CryptoKitty Psychology And The Steadfast Collectibles Craze

September 6, 2018 11:37 PM

In the volatile Ethereum landscape, digital cats hold fast.

The price of Ether has dropped considerably within the past week. Investors are scratching their heads, wondering how this could happen when they thought the cryptocurrency was the smart choice over other coins.

Amid this tempest of volatility, a CryptoKitty named Dragon was sold for $172,000 on Tuesday, September 4. Of all things somebody could spend almost 200k on, a pixel-based cat isn’t the first option that comes to mind, especially when the network the kittens are housed on, Ethereum, is experiencing stormy weather.

The persistence of the craze, although there have been some significant price fluctuations, has left many onlookers perplexed as to why someone would waste money on a collection of meaningless pixels. That isn’t to say CryptoKitties aren’t valuable – they must be if people will throw down thousands upon thousands of dollars to sate their feline fixations. Whether people are participating in the Kitty economy for investment opportunities, the sake of art, or the love of the game, there is clearly a reason to play.

If we ditch our arbitrary sense of value and how to justify it, then the answer is simple: human nature. It could be said that everybody collects, whether it be photos, books, coin boards, stamp albums, binders decorated with Pokémon cards or, yes, rosters of digital cats.

Speaking of human nature, a popular yet controversial explanation comes from the king of dubious theories himself, Sigmund Freud. Freud believed the motivation to collect stemmed from our days of potty training. The loss of control signified by defecation was apparently so traumatic that people needed to counteract it later in life by regaining possession of what was lost to them years prior. By “regaining possession,” of course, he meant collecting.

That explanation may be as far-fetched as Freud’s theory of the Oedipus complex, but it does speak to an almost primal instinct of human beings to have control. What better way to exert control than to maintain a collection that nobody else owns or, in some instances, can even touch?

Emeritus professor of psychology Mark B. McKinley provides a few other potential answers. Collecting can be viewed as a quest replete with its own thrills and sense of accomplishment – in this way, the motivation to collect parallels that of animal hunting. Or collectors may be attempting to externally affirm their identities. Or they might be striving toward a fixed and observable representation of immortality (which pairs nicely with the transhumanism trend that exists among the crypto crowd).

The discipline of psychology certainly provides a variety of believable and defensible reasons to elucidate the conundrum of collecting. At the end of the day, though, what’s important is that people do it and they continue to do it.

CryptoKitties, then, represent another vector to satisfy the human desire to collect. People have shelled out wads of cash for seemingly useless items like Beanie Babies, so what makes spending $172,000 on a draconic, Ethereum-based cat any different? The collectibles craze that has mesmerized humanity for pretty much forever is simply going digital.

Daniel Putney is a full-time writer for ETHNews. He received his bachelor’s degree in English writing from the University of Nevada, Reno, where he also studied journalism and queer theory. In his free time, he writes poetry, plays the piano, and fangirls over fictional characters. He lives with his partner, three dogs, and two cats in the middle of nowhere, Nevada.

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