You are walking through the woods when a cat approaches you. “It’s not safe here,” they say, asking you to escort them back to their home. Upon arrival at a delightfully kitschy hut, you’ll be given a bowl of hot stew, a thick coat, and a sword to protect you from outside dangers. You pay the cat four dabloons and venture out again to continue your journey.
No, this is not new Older roles game – it’s the latest viral trend sweeping TikTok, with a niche joke quickly turning into an immersive role-playing experience within days.
According to KnowYourMeme‘s timestamp was a picture of a cat with an outstretched paw posted to the catz.jpeg page on Instagram in April 2021, next to the misspelled caption “4 dabloons.” Given the nature of “cats + internet”, this image inevitably made its way to TikTok, where it had become one meme with four panels by October of this year. The meme, which takes the format of a user posing as the cat offering goods in exchange for the dabloons, went viral on Nov. 19 after TikTok user @eblxxdyblxxd posts their own variation of the joke.
While it was about common video game tropes, this meme was clearly not intended as a role-playing opportunity at the time. But then some users turned the joke around gift the user four dabloons. And then people started tracking their money like it goods a real game.
Cats became merchants and helped weary travelers (that’s you) on a perilous journey. Users were robbed of their fictional currency by rogue thieves. Commodities such as guns and guard dogs soon became available to purchase for users to protect their wealth and Dabloonionaire has rewarded you handsomely for completing their quests. There are even dabloon lotteries and a dabloon IRS. The four-panel meme format has since expanded to include elaborately edited videos, and entire accounts masquerading as shops, mafia headquarters, and government watchdogs have been created.
The trend was created entirely by TikTok’s user base rather than the app itself, though it relies on the algorithm to deliver the seemingly random events to potential participants. These videos and image slideshows have dominated the feeds of everyone trapped in the DabloonTok algorithm and are reenacted in the comments section of each video as users graciously pay a fictional currency to eat fictional food, stay in a fictional bed, and admitting their defeat when they are fictitiously attacked by fictitious outlaws.
Still with us? Good. Regardless of its origins, no single account or group can be seen as the sole driving force behind what this cat meme has since become (and continues to evolve).
A completely organic, semi-functional virtual economy emerged as people started keeping track of their purchases and available finances through spreadsheets and notebooks. Two nights ago I saw countless of them bulletins for the “breaking news”. with feline correspondents reporting on the crashing value of dabloons, “taking and shaming” users’ accounts and “giving away” irresponsible amounts of the fictional currency. Councils were formed to regulate the market, and now secret capitalist anti-dabloon revolts are emerging to overthrow the system. And all this happened in the space of just three days.
The evolution of TikTok’s current viral gimmick has begun to vaguely mirror real-world events beyond the platform, namely the ongoing financial crisis and crashing cryptocurrency market. This is probably unintentional, coming from financially literate users building on posts giving away unreasonable amounts of dabloons, but funnily enough it managed to simulate real financial disaster without any discourse. Users simply play along with whatever appears on their TikTok feed, making the trend unusually innocent compared to the vitriol being publicly spewed on both sides of a real economic fallout.
And that’s the point, isn’t it? Social media role play is far from new. Sites like Facebook, Myspace, and Livejournal could be adapted to role-play just about anything, creating collaborative “tell your own adventure” stories around a centralized theme that allowed users to role-play in a fictional, semi-functional society without the real consequences. Drama, but without the drama. All a platform really needed to accommodate this niche flavor of escapism were two features: the ability to interact publicly with posts and other users, and a means of isolating activity within groups, pages, or subsections.
Since TikTok lacks the latter quality, in addition to being a video-first platform, it should have been incredibly difficult to get this kind of activity off the ground. And yet TikTok’s algorithm has uniquely enabled a crowdsourced game – one where the platform itself determines how often you play. User-generated content determines what happens to you and you decide how much you want to play along. This is a cultural phenomenon that couldn’t really happen on other social media platforms. It’s just pure, pointless fun.
At least for now anyway. TikTok trends disappear as quickly as they appear due to the rapid spread of content across the platform, but I’m enjoying this resurgence of social media roleplay while it lasts.
Beyond my imaginative dabloon fiefdom, I feel fatigued by today’s social media platforms: I’ve grown weary of Twitter’s clandy atmosphere and hostile personalities. Tumblr has a much smaller active community than it did in its heyday, and let’s face it, no one is For real Using Facebook to socialize more. Watching eager TikTok users immediately play into this prank may be indicative of a social media role-playing resurgence, aided in no way by the rising popularity of established role-playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons. Perhaps the ‘gamification’ of social media is necessary to preserve it.