assault. I wouldn’t be proud of being a repeat offender. You may think it’s just a video game. Well, I grew up with a large crowd of boys who did that for fun, all the time to other people irl. It’s not funny. It’s disgusting.”
The concerns were also echoed on Reddit as a user shared screenshots of a Tweet that read, “Imagine saying that because you won a round, it is okay to teabag someone’s corpse in-game. It’s not. Unless there’s express consent from everyone, including those who would have to watch it. It’s sexual harrasment and it has to end.” A quick scroll through the comment section under the post essentially features the same argument: if teabagging is sexual assault then killing another character in a game is murder.
Meanwhile, other users highlighted how likening the practice to sexual harassment is actually “an insult to actual victims.” “As someone who was a victim of r-word, teabagging in a video game is not sexual assault. Please do not speak from our behalf if you did not go through the same stuff,” a Twitter user wrote in this regard.
Now, it’s worth noting that teabagging was once even banned from a Killer Instinct tournament back in 2017. The female equivalent of the controversial act is also known as “clam clamming.” While teabagging is immature and signifies poor taste, I’d like to highlight how context matters for such practice in gamer culture.
For example, if your opponent has hacked or cheated their way to victory, perhaps a fleeting moment of teabagging is acceptable. But when three or four players gang up and track an opponent down specifically to teabag their digital avatar, that’s toxic. This doesn’t honour the team’s skill. Rather, it’s a display of hostility above all else.
Though rooted in controversy, teabagging has become an integral part of gamer culture and is ultimately here to stay. But not all hope is lost for those who believe the practice needs to be eradicated altogether. In Destiny 2, players once requested its developers to create a teabag emote. Now, the emote in question wasn’t of someone actually teabagging another player but users suggested that it should show one dunking a tea packet into a cup of hot water—a metaphor of sorts.
While the developers never did give players such a spot-on visual, they did offer the ‘Cup of Tea’ emote, which shows a player preparing a cup of tea and drinking it. It was a lighthearted way to convey the meaning of the teabagging—minus all the borderline-traumatic visuals.