Gaming the commons

Ever since being invited by the Commons Strategy Group to attend the Economics of the Commons conference in Berlin in 2013, I have been contemplating how the commons as a message and practice can be developed and extended. One of the issues and challenges put forward to attendees by some of the leaders of the group, such as Silke Helfrich, David Bollier and Michel Bauwens, was how people already doing ‘commoning’ (creating the commons), can see themselves as being part of a commons movement, and connect with others that use the language of the commons.

Here is a game concept for the commons, as games may help to spread the commons message and practice. It still needs lots of  design work, but here are the basics.

A crowd fund would be run where ‘commoners’ (those who self identify as doing commoning) opt in by providing funding for the campaign.Contributors would give, lets say, $20 dollars. In exchange they get an amount of commons credit (cc) that they can use to exchange with others in the network. The game entails a competition on a number of levels:

The first and simplest would be where the person who exchanges the most with other players wins. This would involve one commoner finding other commoners to exchange some service or good. There can be several aspects of what “most” means. It can mean most in quantitative terms. It can mean most in terms of the number of other commoners exchanged with. It can also mean the strongest social impact by a user, which perhaps this would be based on rating transactions as to what extent they have a benefit to a greater whole. For example if I engaged in an exchange where I got some help with my garden, this would have a positive social and ecological benefit if we consider reduced food-miles and self sufficiency. If I engaged in an exchange where someone helped in a local community garden, this would have even more ‘commoning’ value. If I engagd with someone who just mowed my lawn with a petrol based engine, this may have a negative effect, increased noise, carbon emissions, and of little commoning value, or even have de-commoning effects (contributing to climate change). Thus transactions can be rated on their positive or negative social and ecological externalities, and the player with the highest positive externalities would win.

In terms of Elinor Ostrom’s definition of a commons, we may consider the importance of self governance of a community. In this definition of a commons,  a community controls its own common resources and practices. It shows its ability to govern itself such that the common good of that community is furthered. So an extra game element could be rewards for those people who contribute to the self governance of the community. Perhaps using loomio or another platform, users that propose good governance suggestions get points.

The other idea, by extension, which have been heavily influenced by long conversations with my colleague Nicolas Mendoza, is the idea of mining credit by commoning. Nicolas argued that currency systems should be based on merit. The merit, he argued, in bitcoin is the creation of unbreakable blockchains. When a miner accomplishes a blockchain they get rewarded. He proposed that, any community to specify what they value, and issue rewards for doing this merit. If a community decided that planting trees was what should be rewarded, then when a person does this, they get credit. The community choose the nature of the commoning that will be rewarded. When a member is rewarded with credit, they can use that credit in the system of members / players. So members can choose commoning efforts and what people can be reward for. When a players does this task they would get credit.

Instead of aggregating all of these to create one winner,  it would be more interesting to have both group winners as well as overall winners. One winner for most exchanges, another for most other players exchanged with, another for most positive externalities, and another for most commoning merit. Winners would potentially get game ccs and we would ask the community to honor this.

At the end of the game period,  there would be a network of people who self identify as commoners, are able to exchange value,  understand commoning and can govern themselves. They would inherit the game and could continue to manage it, or create new games with new design specs. One idea would be for the people who win to be invited to become convenors. They would inherit the management. Of course if no one wanted to continue a community using commons credits,  that is fine too,  good enough to have learned from the experiment.

I have imagined this as a game that would take place in a particular locale, city or area, so that people end up meeting each other, forming relationships and buildings a commoning network. I have not considered this as a game where people would be engaged virtually, however I can see that this is also possible, as there are many commoning efforts that are translocal and distributed, e.g. wikipedia, open source software…

Getting started, what is needed?

We would need a credit sharing-swapping platform which can keep track of user credit, number of exchanges. We may also need a “services needed” board as well as a “services offered” board,  so people can find what they need and offer what they can do. We would potential need a rating system to assess impacts of exchanges – externalities. We would potential need a governance platform.

This all requires lots of time and effort,  so there needs to be some budget for someone to spend a good portion of 2 months managing all this. The cost of this time where I live, based on Melbourne’s cost of living, should be minimum 4k. Establishing platforms may cost another 2k, depending on the level of support to build the systems. It could very well be less. Let’s say it would cost 6k to do this right.

If we were to ask people to contribute 20 dollars to opt in, this would require 300 people to join.  That is a lot of people!  Perhaps if  minimum funding was more like 3k, we could get started with as little as 150 people at 20 dollars.  Of course there will also be funders who want to give more, so this could conceivably be less.

So, who is ready to throw their money at this and join a game of commoning? But seriously, much design work would be required to get something like this off the ground, so I turn it over to the global learning laboratory. Thoughts on this are appreciated as I would like to start building some groundwork. I’m thinking that 2015 could be the year of the commons game.

4 responses to “Gaming the commons

  1. Hi Jose, great idea. The bartering system LETS Local Energy Trading Systems – People trading goods and services using alternative currency, Non profit, community focused, could be a starting point to roll out Gaming the common. There is a decent network in Australia

    • Thanks Liz. Im aware of lets but had not considered this possibility, so thanks. It does seem like a good fit, as the bartering system in lets has well established protocols and the values align.

  2. Jose: I’m just in the process of writing a collaborative urban design game, which is described here:

    If you have any thoughts, let me know.

    Are you familiar with Robert Axelrod’s computer tournaments, aimed at understanding the evolution of cooperation?

    BTW, I think $20 is too little. I think that things work better when people make a real commitment… not so large as to be painful or risky, but largest enough to require thought. Maybe $100.

    But yet, I’ll put in.

  3. I’m just in the process of writing a collaborative urban design game, which is described here:

    If you have any thoughts, let me know. We have a slot at Melbourne Knowledge Week for people to play the game.

    Are you familiar with Robert Axelrod’s computer tournaments, aimed at understanding the evolution of cooperation?

    BTW, I think $20 is too little. I think that a things work better when people make a real commitment… not so large as to be painful or risky, but largest enough to require thought.

    But yes, I’ll put in.

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