What Will a Metaverse Embassy Look Like?

Barbados’ plans to claim sovereignty over digital land remain inscrutable.

CoinDesk Insights
Nov 15, 2021 at 7:43 p.m. UTC
Updated Nov 15, 2021 at 10:10 p.m. UTC

Will Gottsegen is CoinDesk's media and culture reporter. He holds less than $300 in ETH, and two NFTs above CoinDesk's disclosure threshold of $1000, which you can find at smush.eth.

This morning, my colleague Andrew Thurman put out a piece for this website about the government of Barbados, and its plans to establish a so-called “metaverse embassy.”

The metaverse is a kind of multiplayer social space in virtual reality; think Second Life or Playstation Home – a place where virtual people live virtual lives, entirely on a screen. Proponents say it’s like a copy of the real world, only better, since users don’t have to abide by the laws of physics. For skeptics, it’s cringey at best and dystopian at worst: a comprehensive new framework for digital surveillance and intrusive advertising.

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Barbados’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade said it signed an agreement with Decentraland, an existing metaverse platform built around cryptocurrency, to “outline the baseline development elements for its metaverse embassy.”

The problem is that it’s not clear what any of this actually means. Though the press release concedes that “most details [about the project] have not been revealed,” here’s how it attempts to define a “metaverse embassy”:

“Barbados’ Metaverse Embassy will be at the centre of activities to advance the growth of stronger bilateral relationships with governments globally,” says the release, before adding, somewhat nonsensically, that “e-consular services will be a core feature alongside with [sic] a virtual teleporter which will be built in Barbados’ Metaverse Embassy connecting all metaworlds as a gesture of diplomatic unification between technology platforms.”

So, the government of Barbados is looking to plant its metaverse embassy in more than one virtual world. It’s only inked a deal with Decentraland, so far, but promises that agreements with other companies are in the works.

But what does a metaverse embassy look like, in practice? And what “e-consular services” could a metaverse embassy provide that a real embassy couldn’t? I’m picturing, like, a low poly government building with a pixelated flag out front.

It’s hard to imagine someone seeking asylum from a hostile government in a virtual embassy or consulate – and maybe that’s not the point of a virtual embassy or consulate. The concept of a physical space that’s in some way legally tied to another country feels like a bad fit for virtual reality, where jurisdiction isn’t so cleanly defined.

The project is being spearheaded by H.E. Gabriel Abed, Barbados’ current ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, who recently pivoted to government affairs after a long career as a crypto investor and entrepreneur. He’s also the founder of a crypto company called Bitt.

Abed said the government plans to issue something called an “e-visa,” and that Barbados’ Metaverse Embassy will somehow be compliant with international law and the Vienna Convention, which lays out the rights and protections granted to consuls and embassies.

Are “e-visas” for travel within the metaverse or will they apply to the real Barbados? Who needs one, and who gets one?

Not everything needs to be on the blockchain – in the absence of clarity, the metaverse embassy just feels like an empty ad campaign from a government official with a stake in the crypto industry.

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