Anthropology of Virtual Worlds: Land Deals in the Metaverse



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“Almost anything was possible”, writes novelist Gerald Murnane, “except, of course, the actual.” In “Land Deal” (1978) Murnane imagines the expropriation of Australia as the creation of property in a dream whose dreamers, the Indigenous narrators know, “would lose themselves before they found the real land.” Forty-four years later, FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried, in an interview with Bloomberg’s podcast series Odd Lots, described crypto yield farming in remarkably similar terms:

And then this protocol issues a token, we’ll call it whatever, “X token.” And X token promises that anything cool that happens because of this box is going to ultimately be usable by, you know, governance vote of holders of the X tokens. They can vote on what to do with any proceeds or other cool things that happen from this box. And of course, so far, we haven’t exactly given a compelling reason for why there ever would be any proceeds from this box, but I don’t know, you know, maybe there will be, so that’s sort of where you start.

The same week, Yuga Labs generated $300m in an ApeCoin/ETH deed sale for its as-yet hypothetical virtual world Otherside. Said one self-described “NFT adviser”, “Yuga’s capacity to create expectations on things that don’t actually exist yet is mind-blowing.”

Join us for part 2 of our seminar on the anthropology of virtual worlds.

  • Please read Gerald Murnane’s (very brief) "Land Deal" (1978) prior to the seminar.

  • We’ll discuss land deals new and old and marvel at how a writer who has never been to the movies and has spent most of his career revisiting boyhood fantasies of horse racing anticipated our present with such strange precision.

Accompany the reading of "Land Deal" with the NYT profile of Murnane from 2018.

The cover photo shows Gerald Murnane. Source: Morganna Magee for The New York Times


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