Is it still shocking in 2018 to see someone drop more than $50,000 on a digital playing card? Well, that’s what happened when Gods Unchained, a blockchain-based digital card game, wrapped an auction on its rarest card to date: the Hyperion Mythic card. It sold for 146.279 ETH, which was worth about $54,000 at the time. If that doesn’t shock you, how about the fact that a digital trading card of Elon Musk is currently on auction for about the same price?

You’d be forgiven for thinking that this crypto madness ended when the bitcoin price plummeted more than 70 percent this year, but it’s not that simple. The Hyperion card and the Elon Musk “Crypto Celebrity” are both examples of a type of product we’ll call digital assets. A digital asset is an object that exists only in lines of code in a decentralized ledger. Like a bitcoin, a digital asset is unique and can only be owned by one digital wallet at a time. If you have the private key to that wallet — a long, cryptographically complex string of numbers and letters — then you, and you alone, own that asset stored in that wallet.

A bitcoin is just a bitcoin, but digital assets are generated and run on “smart contracts” on platform-based blockchains, such as Ethereum, Neo or Zilliqa. Popular assets run the gamut from cards to memes to artwork, but far more complex things are possible with smart contracts, such as music and movie files hosted on blockchain and even full-on operating systems — the latter being mostly theoretical right now or in early test stages.

Most popular digital assets can be traced back to CryptoKitties, which popularized the idea of collectibles on the blockchain. CryptoKitties is billed as a game, but it’s barely so — the main activity is hoarding and trading CryptoKitties. It’s more accurate to think of it as Beanie Babies on blockchain. This horde/trade format has been replicated in a rush of similar games that currently flood the digital asset space: crypto gladiators, hash puppies, crypto punks, et cetera — all of them following the CryptoKitties mold.

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