Jon Jacobs, also known as his virtual reality avatar NEVERDIE, has a wild vision for the future of the medium. He’s legendary for making real money – in the hundreds of thousands – in virtual real estate. Now he wants to enable others to do so too. In an election run by Swedish company MindArk, he was elected the first President of Virtual Reality by over 70% on a platform of job creation.
Jacobs’ passion for virtual reality is immediately apparent. He’s started NEVERDIE Studios and created his own world, Rocktropia. He’s a fount of innovative ideas for the medium, as evidenced by our two-hour phone conversation where he expounded on the nuances of virtual reality economics and when the need for government arises. His journey hasn’t lacked controversy, but as an active member of virtual reality for around 15 years, he’s extensively considered what works and what doesn’t in a virtual world.
“Few people are saying, ‘This is how we’re going to make virtual reality really meaningful to humanity,’” Jacobs says. “This is an under-explored side of what virtual reality can do for us. So that’s why I became President. Somebody has to champion it. What I want to do is champion what is possible in virtual reality for people, which really means I want to champion the idea that people can monetize their time in these spaces.”
One of Jacobs’ more audacious ideas is a new world in progress called AmeVRica. While a domain name and Facebook page exist for AmeVRica, Jacobs told me he has not yet officially announced his new project. What sets AmeVRica apart isn’t as much its use of virtual reality as the jobs Jacobs plans to create there.
“The motivation and inspiration for AmeVRica is the idea of creating a new world for everybody in virtual reality, accessible on all platforms from all devices, where people can pursue life, liberty, and freedom, but also economic opportunity,” he says.
He first proposed his idea for a way to create jobs in Entropia Universe, a game where’s he’s spent much time, but it didn’t fly. “It made me more hated than Trump or Hillary,” he jokes. Like the Pilgrims of old, Jacobs decided to set sail and found a new world. He will start building his economy by monetizing transportation. Usually teleporting is free in virtual reality worlds, but in AmeVRica, it will cost tokens, which will correspond to real money. Manufacturing these tokens will help build the economy. By privatizing transportation, he’ll initially create minimum wage jobs. He also plans to recruit people for jobs fighting “rogue AI” and maintaining teleporters.
The purpose of these jobs? It all comes back to the real world. As we spoke, Jacobs talked of virtual reality’s potential to enrich lives in this reality. While he is originally from the United Kingdom, it’s clear the ideas of freedom and hope inherent in the American dream have captured his imagination as they have for so many around the world. AmeVRica will incorporate principles Jacobs sees as core to America’s identity – ones he sees us losing.
“The American dream is not just for the people born in America; it’s for the world to have a dream of a place where they have the liberty to be themselves,” he says. “We have people in the world who are trapped in countries where they don’t have human rights. We have collapsing economies. We’ve got these terrible issues of radicalization. We’ve got presidential nominees in the U.S. who want to build walls and lock out people from various religious backgrounds. The beacon of hope that was America is struggling to hold on to its own identity.
“America has worked very hard to champion human rights and democracy through the entire globe, but the terrible thing is there’s a massive backlash from countries who don’t embrace it, don’t share the same values, and don’t want that culture. Not only that, but some find ways to make that felt in the worst possible way in America, through things like what happened in Orlando. This makes America question itself and want to defend those rights at least within its own borders, and therefore makes it border conscious, and takes the focus from a global dream to a nationalistic dream. We need a new world. Not to say America can’t be great again; of course it can. The whole world can be great. But how do we help facilitate that? Maybe we need to take the new new world, the opportunity that lies before us with virtual reality, and make that a place where all of the freedoms and economic opportunities exist for people who are still trapped, and allow us to come together in this new environment where physical borders are not going to restrain us. Virtual reality can be the new America.”
“Let’s not just be consumers. We have to change that model because we can’t afford it,” says Jacobs. “You know why people are afraid of games? Because games are typically associated with leisure and time wasting, and a lot of people don’t feel they can afford to play games even though we probably play more games now than ever in our history. If it is possible to change that time we spend from unproductive to productive by a simple flick of the switch in game design, we have to do it.”