Token Engineering got Game!
After the “Sicily Experiment” on Human-centric design of solutions based on decentralized technologies, supported by the Venture Builder Program of NGI Ledger, we continued our collaboration with Freeelio. The goal is to co-design new co-ownerhsip schemes together with stakeholders, for the Electraseed Fund as well as for the contributing individuals and organizations, based on an idea called Fractal Ownership.
Le Grand Jeu is the name of the game for co-creation that Federico Bonelli and I have been developing and improving in the past years by playing all over the world. sebnem took us on a “Germany Tour”. In Berlin we met with the Token Engineering community, made up mostly of people working on token networks and Decentralized Autonomous Organizations. In Munich we met with a group of game designers, software & user experience designers at the Bavarian Ministry for Digital Affairs, where we had a meta-game discussing how the game mechanics of Le Grand Jeu relate to Cryptoeconomics.
We gathered great insights on how to take the next step: bridge game and computer aided simulation, in order to make the players see how the rules they change, play out over time — as well as offer a co-creation platform for stakeholders of complex adaptive systems that token networks are, like Electraseed Fund.
In the following we give an overview of the different scenarios that can be built with Le Grand Jeu, and the diverse set of stakeholders that sat around a table to play and find a common language. Then we will explain some of the game mechanics and how they map to Cryptoeconomics.
When Le Grand Jeu met Token Engineering, it was love at first sight. The “hands-on tool to co-design sustainable micro-economies empowered by crypto-currency” was discovered by the Token Engineering Community and opened up interesting conversations about investments, ownership, wealth, energy, externalities, token economy, system dynamics and simulation of complex systems.
In Berlin we played at Trust, a co-working space . The players were Cyberneticists, Token Engineers, and DAOists we met at RadicalxChange. With the first table we explored a scenario conceived to present a very unbalanced situation between a board equipped with the grid (infrastructure, energy, social support) and white tokens (money) in the pot, and a board off-the-grid with no white tokens in the pot.
The second table started from an open scenario with just one inclusive board and its grid.
In Munich we played at the Digital Ministry and the scenario we created drew closely from the themes of the invited:
We had Tim Christiansen of the Digital Ministry at the table, motivated to learn how the elements and mechanics of Le Grand Jeu maps onto mechanics and elements of Token Economies.
We had also invited Techgenossen, a consultancy cooperative for software with a purpose (“Software mit Sinn”). Not only have they been active supporters of Fridays for Future, but also of an initiative called “Munich must act.”
Some research revealed what inspired our Munich scenario: there was a Munich Referendum ”Clean Air” in 2017 for phasing out of a coal-powered plant. However, the Federal Grid Agency (Bundesnetzagentur) just recently forbid the shutting down of the coal-powered plant because it is “system relevant.” Germany is the biggest polluter in Europe due to its holding on to coal — Germany’s coal problem, is a social problem, at this stage not even only at a local, national, or European level — but a global one.
So, we set up a coal power plant in the middle of the board and a “wheel of sun” to emphasize the volatility of this renewable resource.
Le Grand Jeu for Token Economies
In the reflections and feedback round in Munich, Tim says “but I haven’t heard a single word of Blockchain and Cryptoeconomics” — and fredd replies “Yes, you played it!”
We believe this is the value proposition of Le Grand Jeu for Token Economies:
So in this section, our main goal is to provide that mapping, for everyone involved and also interested in co-creating their Token Economies with “Serious Play” and without the jargon.
What is token economy anyways?
The German government’s Blockchain Strategy (September 2019) is subtitled “We set out the course for the Token Economy” — and it fails to give a description or a definition of what Token Economy even is. So, we reach out to the best publication to date on the topic “Token Economy” (June 2019) by Shermin Voshmgir — and it doesn’t give a definition either! But, its subtitle is certainly more descriptive “ How blockchains and smart contracts revolutionize the economy.”
