Kabocha: Subversive Metaversing
In anticipation of the forthcoming Kabocha parachain crowdloan on Kusama, I’ve decided to take a closer look at this project and share some of my thoughts with you on why Kabocha could be a game changer for the Dotsama ecosystem.
Kabocha takes its name from the Japanese pumpkins found in the childhood hallucinations of artist Yayoi Kusama (pictured above), the patroness saint of our beloved Dotsama blockchains who is most famous for her pioneering use of polkadots. The association is obviously no coincidence, as evidenced by the “Kusama loves Kabocha” section in the Kabocha community parachain proposal on Commonwealth. The proposal outlines a vision for the Kabocha parachain, with an emphasis on “Kusama’s experimental nature and arts and culture focus” and the aim of “Accelerating projects that build the Kabocha and Kusama metaverse and Subverse” for which interesting definitions are provided:
// Metaverse: For the purpose of this proposal metaverses refers to open and decentralised realms that Kabocha funded teams will design, build, visualise and actualise on the semantic and contextual layer of Web 3.0. Think of both birds-eye-view and immersive digital experiences that enable people to interact with each other; interfaces that are engaging and meaningful. Examples are open NFT games, governance in immersive town halls, Kabocha Cafe. New more intriguing ways of interfacing with other both augmented and virtual worlds.
// Subverse: is short for the Substrate ecosystem, which relates to the Substrate blockchain framework, substrate based chains, chain tools and pallets, and the people working on them.
In a discussion on the WagMedia Discord sever, it was proposed that “metaverse is a doing, not a thing” involving the processes of “world building / myth making, so it’s not ‘the metaverse’ or ‘a metaverse’ but ‘to metaverse’… maybe.” This line of thought reminded me of other concepts that turn nouns into verbs, such as Anthropologist Tim Ingold’s Humaning and Christopher Small’s Musicking (perhaps a distant relative of The Notorious B.I.G.). If you look closely at anything it is always in motion, never being but always becoming. This strikes me as resonating with the ethos of Kabocha, recognising it is one thing to build a blockchain at the technological level, and it is another to grow communities that actually do something with a blockchain beyond speculate financially on future use cases. Don’t get me wrong, technical development is important work, but greater support for social and creative on-chain activities is also needed at this stage of Dotsama’s development.
Blockchains giving birth to blockchains
“Whereas Kusama is Polkadot’s experimental cousin, Edgeware is Kabocha’s mother and Kusama its technological father who houses an aria of canaries on its relay.”
In order to better understand Kabocha, you will need to know a bit more about its parent chain Edgeware. Edgeware is a stand alone Substrate-based blockchain “with a community-managed treasury, decentralized proposal system and network of DAOs.” It is one of the longest running Substrate chains, having surpassed 10,000,000 blocks this January (older than Polkadot, but not as old as Kusama). Edgeware is perhaps best know for its radical experiments with on-chain decentralised governance, as well as having arguably one of the most fair public distribution of its governance token (EDG) achieved in part by avoiding an ICO in favour of a lockdrop.
The Digital is Material
Edgeware’s treasury is used to fund diverse projects proposed and voted on by EDG holders. One of the more amusing recent proposals is for a Pizza Airdrop, a marketing campaign to buy eligible EDG holders a free pizza.
Photo credit: MKriksciukaitis
While on the surface this may seem absurd, I would argue it is in keeping with Edgeware’s ethos to use Web3 technologies to effect positive material change, tasty or otherwise. Beyond this playful ‘Proof of Pizza’ concept, the Kabocha parachain candidate is another project that has been proposed and supported by the Edgeware community. Unlike other parachains developed by core teams in less than transparent ways, it has been fascinating to follow Kabocha’s development where the project’s crowdloan strategy has been debated and developed in public view, including even matters such as the design of their crowdloan interface and who gets paid to make it. And as EDG trades on markets like Kucoin, anyone with available funds can get in on the action.
