It started with a picture of a cat’s paw. It became a win-and-lose game, a distorted mirror of capitalist reality, and most importantly, a huge inside joke.
In case you haven’t heard, there’s a rapidly growing trend of people on TikTok spending, collecting, winning and losing a form of fictional money known as “Dabloons” (not to be confused with the former Spanish gold coin) . The hashtag #dabloons, which marks Dabloon-centric videos, has over 417 million views on the platform. As of Thursday morning, the number had risen by over 150 million views in 24 hours and continued to climb.
Here’s how the game works: A user scrolls down their For You page to see if they come across one of the many “DaboonTok” videos. Many of these videos envision the viewer as a weary traveler through the internet, the hero in an epic scrolling odyssey. They invite you over for a meal or a leisurely break and feature a cat who will then accuse you or give you generous gifts of Dabloons.
Alexis Bishop, an actress based in Orlando, Florida, keeps track of her 174 Dabloons on a whiteboard in her office. “Basically, it’s just an imaginary economy that runs off the honors system,” Ms. Bishop, 26, said in a phone interview.
How are cats involved?
Cats – and in particular their paws or “toe beans” – are arguably the basis of the Dablon “economy”. On Tuesday, the meme database Know Your Meme published a history of the Dabloon, suggesting it traces its roots to posts from a spring 2021 cat meme Instagram page.
In an image posted to the account, a single cat’s paw is stretched out almost like a human hand, segmented into four distinct toes, with a caption that simply says, “4 Dabloons.” One Daubloon per cat’s toe. One user on a Reddit post suggests that the naming convention stems from the cat’s toes’ resemblance to coins, but another suggests that the cat’s paw is simply to be understood as a demonstration of the amount of money owed in a transaction, as if the cat is supposed to of the be a seller. (You decide.)
The same Instagram account also posted a blurry image of a black cat that appears to be moving and has its paw spread like a four-pronged claw. This black cat reappears in many of Dabloon’s posts on various platforms, like a mascot for the game. The exact origin of the cat photos remains unclear, but they have become furry canon at the heart of Dabloon lore.
What are the rules and what does it all mean?
It seems that the only rule of the Dabloon world is that everyone agrees to play along. In a matter of days, the game has layered and morphed into an intricate web that mimics real-life economic consequences and capitalist practices, though the looseness of the Dabloon economy’s money supply wouldn’t appall feline central bankers.
When people started making videos offering viewers large sums of free Dabloons, the community faced “inflation”. Some people have been robbed by Dabloon thieves and pirates. Other users have set up a shop, selling goods like stews, crystals, and shacks, offering Dabloon insurance or bank accounts, and adopting usernames like “Dabloon University”. Several users announced their “Dabloon President” campaigns, and at least one account indicated that the community would be holding an election.
Although the Dabloon has yet to buy anyone a real bowl of stew – which, interestingly, would set a reference rate for the value of the fake currency against real currency like the dollar – It showed TikTok users’ serious commitment to the bit (and having some fun online). It may have started out as a niche and obscure trend, but it’s moved somewhat into the mainstream.
Singer and influencer Loren Gray, who has 54.5 million followers on TikTok and was once the app’s most followed person, posted a TikTok video Wednesday afternoon in which she appeared looking serious and saying, “I don’t know how many you still have dabloons. Every other TikTok I see, “Here’s a Dabloon checkpoint, here’s 100 Dabloons. Oh no, the Dabloon economy is collapsing.’”
She went on to say that her friends offline didn’t understand what she meant when she told them about the events on Dabloon TikTok. She captioned the video, “The dabloon IRS is at my door and no one understands.”
But even as the Dabloon economy grows more complex, Ms. Bishop hinted at its popularity among the TikTok crowd. She said his collaborative silliness was a relief compared to the real game’s high stakes.
“People like the idea of being able to influence this little microeconomy,” she said. “It feels like they can be a part of this in a way that’s a lot less stressful than real money.”