Thomas Webb’s pixelated world is mysterious and rebellious but has managed to draw people like Virgil Abloh, Hans Ulrich Obrist, and Mowalola. Thomas Webb is balancing the concept of gaming, NFTs, and art.
Over a seven-course dinner in a restaurant at the five-star hotel, he lives at Webb explains that “in my games, I get to build my own world.” At the climax of the 2020 lockdown, Webb who is 30 threw an exhibition that was attended by 15,000 people. The exhibition took place inside Webb’s video game Worldwide Webb and drew guests such as Sita Abellán the Spanish stylist and the late Off-White founder Virgil Abloh, Sita Abellán surprised guests throughout the month-long exhibition with unrehearsed techno sets.
Attendees at the show logged into the game using their Instagram accounts and took part in the multiplayer game as digital avatars. The Worldwide Webb is an 8-bit graphic and pixelated world resembling an anime-field Berlin and players were on a quest to enter into “rooms” that had 12 digital artworks on display that the players could admire.
The virtual rooms housed different artworks with some in real-time. In the virtual room with Webb’s Depressed Twitter piece, players saw a loop of real-time tweets on mental health that the artist had hacked from Twitter. The What We Do With Infinite Knowledge piece showed a ticker for live news revealing the most current searched-for terms from across the world from Google’s search engine. This information is usually kept hidden by Google. Webb continues to explain what inspires him “as an artist, there’s an ability to shape the future. I want to explore not how it’s going to look, but rather how it’s going to operate.”
The full version of Worldwide Webb was released in November 2021 on Ethereum and is one of the first 2D metaverse games in Web3 history. As it stands, the game has over 110,000 Twitter followers and 29,000 active Discord members. Hans Ulrich Orbist the artistic director of Serpentine Galleries has also recognized how big the game is and as a result, he handpicked the game to be part of this year’s “Worldbuilding: Gaming and Art in the Digital Age” exhibition that will be showcased in Düsseldorf at the Julia Stoschek Foundation.
Thomas Webb appeared besides other game developers like Lual Mayen a South Sudanese developer behind the creation of Junub Games (a studio that creates peace-themed games for children) and Angela Washko an American artist behind the creation of feminist video games exploring the issue of consent, the male gaze, and seduction.
The Worldwide Webb is creative in its own way and allows players to host their own exhibitions and social events in its 9500 virtual “apartments.” Players and loyal fans including Mike Shinoda (Linkin Park vocalist) have spent over $42 million on these “apartments” since the game was launched. “The end goal for me is to create a virtual world that has a synergy with the real world. I want my players to value the experiences in the game enough to trade them, so a thriving economy can exist,” explains the artist.
Webb has also released several NFTs playable within the game and these include digital avatars of Mowalola, Shygirl, and Munroe Bergdorf featuring as crypto girlfriends.
The game has new multiple quests taking players on different virtual adventures where some lucky players end up winning hyped NFTs. According to Webb “these quests are a reflection of what I think of the world, and my ideas of what relationships and friendships are.” Webb’s designs in are heavily inspired by The Matrix and Berghain’s queue and he believes his games are a continuation of the art of storytelling. “It’s what we’ve been doing since the beginning of time- we gather around fires and tell stories, and I think video games are going to be the highest form of storytelling in the future.”
The idea of creating an immersive, 3D internet and interactive experience or the metaverse has become the talk in the last couple of years. Before the pandemic, many were just ideas and were pushed to become realities to fit into the online life that people were limited to.
Things like crypto have become part of life (you may know someone who owns one), virtual catwalks are still a big thing on fashion week calendars (GCDS’ outlandish SS21 arcade show included, Webb also helped build this one) and some people out there are spending millions of dollars to simply own a picture of apes which anyone can simply access on their computer by just clicking and saving.
The metaverse is a controversial topic with others seeing it as an overhyped marketing stunt while to some it’s the future and a new daring digital world that will affect the way we live. However, the way you see it, the metaverse concept is overpowering and feels as if is being pushed unto us by a few profit-driven tech companies.
Tech giants such as Facebook (Meta as is known now), Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon are all pushing to own this new level of the internet, lone developers looking for breakthroughs in the industry with indie games or software may be out of jobs very soon. Or maybe not if we consider how Webb managed a breakthrough with his game offering a different artistic vision of how our digital future may turn out – one that may not be driven by Nasdaq-listed monoliths but rather collective independent individuals.
Webb believes this is what he was made to do and that his name has contributed to where he is. “My last name is Webb, and I ignored that for a very long time. Even Web3 looks like Webb with two Bs. It’s like I have to do this like it was written in the stars. Or in the code, it should say.” Webb has combined technology with his magic trick history to create virtual worlds.