From her O’reilly report (October 2019) we learn more:
Token economics can be understood as a subset of economics that studies the economic institutions, policies, and ethics of the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services that have been tokenized. This report outlines the current state of tokenization of our economy and discusses potential effects and dynamics of a future “token economy.”
But if we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?
Just recently Shermin and Michael Zargham published “The Foundations of Cryptoeconomics” (November 2019) a research paper digging deeper into the complex systems that Token Economies are, and coming up with a definition from the network perspective:
A cryptoeconomic network consists of three interconnected networks: (i) the computation and communication network comprised of nodes that leverage a peer-to-peer protocol to validate transactions, (ii) the financial network comprised of [cryptographic] addresses which may sign transactions and transfer funds, and the (iii) the off-chain socioeconomic network representing people and organizations that control the tokens […] and operate those nodes […].
The paper also includes an academic definition of Tokens as representations of system state:
Tokens, as the atomic unit of state, can make all socio-economic activities visible.
Let’s assume based on these foundations, which emphasize the multidisciplinarity — with the accompanying difficulty of a common language and understanding even at the academic levels — we will soon see more token economies in the wild.
How can any person grasp, let alone make use of this powerful paradigm shift of token economies?
During our interactions with very different people from very different backgrounds, one question came up frequently: Will “regular people” ever even care? This question has a “let them eat cake” (or rather “let them eat money”, in this context) connotation to it. The answer is, No. Not if we do not find a common language. Through game as a co-creation and communication medium we can. The next question then is “Should the people have to care at all?” Yes. To cite from the German Blockchain Strategy:
The build-up of competences in this basic technology contributes to Germany’s and Europe’s digital sovereignty.
However, blockchain and token technologies can be misused like any other technology. Token technologies enable internet scale coordination without the need to deal with intermediaries. Chinese government’s “all-in” endorsement of blockchain technology coupled with its plans of a social credit systems to go live in 2020 should ring a few alarm bells. If not, read this interesting article on how eliminating third-party cooperation, i.e. intermediaries, for surveillance is a dictator’s dream. The ramifications are immense.
The US is already on another slippery slope from democracy to corporatocracy. We shouldn’t trust any giant corporation with the mission of creating a private global currency either. Let alone trust Facebook with Libra only a year after the Cambridge Analytica Scandal, in which social network data was used to create detailed psychographic profiles of over 80 Million people.
We should be more concerned on individual’s digital sovereignty, hence freedom, rather than nation state’s.
Identity & Accountability
Not your keys, not your coins.
Cryptographic tokens represent programmable assets or access rights, managed by a smart contract and an underlying distributed ledger. They are accessible only by the person who has the private key for that address and can only be signed using this private key. Tokens might affect the financial world in the same way as email affected the postal system.
(excerpt from Token Economy).
In Le Grand Jeu we use white and black tokens to account for a wide variety of factors. The 2 tokens represents the 2 faces of the same coin: money and debt, resource and consumption, energy and pollution, creation and entropy.
In this game “externalities” are always accounted for.
In Munich scenario for instance the coal power plant in the center of the board was producing blacks (pollution) and providing whites (energy) each round. So one player started building a solar park on their land off-grid. But the bad fortune stroke. Another player, also a lot of land, struggled to build an ecovillage.
The welfare system helped players on-the-grid who are out of whites by providing them with 1 white (money) for 2 rounds, but adding 4 blacks (debt) in the common pot. This system seemed pretty unfair to the players: they argued that someone on welfare is not such a big burden for the society and they reduced the number of blacks from 4 to 1 by unanimous vote. But this is not such an ordinary thinking in real life! In the game they were able to see who was getting the public support (radical transparency/accountability), and they also knew what kind of resources (land and ideas) the players on welfare had. They struggled with the question: how can we make the illiquid value of those players accessible and shareable?
Not your rules, not your token economy.
“The wide range of disciplines that make up cryptoeconomics may seem arbitrary but they are in fact all bound by a central concept: allocation of resources.
