Can there be an emancipatory public sphere in virtual worlds owned by private companies?


The Genesis Plaza of Decentraland was pulsating with excitement as the much-anticipated concert of the famed artist M4dMoz4rt99 was about to begin. The towering digital billboards surrounding the central square had been teasing the event for weeks, and now, the day had finally arrived. In preparations for the event Decentraland’s spawning location had been moved to another spot to clear the plaza. The vast expanse of the space was packed with fans eagerly anticipating the immersive audio-visual experience that awaited them.

As the crowd swayed in anticipation, the main stage shimmered to life, revealing a stunning, futuristic design that seemed to blend seamlessly with the surrounding metaverse. The chat exploded as M4dMoz4rt99 stepped onto the stage, a towering figure in a sleek, black jumpsuit with his M Aura Mecha Helm, Custom Aura M logo and the Purgatory Gauntlets.

The artist launched into the opening number, and the soundwaves shook the very foundations of the virtual space. The crowd erupted in a frenzy of light and sound, as the music and visuals melded into a transcendent experience. It was clear that this was going to be a concert for the ages. The energy in the square was palpable, and it seemed like nothing could stop the party from going all night long.

Karl and Hannah were standing in the middle of Genesis Square, surrounded by thousands of other people who had paid good money to be there. But Karl had a secret. He had hacked the payment system, and he and Hannah had managed to get in for free. Just like a few weeks ago when he cheated his Katana Moonlight Swords into his inventory. Hannah was amazed that they had been able to pull it off, but she was also a bit confused.

HannahSaurusRex: Karl, how did you manage to get us in for free? Did you really hack the system?

Khaos_Karl: Yeah, I did. But don’t worry, it’s not like I hurt anyone or anything. I just found a loophole in the system and exploited it. I think it’s important for everyone to be able to enjoy events like this, not just those who can afford it. This should not be a bourgeois public sphere excluding the poor and the uneducated! (1)

HannahSaurusRex: I don’t know, Karl. Isn’t this a private event? I mean, I get what you’re saying, but isn’t it up to the organizers to decide who can come and who can’t?

Khaos_Karl: I see your point, Hannah, but I don’t think it’s that simple. The metaverse is supposed to be the first decentralized virtual reality space (2), a place where anyone can come and participate in events like this. We’re at the heart of a public space and when you make events like this paid, you’re excluding a lot of people who might not be able to afford it. I think that’s unfair, and I wanted to do something about it.

The concert has been going on for about half an hour. The music had a futuristic, pulsating beat that enveloped the crowd, but as the concert continued, the music became distorted and hard to listen to, it became polluted with sudden audio stops, and the once-ecstatic crowd fell into an uneasy silence.

HannahSaurusRex: Look at the lag, Karl. Do you see what you have done? …. see what you have done? The concert is …. completely ruined now. And what …. you did …. was illegal, you know … you know … that, right?

Khaos_Karl: Technically …. what I did wasn’t illegal. …. wasn’t illegal. I just found a way to bypass …. the payment system, that’s all. Even Decentraland doesn’t have a rule about it. ‘Freedom is located in the realm of the social.’ (3) And as for the lag, well, …. as for the lag …. that’s just a technical issue. It’s not like anyone got hurt or anything.

HannahSaurusRex: I don’t know, Karl. This all seems a bit …. extreme to me. Maybe we should just leave and forget about it.

Khaos_Karl: No, Hannah, we can’t just ignore this. …. We need to do something. …. We need to show Decantraland that we won’t stand for this kind of inequality. In their own policy they state that they wish to conduct all operations respecting honesty, integrity and openness, and with respect for the human rights. (4) What they did here is wrong. This is our spawn. We have a right to our public space. They can’t just block it for the pleasure of few. I had to do it, Hannah. I couldn’t sit by and watch …. while they turn the metaverse into a tool for the elite. I wanted to show them that they can’t control public space. …. can’t control public space. …. It belongs to everyone, and we should all have equal access to it. ’Whoever connects transparency only with corruption and the freedom of information has failed to recognize its scope.’ (5)

HannahSaurusRex: I’m with you, Karl. But what can we do?

Khaos_Karl: Well, I was thinking we could organize …. a protest. Get a group of people together and march outside the University Campus, demand that they make Decantraland truly ‘open and accessible and owned by everyone’. (6) We could make signs, chant slogans, and really make our voices heard. … really make our voices heard.

HannahSaurusRex: A digital protest? Does that even work? How …. are we going to get people to join us? I mean …. not everyone thinks like we do.

