Death’s door may just lead to the Internet. As the world continues to run out of burial space, a new option for memorializing loved ones presents itself: NFT designers are developing metaverse cemeteries.
On Thursday, Dec. 8th — the same day the New York Times wrote about a metaverse wedding — a group called Remember launched its first public sale of 5,000 commemorative “memorial stone” NFTs, starting with a batch of 1,500. According to Remember’s OpenSea shop page, each NFT is unique, “unlike traditional tombstones that share many similarities in size and color.” The description continues: “Each Memorial Stone doubles as a key to a user’s private Memorial Hall, where they may store and display memories of their loved one as text, images, videos, sounds, 3D objects, and more.”
In a Google Meet call from Seoul, South Korea, Remember admin Jae Lee says more than 500 stones have been sold so far; at press time, some were selling for as much as $800 even though the stones are still “covered” — meaning the buyers don’t know what their purchases look like yet. He says big, post-sale reveals of traits are now trending in the NFT world, adding that the Remember reveal is coming soon (though he won’t yet say when).
Also, the virtual land for Remember’s cemetery has yet to be purchased. A road map on the website claims that the Remember team is planning to use the proceeds generated from the sale of stones to buy digital real estate in various metaverse platforms, including The Sandbox and Decentraland — with “many more to be confirmed.” The goal is to get everything up and running by 2022’s fourth quarter, according to both the roadmap and Lee, who says Remember is currently in talks with multiple venture capitalists to bring in more funds and hopefully speed up the metaverse development process.
Disconcertingly, there’s no white paper on the Remember website, let alone a list of terms and conditions — both of which are important tools for NFT collectors looking to avoid scams. What’s to stop an entrepreneurial mind from taking advantage of someone’s grief? Lee claims that buyers should feel secure in trusting them. “On Discord, we have a project outline and announcements,” says Lee, who believes that white papers are more important for cryptocurrencies than NFTs. “NFTs are more about community. We have a driving community of 30,000 people. They trust us. We speak to our community members regularly. We update them right away. A white paper is a boost of confidence but it’s not the basis of that confidence.” As for the lack of terms and conditions, he says it’s “all about trust.” “You trust that Doge Coin will go up,” he continues, wide-eyed. “You trust that these NFT makers aren’t going to rug-pull you. You trust that this community is not going to spread fear. Terms and conditions that protect us and protect the consumer are not as important as the trust that is built by the community.” He does admit that they’ll adjust with growth, though.
Lee, who was coding for an e-commerce company in San Francisco before investment opportunities took him to Seoul, says that he and his six core team members were deeply inspired by a fictional location, known as the Halliday Journals building, from the 2018 movie Ready Player One — wherein the tech businessman character James Halliday, who built the simulation the movie centers around, fills halls with his own memories like they’re pieces in an art gallery. This got him thinking: “When a celebrity dies, people from all over the world commemorate them but they’re not actually able to visit the grave,” Lee says. “In the metaverse, anyone everywhere can always visit this person, grieve, and celebrate their lives together.”
Remember started with a simpler project over the summer, essentially selling blockchain blocks for people to upload written tributes. After selling nearly 500 NFTs of something so basic, they realized there was enough demand to create something 3D and immersive.
While the Remember folks are not the only ones looking towards this burgeoning space, they are perhaps taking the most serious approach. Other public-facing projects appear more tongue in cheek. Gamer Graveyard, which doesn’t seem to be monetized yet, is “the final resting place for all the poor souls who quit gaming for ‘more important stuff,’” according to its website, which instructs visitors to “bury your friend here to let them know they’re missed online.”
The Solaghosts team is also building what they call a “metacemetery.” Like Remember, the concept is rooted in the selling of virtual plots. However, Solaghosts, which is also planning to be fully operational by the end of next year, takes a somewhat gamified approach, allowing users to buy and bury NFT ghosts. Something similar can already be found within Decentraland — where a group called Dead Heads launched an interactive cemetery this past summer. Rolling Stone talked to one player of the NFT game Axie Infinity, who says they want to make a cemetery for axies — which are the creatures users battle in the game — once purchasable land becomes available as promised by the developers: “As a community member I’ve seen many axies get banned or stolen,” the person, who goes by ohihello on Twitter, says. “As someone who has experienced it myself, I felt it could be an interesting idea to have a cemetery for all the lost axies regardless of how they got to the point of no longer being playable… It sounds hella crazy, but there’s endless possibilities”
Ohihello isn’t the only one spitballing on Twitter. “Minted tombstones, virtual funerals, and cemeteries in the metaverse – count me in,” tweeted one user who then suggested the idea of scanning freshly dead bodies to create 3d models of the deceased. Another called out for “cemeteries in the metaverse with an AI version of that person to interact with.” These ideas sound absurd until you find out that hologram company HereWeHolo offers life-size digital models of people who have passed: On their website, there’s a section devoted to the idea of recording messages in advance of death so that people can speak at their own funerals. (Kanye West actually commissioned a HereWeHolo hologram of the late Robert Kardashian as a birthday gift for Kim Kardashian last year.)
Meanwhile, a company called Genies is currently developing the tech for an avatar builder that anyone can use; so far, Genies has only created avatars for public figures like Shawn Mendes via private partnerships. The app-store description calls the result “a fantasy version of yourself that you can use across the Internet.” So, is it only a matter of time before our metahumans are speaking at our virtual funerals in metacemeteries? Somehow, that seems likely.
Funerals inside video games are not new. Just last year, The Sims 4 introduced a modification, allowing users to put together in-game funerals. Also in 2020, Final Fantasy gamers organized a memorial march, which was apparently attended by hundreds, for a player who had died of Covid-19. “I love this community so much,” one attendee tweeted when it was over. Well before that, in 2006, gamers gathered in World of Warcraft to honor a comrade who had died of a stroke in real life.
But Final Fantasy and World of Warcraft are active, combat-heavy games, and, in the latter event — which was being recorded for the deceased’s family — the service was ultimately raided by others who had seen the public listing and decided to take the opportunity to get some virtual kills in instead. It kind of makes sense that future-tech lovers would want proper virtual ceremonies inside battle-free worlds with customizable tombstones they can revisit over and over.
After all, the word “meta” literally translates to “dead” in Hebrew, so maybe this was the plan all along. If someone would just put me in touch with the overlord in charge of this simulation we’re all clearly living in, I’d ask.