It’s been a couple of years since the pandemic began, the duration of which Su-yeon spent with her Aunt and cousins in their countryside home. It was nice to be with them, they have a really big house, but she’s ready to get back to her life in the city. She’s just moved back to her small, single-room apartment in Seoul, Korea, and while the countryside was calming during such uncertain times, she had dearly missed the city’s energy and atmosphere.
Day by day, it feels like Seoul is coming back to life. The clubs and theatres have opened again, infection rates have plummeted, and the vaccine boosters appear to be working well.
Su-yeon is in her mid-twenties and works as a teaching assistant. Her small, modest apartment includes access to a shared bathroom on the floor she lives on, and she has a minifridge and a hotplate for cooking small meals. The cost of living in this city is exceptionally high, partly because there has been a housing shortage for several years. This has led to apartments getting smaller and smaller and prices climbing ever higher, and now that everyone is returning to the city, prices are being pushed higher still. Her co-living situation allows her a bit of flexibility, but she did not feel safe here during the height of the pandemic, and even now, it’s less than ideal. She’d love to move to a condo or a larger apartment with a private bathroom, but it hasn’t been possible for her to afford something bigger on her small teaching salary. She studied for paralegal practise but hasn’t been unable to get a job in the field because of the rapid rise and adoption of new artificial intelligence software that handles the legal precedent work, which unfortunately is what she specialized in.
Today is a special day, it’s her 26th birthday, and she’s getting ready to celebrate with her close friends who she’s only been able to see on video calls throughout the pandemic. Tonight though she’ll see them in person! For dinner and some dancing at her favourite and newly reopened nightclub. Aside from her birthday, she’s also got another reason to celebrate. Today is the day she’s able to access a trust fund put in place by her grandparents. After three years of living in this 3x3 meter box in a rooming house, she may finally be able to afford a one-bedroom apartment of her own. She wants to celebrate the generosity of her grandparents tonight and the beginning of her new life. She’s been fantasizing about growing plants on a balcony, having her own bathroom and a proper kitchen to cook in.
For her birthday dinner, she decides to meet her friends for Korean BBQ (Samgyupsal). She hasn’t been to this place in over two years! To enjoy Korean BBQ you really need to go in-person, which hasn’t been possible during the pandemic. Her friends are there waiting for her when she arrives and while she’s sitting down, her friend, Minjae, gives her a beautifully wrapped gift. The card is from all of them, but she suspects that Minjae bought it for her. It’s heavy, and she knows he works for HTC and always seems to have the latest tech. As she unwraps it, her suspicions were correct. It’s the latest HTC Index, a Virtual Reality headset. Something that her friends (who game together) all have, but she’d been unable to afford one of her own. Now she can actually join them in VR instead of just listening to the stories of their adventures.
The whole dinner conversation turns to discussing and planning their activities in VR together, as well as tips on how to set up her playspace and what kind of tea can settle her stomach from the little bit of cybersickness she might experience. Towards the end of the dinner, she decides to tell her friends about her trust fund and her plans to find a larger apartment, inviting them to her future housewarming party. To her surprise, they all seemed a little underwhelmed at her intentions.
“A larger apartment is nice, I guess, I mean, you’d have a bit more space, but have you considered buying Decentraland property? You could own a whole island for a fraction of what you’d pay for that apartment.” Minjae asks her.
Apparently, they’ve all gone in together to buy a small archipelago of islands in Decentraland. This blockchain-based VR metaverse is at once both a virtual world and a property market. It’s a dynamic and evolving world where people from around the globe are meeting, working and living. The Decentraland cryptocurrency is called Mana, and it drives a new thriving economy where objects and property hold value through NFTs (non-fungible tokens). People are actually earning their income there! As far as the property market, it’s much more affordable than Seouls, and while it’s still affordable, it may not be soon. The market seems to be rapidly rising in value, outperforming the physical real estate market, and they’ve all tripled their initial investment in only six months.
By the end of the dinner, they’ve sold her on it. It’s only ₩ 500,000 for a 12-hectare island to start with, and she can sell it at any point. Maybe this will allow her to start a new business or experience more of the world (virtually). At least she’ll have a bit of land and a place to be with her friends that’s safe from covid varients and post-pandemic uncertainty. I guess she’s gone without a balcony for this long; at least in Decentraland, she can have an entire island.