Khaos_Karl: That’s true, but …. I think there are a lot of people out there who feel the same way we do. Did you hear about the protest some people organized against Samsung the other week? (7) They really broke the mold. We just have to find people like them. ‘In the modern world,the social and the political realms are much less distinct. That politics is nothing but a function of society, that action, speech, and thought are primarily superstructures upon social interest.’ (8) And maybe we can use social media to spread the word. We can create a hashtag, like #FreeDecentraland, and encourage people to share it.

HannahSaurusRex: I like that idea, Karl. But what about the concert? I mean, it’s still going on, and there are a lot of people here who paid good money to be here. Won’t they be upset if we continue to disrupt it? …. be upset if we disrupt it? ….

Khaos_Karl: I know, Hannah, and I don’t want to ruin anyone’s fun. It’s too late now. Sometimes you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet, you know? ‘Private property has made us so stupid and partial that an object is only ours when we have it—when it exists for us as capital, or when it is directly possessed, eaten, drunk, worn, inhabited, etc.,—in short, transformed into an object of life for us.’ (9) Besides, if we can get enough people to join our protest …. we might be able to make a real difference. We might be able to change the metaverse for the better.

HannahSaurusRex: Okay, Karl. I’m in. ‘..the modern reality is not so much the recognition of a “common good” as the exclusivity of the private sphere and the absence of that curiously hybrid realm where private interests assume public significance that we call “society.”’ (10)

M4dMoz4rt99 stood on the stage, his head hung low as the lag caused by the massive influx of unauthorized attendees made it impossible to continue the concert. The artist spoke into the microphone, his voice tinged with disappoint

M4dMoz4rt99: I am deeply sorry, my friends, but we have to cut the concert short.

M4dMoz4rt99 said, his voice barely audible over the sound of groans and jeers from the crowd.

M4dMoz4rt99: The technical difficulties …. are beyond our control, and it would not be fair to our paying customers to continue under these conditions. …. to continue under these conditions.

The artist paused for a moment, looking out at the sea of disappointed faces in the crowd.

M4dMoz4rt99: I want to thank you all for being here tonight, this was meant to be a celebration of music and community that many worked hard to make happen. And while most of you came for that, someone came to disrupt the concert. Our access system has been hacked and we have four times more than the authorized amount of people here …. that should be here. Hacked by someone that’s apparently unhappy with an exclusive event at spawn. I just wanted to take a moment to say how amazing it is to see all of you here. This concert is a private event, and it’s been organized by some amazing people who’ve worked really hard to make it happen. Who also don’t work for free. And I think it’s important to recognize that exclusive events like this can be a good thing. They allow people to come together and celebrate, to share in the joy of music and community. So let’s give it up for the organizers, and for each other, for being here tonight and making this a truly special event.

M4dMoz4rt99 stepped off the stage to a mix of applause and boos, leaving the crowd to ponder the implications of what had just occurred. The chat was filled with discussions about hackers and illegal concert visitors.


The virtual university campus is abuzz with activity as protesters gather to voice their grievances against the commodification of public space in the metaverse. Banners and signs adorned the walls and buildings, and a sense of purpose and passion hung in the air. Speaking in front of the roaring crowd is a character named $EatTheFrederich$. He is wearing a Sum A Terra Legendary Skin with the Epic Mec Wings.

$EatTheFrederich$: You see, I’m a hacker, but not the kind of hacker that you might think! I’m not a criminal. I’m not trying to steal your money or your identity. I’m trying to protect something much more valuable: your right to a public space! And not just any public space, but a digital public space, a space that can be accessed from anywhere in the world, by anyone with an internet connection! ‘…society expects from each of its members a certain kind of behavior, imposing innumerable and various rules, all of which tend to “normalize” its members, to make them behave, to exclude spontaneous action or outstanding achievement.’ (11)

Now, I know some of you might think I’m crazy, or a troublemaker, or just an attention-seeker. But let me tell you something: I’m not alone in this fight! There are millions of people out there who believe in the power of an open and accessible digital world, who believe that the internet, the metaverse, and all other forms of digital space, should be open and accessible to everyone, not just to those who can afford it. Just how Belle in the Beauty and the Beast saw beyond the appearances of the Beast and discovered the Beauty of his heart, we must see beyond the tyranny of decentraland and see the beautiful space it could be! We need to see beyond the shiny surfaces, the celebrity endorsements, and the exclusive events, and discover the true beauty of this digital space: its power to connect us, to inspire us, and to make us feel alive!

The long speeches of the protest were over and the crowd was dispersing. Hannah and Karl make their way through the throngs of people, scanning the crowd for familiar faces.

