There is a cat approaching you in the woods. They want you to go with them back to their home. You are given a bowl of stew, a thick coat, and a sword when you arrive at the cabin. You pay the cat and go back outside.

This isn't a new Elder Scrolls game, it's the latest viral trend sweeping TikTok, which saw a niche in-joke rapidly expand into an interactive experience within days.

A cat holding up an outstretched paw. Text below the image says “4 dabloons”.
TikTok users managed to create a full roleplay community based around a collapsing economy from...this.
Image: KnowYourMeme

A picture of a cat with an outstretched paw was posted to the catz.jpeg page on the social media site in April 2021. By October this year, the image had become a four panel meme on TikTok. The meme, which follows the format of a user pretending to be a cat in exchange for items, went viral after a TikTok user posted their own version.

This meme was not meant to be a roleplay opportunity at the time. The users flipped the joke and gave the user four sticks of butter. People began to keep a record of their cash as if it were a real game.

A four-panel meme in which a cat offers the user some stew in exchange for ‘dabloons’
Dabloontok was initially populated just with four-panel memes like this.
Image: @eblxxdyblxxd

Cats helped weary travelers on dangerous journeys. The users were robbed of their currency. Weapons and guard dogs became available to purchase in order for users to protect their wealth. There are also lotteries and the IRS. Entire accounts have been created pretending to be shops, mafia headquarters, and government watchdogs, thanks to the four-panel meme format.

The trend was created by TikTok's user base rather than the app itself, as it relies on its algorithm to deliver the seemingly randomized events to potential participants. These videos and image slideshows have dominated the feeds of anyone caught within the DabloonTok algorithm, as users happily pay a fake currency to eat food, stay in a fake bed, and admit defeat when attacked.

Are we still with them? I think it's good. No account or group can be credited with being the sole driving force behind the evolution of the cat meme.

When people started keeping track of their purchases through spreadsheets and notebooks, a virtual economy was created. Two nights ago, I saw a lot of "breaking news" bulletins with feline correspondents reporting on the crashing value of dabloons, naming and shaming the accounts of users who "giving away" irresponsible sums of the fake currency. There are secret anti-dabloon capitalist rebellions that are forming to overthrow the system. All of this happened in a short period of time.

The ongoing financial crisis and crashing cryptocurrencies market have begun to mirror real-world events outside of TikTok. Financially literate users building on posts that give away unreasonable quantities of dabloons is likely to be the reason for this. Users simply play along with whatever eventuality appears on their TikTok feed, making the trend unusual compared to the public discourse.

Correct, that is the point. Social media roleplaying is not new. It's possible for sites like Facebook, Myspace, and Livejournal to be used to create roleplay stories around a centralized theme that allowed users to play a part in a fictional, semi-functional society without any of the real repercussions. The drama is not without drama. The ability to publicly interact with posts and other users was one of the features needed to facilitate this niche flavor of escapism.

It should have been difficult for this type of activity to take off because of TikTok's lack of quality. TikTok has a unique way of allowing for a game where the platform controls how much you play. What happens to you is controlled by user-generated content. It couldn't happen on other social media platforms. It's just fun.

Comments taken from tiktok showing users interacting as if in a fantasy roleplaying game.
Without a centralized hub to post in, TikTok users just roleplay out the specific experience from a given video within its comment section.
Image: TikTok

It's at least for now. TikTok trends tend to die as quickly as they appear, but I'm enjoying this resurgence of social media roleplay while it lasts.

Outside of my fantasy dabbingloon fiefdom, I feel tired by the current social media platforms. Nobody is using Facebook to socialize anymore, and the active community oftumblr has a smaller active community than it did in its heyday. Watching how eager TikTok users were to play into this gag may be indicative of a resurgence in social media roleplay, aided in no small part by the rising popularity of established roleplay systems. It is possible thatgamification is what is needed to preserve it.