In particular, cryptoeconomic networks provide coordination and scaling for resource allocation decisions of stakeholders with unique preferences, information, and capabilities. Allocation decisions being made include resources which are (i) physical such as hardware and electricity, (ii) financial such as tokens or fiat money, and (iii) social such as attention, e.g. governance participation, code contributions or evangelism.
Envisioning, designing and governing cryptoeconomic systems requires the following questions to be considered:
- Who gets to make which decisions, under which circumstances, and to whom are they accountable for those decisions? Furthermore, how does this change over time?
- How do individuals make decisions given knowledge of the rules of the system, and subject to uncertainty about the decisions of others?
- How can a system be engineered to processes individual decision making into collective decision making such that system may be interpreted as coordinating toward a shared purpose?”
(Excerpt from the Foundations of Cryptoeconomics paper)
If we do not want these systems to be envisioned and designed solely by a handful individuals — whether they are members of the communist party in China, or members of a consortium of corporations maximizing only their shareholder value in US, or techies frantically coding up the contracts of a hot DAO in a cool co-working space in Kreuzberg — but by the biggest majority of individuals who will live with and within the token economy, we need them to co-create it.
“I like how the game puts the cryptoeconomics design space, especially the political economy dimension on the table, which many in this space rather intentionally or unintentionally try to compress out to make things simpler. That becomes a failure mode [in token networks]. It is then an issue of education, of making the concepts experiential. When we define these concepts in an abstract way, they become intangible. But people need to learn them, and they are not going to learn them by reading papers” — Zargham, the night before he became a game master.
The Munich scenario, for example, was calibrated in a way to have the players struggle for survival. This slowed down the building activity at the beginning but pushed their collective, political activity.
At each round of the game, in fact, you can build/invest, invent, or call an assembly to talk about something that could be changed/improved. In this table many laws were proposed and approved: new welfare, public grants for good ideas, proportional tax. The embodiment of externalities into black tokens made everyone very much aware of the “price” they were paying for their choices. Round after round they were able to observe and assess the impact of their political choices.
At the Berlin table instead the disparities between the 2 boards (continents) elicited an escalation of hostility. After a first “constructive” round, where a port, a natural reserve and some more solar panels were built, the conversation, confrontational since the beginning, turned into open rivalry, also encouraged by “le grand jeu” card: “Communists arrive”: The “rich” board closed the borders with a wall while the “poor” one fell into a dictatorship. Two new players coming late to the party, joined the table as migrants: one managed to improve his skill level and put himself at the service of the dictator, while the other died in the attempt to cross the wall.
Sounds familiar? Maybe this was triggered by the “inequality” and the seemingly “separate boards” the players started off with…
In conclusion Le Grand Jeu can be fun and a great tool to spark meaningful conversations among different stakeholders. Now we set a new challenge for us and the community: how to combine it with quantitative simulations?
Our goal is to provide rich narratives and detailed design of techno-social systems to be translated into mathematical models. And then to the enrich the interdisciplinary dialogue and system design of the players by integrating the trends uncovered by computer aided simulation.
“I think of Le Grand Jeu as exploratory ethnographic behavioral political economics. You can do almost any structured experiments with different scenarios and people with different cultures, expertise, etc. that learning can make Computer Aided Design (cadCAD) more practical by anchoring modelling assumptions about humans in observed human behaviours (and also post-game analysis involving the players).” — Zargham
“I chose LGJ for its aligned abstraction level with cadCAD :) I think of LGJ as a front-end for cadCAD for interaction designers” — Sebnem
We want to thank Wassim Alsindi and Calum Bowden for opening their doors network at Trust, a big thank you to Carolin Kerschbaumer, Tim Christiansen of the Bavarian Ministry for Digital Affairs, and special thanks goes to Zargham and Sebnem for bringing interested people together and continuing to take this game to the next level: connecting with model- and data-driven simulations.