For Filipino couple and sari-sari store (small neighborhood store) owners Lolo Silverio, 75, and Lola Vergie, 65, play-to-earn isn’t a buzzword, but a godsend that has enabled them to keep earning an income amid the hardships of COVID-19.
“Noon, dati, minsan two five, minsan three, kasi nga kabilihan nga, e. Ngayon benta namin minsan, hundred fifty, ganoon. Swerte ka nang bumenta ng tatlong daan, o two fifty (Before, sometimes we will get Php2,500-Php3,000 because there are a lot buying from the store. Now, we would just get Php150. We would be lucky if we get Php250 or Php300),” Lola Vergie said.
Play-to-earn helps those who need it most
Let that sink in. From Php2,500-Php3,000 (US$50-60) prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown, this elderly couple in Cabanatuan, Nueva Ecija — a province in the Central Luzon region of the Philippines — was now alarmingly earning only Php150 (US$3), or, if they were really lucky, Php250-Php300 (US$5-6).
News articles and daily tallies of COVID-19 cases hardly tell the full story of what’s actually happening on the ground, and how this pandemic has been devastating to the 111 million people who call the Philippines their home. They are not statistics, but people who have had their lives upturned and must now scramble to find a way to survive.
Lolo Silverio and Lola Vergie belong to a small community in Cabanatuan that has been playing the non-fungible token (NFT) game Axie Infinity. This Pokémon-like game enables players to collect, raise, and battle fantasy creatures. While gaming is a way of life for many Filipinos, particularly mobile gaming, Axie Infinity is different because it allows them to play-to-earn. Simply put, when you win battles in Axie Infinity, you are rewarded with Small Love Potion (SLP) tokens, and you can use these SLP digital assets to breed the digital pets known as Axies. This allows you to keep on adventuring and winning battles, and earning SLP. You can then use a cryptocurrency wallet to convert your digital wealth to real-world Philippine pesos.
Way better than just earning experience points in other games, right?
Senior citizens embracing the future
Leah Callon-Butler, who wrote about this incredible phenomenon last year for the cryptocurrency media platform CoinDesk, interviewed Lolo Silverio, Lola Vergie, and other members of that community in the “Tricycle Capital of the Philippines” for the new documentary “Play-to-Earn: NFT Gaming in the Philippines”.
Callon-Butler is the director of Emfarsis, a consulting firm focused on the role of technology in advancing economic development in Asia. Emfarsis and its client Yield Guild Games, a gaming guild that brings players together to earn via blockchain-based economies, produced this documentary.
While the stories of the different players featured in this documentary are all inspiring, it is the tale of Lolo Silverio and Lola Vergie that resonates the most. We already know that millennials and Gen Z love blockchain and cryptocurrency, but it is deeply moving to see these senior citizens embracing the future and refusing to give up despite the enormous challenges they face. They are part of the most vulnerable members of the population to COVID-19, and so are the ones who have been unable to even go outside the house.
“Habang nabubuhay ako, bantay na lang ako sa tindahan, kasi bawal lumabas, e. Kaya alas kuwatro nang madaling-araw hanggang alas diyes ng gabi, nagtitinda diyan. Bantay lang ako. Habang nandoon ako sa tindahan, naglalaro ako (As long as I live, I will just watch over our store because you cannot go outside. That’s why from four in the morning to 10 in the evening, I’m just there selling and watching over our store. While I am in the store, I’m playing),” said Lolo Silverio.
Human face of technology
He said that playing Axie Infinity is his only form of entertainment, sharing that sometimes he is able to finish 100 games a day. Sometimes he wins. Sometimes he loses. But he keeps on playing.
“Sana huwag mawala yung Axie (We hope that Axie won’t go away),” he said.
“‘Yun ang ano namin, panalangin namin sa Panginoon, na sana huwag mawala (That’s what we are praying for to the Lord, that it won’t go away),” Lola Vergie added.
“Kasi, kahit konti kumikita kami (Because even if it’s just a little, we are still earning from playing),” Lolo Silverio said.
“Kahit papaano, pambili namin ng gamot, siyempre. Kaming mga matatanda, puro gamot na lang. May maintenance kami, andami (That can be used to buy our medicine. Of course, old people like us always need medicine. We have a lot of maintenance medicine),” Lola Vergie said.
As someone who launched Digital Life Asia to promote technology for good, I was deeply touched by this documentary. Hearing the stories of this Filipino community of Axie Infinity players reminds us that at the end of the day, we shouldn’t be adopting technology for technology’s sake. Technology exists so that we can help other people and make a difference in their lives.
Let’s check our privilege
We are more than this digital stream of 1s and 0s, but flesh-and-blood humans colonizing these virtual worlds to create a better one in real life. It’s easy to get caught up in the dash for cash, the need for greed, the hype over NFTs, and the desire to send Bitcoin, Ether, Dogecoin, and other crypto to the moon. But let’s check our privilege.
Amid the hype, let’s remind ourselves that cryptocurrency is for everyone. It’s for ordinary people like Lolo Silverio and Lola Vergie, who are not even dreaming of becoming cryptocurrency millionaires, but are just trying to get by each day and use NFT gaming to augment their meager income.
One person’s small change is another person’s livelihood.
As a believer in cryptocurrency who also happens to be a climate activist, I am convinced we can find a way to make this new life-changing technology more sustainable. To me, it’s about starting a conversation, instead of closing our minds from the start.
A better world is possible. For all of us. Let’s all believe in that.