Another key participant in the development of Kabocha is Decent Partners, who “develop public networks that are funded, governed and owned by the people they represent.” In the context of Edgeware (and soon Kabocha), Decent Partners is a primary Network Services Provider, helping curate, mentor and onboard external talent, teams and projects onto these networks. In a recent episode of Jay Chrawnna’s SER, Have ya’ Heard?, Monsieur Bulb (aka Rich) from Decent Partners gave a fascinating interview, outlining his journey into the Edgeware community and the role that Decent Partners is now playing in the shaping of Kabocha. Rich is also active on Edgeware’s governance discussion forum and on Kabocha’s public Discord server. For the purposes of this article, I would like to briefly focus on a few points from a recent informal Q&A session with Rich on telegram, documented here by Ramsey from Decentration (a primary builder of Kabocha).
At this stage it is worth asking, what are some of the defining features of the Kabocha vision. Two of Rich’s points stood out to me, which I will quote here at length:
“Rather than inflating a supply and directing it into a treasury – as has been done by all Substrate chains so far, we will only be minting new KAB when a proposal is approved by the community. Therefore, we can say that every KAB minted after launch is to fund a specific job. In addition, those requesting funds will assign NFTs to Kabocha’s ‘reserve’ that are representative of their ideas / concept or project. We call this ‘cultural collateral’. These NFTs will also confer access rights, permissions and future utility to those holding KAB and can be upgraded as the funded projects develop over time utilising RMRK.”
Here it is worth highlighting this unique possibilities opened up by RMRK, a project that has significantly reimagined the potential of NFTs as: “Eternally liquid. Forward compatible. Nested, conditional, & Multi-resourced”, employing an elegantly simple set of NFT standards which can be used to create highly complex and emergent interactions.
“The narrative idea is a rework of the well known ‘Store of Value’ concept which has been the major hook for Bitcoin. Except rather than being backed by machines / sunk electricity costs of miners, Kabocha is backed by the time, effort and insight of its contributors. Those investing in Kabocha are essentially betting on the future collective cultural value and access afforded by the assigned assets. We call this ‘Store of Values’. We have zero interest in building another Ethereum knockoff, we want to solve the most interesting problem out there, how to create non-state money that can fund real work, by real people, in a real economy.”
One application of RMRK 2.0 that is planned for Kabocha in the near future is Kabocha Seeds.
These somewhat mysterious NFTs will be made available to crowdloan contributors, so keep an eye out on Kabocha Twitter and other channels mentioned above if this is of interest.
Perhaps my favourite (admittedly utopian) line in the Kabocha proposal is as follows: “We will give rise to new ways of designing social ecologies and interoperable network economies, working at the nexus of blockchain, art, media, science, and philosophy, for the betterment of all.” So what might this look like in practice? I will end this article with a few of my own imaginings of what a Kabocha parachain could offer.
Might we see an increase in new immersive experiences on Dotsama through Kabocha supported collaborations with metaverse communities such as Neos? Might we also see the revival of older interactive gaming technologies realised anew in decentralised forms, such as Bruno Škvorc’s (currently dormant) experiment in blockchain-assisted story-rich multi-user-dungeon (MUD) game Valhello? Might such a MUD start to interact permissionlessly with other VR and AR systems, creating worlds reminiscent of Blast Theory’s earlier experiments with mixed-reality art?
Kabocha’s crowdloan proposal mentions the use of interoperable pallets such as Kilt’s DID, and more recently a collaboration with Collab-Land, both of which focus on the problem of identity. Clearly this is a challenge that is central to future of on-chain governance, and I have to wonder, will Kabocha also find interesting uses for the increased suffrage potentially afforded by Encointer’s ‘proof of personhood’?
Finally, might Kabocha usher in anarchic decentralised arts funding, supporting cultural creativity that is less tied to the geopolitical policies and priorities of nation states? Might Kabocha even support the formation of DAOs that fund international scientific research collaborations on topics that are not currently being prioritised by centralised funding bodies, or which are too niche to attract the backing of for-profit industries?
I live in hope.