HannahSaurusRex: Karl, look over there. Isn’t that Frederick? The one in the Sum A Terra Legendary Skin with the Epic Mec Wings???

HannahSaurusRex: Yeah, I think so. Let’s go talk to him.

Frederick turns and greets them with a rare dance move.

$EatTheFrederich$: Hey guys, good to see you! Thanks for calling us in for the protest!

Hannah and Karl wave and launch into a conversation about their shared vision for the metaverse. Frederick is a committed communist and had spent years advocating for a more equitable distribution of resources in the virtual world. Karl and Hannah had been drawn to similar ideas, and the three of them quickly find common ground.

$EatTheFrederich$: You know, it’s funny. I’ve been thinking about writing a manifesto about public space in the metaverse. Something that could galvanize people and give them a clear sense of what we’re fighting for. Plurality is located within public spaces – only within their borders are action and speech possible. (12)

Khaos_Karl: That’s a great idea. We’ve been thinking along similar lines. We even hacked into that concert the other night to protest the commodification of public space.

$EatTheFrederich$: You guys did that? That’s amazing. You know, we could really use your skills and expertise. There’s a lot of work to be done if we’re going to create a virtual world that works for everyone. You know they predict that metaverses will contribute $2.5 trillion to $16 trillion to the global economy in 10 years? (13) We can’t let capitalism take over this realm as unrestricted as it does right now. We don’t need another world dominated by sharks.

HannahSaurusRex claps in agreement.

HannahSaurusRex: Absolutely. We believe that public space in the metaverse should be just that – public. Public social interactions are at the core of the idea of a metaverse. (14) It shouldn’t be something that only the wealthy can access.

$EatTheFrederich$: Yes, yes, I completely agree. And I think that’s something we can rally people around. If we can make them see that the metaverse is just like any other space – one that belongs to everyone – then we can build a movement that can’t be ignored. ‘Besides, interesting things happen along borders—transitions—not in the middle where everything is the same.’ (15)

Karl nods, feeling a sense of excitement building in his chest.

Khaos_Karl: And we can use our hacking skills to help spread the message. We can disrupt the systems that are keeping people out and make sure that everyone has a voice. ‘Being seen and being heard by others derive their significance from the fact that everybody sees and hears from a different position. This is the meaning of public life.’ (16)

And as they talked, they knew that they were part of something larger than themselves, something that had the power to reshape the world as they knew it. They stood in the midst of the protest, surrounded by a sea of people, and felt a sense of hope and possibility wash over them. They knew that the road ahead would be long and difficult, but they were ready to fight for a better future – a future where everyone had equal access to the metaverse, and where the power of community could overcome even the mightiest corporations.

1. There should be a clear distinction between public and private spaces in the metaverse.

2. Public spaces should not be privatized for any reason.

3. Public spaces in the metaverse should be accessible to everyone, regardless of their financial resources.

4. Public spaces should be designed to promote community engagement and social interaction.

5. Public spaces should be protected from commercialization and exploitation by corporations.

6. Public spaces should be maintained and managed by the community for the community.

7. Public spaces should be used to showcase and celebrate the cultural diversity of the metaverse.

8. Public spaces should be inclusive and welcoming to all, regardless of their background or identity.

9. Public spaces should be resistant to censorship and control by authoritarian entities.


(1) Caoimhe Harney, Habermas’ theory of the public sphere, 2021

(2) Jack Kelly, ‘Cant Be Evil’: The Democratized Vision Of The Metaverse Enabled Decentraland To Flourish, 2022

(3) Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition, 1958

(4) Dezentraland, Code Of Ethics, 2022

(5) Byung-Chul Han, The Transparency Society, 2015

(6) Tom Brennecke, Is The Metaverse Key To Unlocking A New Era Of Public Space In The Digital World?, 2023

(7) Theo, First Metaverse Protest Held at Samsung’s Decentraland HQ, 2022

(8) Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition, 1958

(9) Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts, 1844

(10) Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition, 1958

(11) Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition, 1958

(12) Andrea Thuman, Hannah ArendtAgency, and the Public Space, 2011

(13) Matthew Ball, What the Metaverse Will Mean, 2022

(14) Maria-Cristina Florian, Can Public Space be Created in the Metaverse?, 2022

(15) Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash, 1992

(16) Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition, 1958


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M4dMoz4rt99 Tour 2023 is a project of IAAC, Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia developed in the Master in Advanced Architecture (MAA02) 2022/23 by: Students: Zachary Eisenberg, Víctor Engelhard Suárez, Muhammed Taimur Mian, Alessandra Weiss, Luca Wenzel and Faculty: Manuel Gausa, Jordi Vivaldi Piera