Ever have an idea that will simply not go away … it is stuck in your head and it won’t leave until you actually get it out? well, this is one of those ideas: The Commons Game.

I wrote about the idea for a Commons Game about a year ago, let it go, but now it is here again.

I was reminded of a design feature that I was taught by Nicolas Mendoza, on a train trip from Berlin to Luneburg. It is a very simple but powerful idea, and I think now it would be key to any type of commons game.

The analogy comes by way of bitcoin. In the bit coin community, people ‘mine’ coins by formulating the next block of encryption that the system depends on to maintain an unbreakable public ledger. If they do it well, they may be rewarded with bit coins.

Now I will not go intro the politics of bit coin, whether it is an anarcho-libertarian challenge to capitalism, yet another ponzi scheme within capitalism, or just an adjunct to capitalism, or even a facilitator as the worst form of capitalism (silk roads drug trade). I know I know I KNOW that bit coin has many detractors! I am not advocating for bit coin! I simply care about the analogy.

The system ensures that people are awarded value for producing something a community values. In short, mining is the act of working for the values a community holds. In the case of bit coin, the community values the ability to effectively encrypt the next block in a chain of blocks that act as a public ledger. By doing this, the integrity of the coinage is ensured (making it hard or impossible to digitally duplicate or corrupt). From a crypto currency point of view, this is real value. Who wants to trade a digital coin that can be easily forged or corrupted?

The way that Nicolas explained it, to create a credit system that does ‘commoning’ (the verb that describes the act of generating a common), a community must gather to decide what they commonly value, and what they want to assign value to. If a community for example value the planting of trees in public spaces, they can assign value to that. If a community values care for the elderly or frail, they can assign value to that as well. Thus, a community establishes an agreement on what is of value for them collectively.

When a person then plants a tree in a public space, or provides care for the elderly, from within that community, they are rewarded. By way of analogy, they ‘mine’ credit by carrying out the activities that a community values and has assigned values to. Or in more general terms, they mine credit through ‘commoning’ – improving upon the world that a community values.

Design features of game 

I’m now moving toward converging on some of the conceptual design features of the game. It is likely that this game will be run in Melbourne in 2016, potentially using crowdfunding as a way to crib together a community of commoners to make it happen.

  1. The game brings together a community of people to create and exchange what is understood as “Commons Credits (CCs)”. CCs are tradable units.
  2. We will convene a community, through a crowd fund or other mechanism. The community will pick a number of activities which will be designated “commoning”. They will choose the value of the activities.
  3. In this way people are allowed to ‘mine’ (CCs). There would be certain limits to the trading by way of boundaries designated by the game design or community, as we don’t want them to be abused, hoarded etc.
  4. Then we need to put the CCs into action – it has no value if it has no avenues for exchange – e.g. a market.
  5. Therefore we need a critical number of game players. I’m thinking at least 100, but it is more a question at this point. How do we get these game players? Hence the idea of a crowd fund – to attract those people interested in experimenting with this. Perhaps for $20 / person one gets a chance to be in the game, mine and exchange CCs.
  6. Another question would be – would people simply have the right to buy CCs? Ideally no – as we want the creation of CCs to be linked to something the community says does commoning (e.g. planting trees, teaching english to migrants, maintaining the ability for the CCs community to function, etc.). But the problem is we need CCs to have a market to exchange. So perhaps only once – at the very start of the game when people opt in a they get a one off amount – after that CCs must be mined. As well, buying into the game is a commoning act – it potentiates the game. By definition buying into the game is the first mining activity. The challenge is for the market to be robust enough so that a credit system has a way to function / be exchanged.
  7. Therefore we would also need a register of all members and what they are willing to exchange for a commons credit. (All goods and services would need to be ethical and ensure that they support local and global commons).  There would also need to be some guarantee that they would exchange that service and at an acceptable price.
  8. As previously mentioned, to be able to mine we need agreement on what is of shared value. The game facilitators would perhaps start with 2-3 suggestions. However live meetings would help. Facilitators would convene meetings to ideate new commoning activities and assign value to them, or remove previous activities that are not working.
  9. Potentially, we could introduce a Liquid Democracy voting system as a way for members to propose and debate new commoning activities and the value these activities carry. This could later be made binding.
  10. Also, there would need to be a way to authenticate a commoning act. If someone claims to have spent 5 hours teaching english (or just helping) a migrant, we need a way to make sure they have actually done this. How can this be done?
  11. To further encourage the exchange of CCs, points can be give for particular achievements, e.g. most diverse exchanges (with the most variety of people).
  12. The purpose of the game would be to raise the profile of the idea of the commons through an engaging game format. A key outcome would be for people in this nascent community to get to know the idea of the commons and to meet other people who are likeminded, develop some relationship and deepen connections and the ability to collaborate. If this isn’t creating the commons – then nothing is.

I’ll be building a team around this idea in the expectation of carrying out this experiment in 2016. Please contact me if you want to be involved or just keep track of it all.