Designing a Game to Birth a Civilisation

First, tentative steps in designing a game-changing game

“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” — Krishnamurti. Photo by Camille Orgel.

In a previous essay we floated the idea of a game, the playing of which will collaboratively design an entirely new operating system for civilisation:

This essay explores early design ideas for a game-changing game. Since we have no clear ideas on how this might unfold, this is an invitation to critique, add to and subtract from. Let’s get the conversation started about how humanity might rigorously coordinate an entirely new form of civilisation.

“It is the first step in sociological wisdom, to recognize that the major advances in civilization are processes which all but wreck the societies in which they occur.” — Alfred North Whitehead

Why a Game?

“Tell me and I forget.
Show me and I remember.
Involve me and I understand!” — Variously attributed to: Aristotle; Confucius; Voltaire; Benjamin Franklin; Native American proverb; Chinese proverb

There are countless valuable initiatives and resources highlighting humanity’s plight: books, documentaries, college courses on sustainability, workshops, speakers, activist groups, eco-villages, regenerative movements and more. Amidst this flurry of urgent and passionate activity, there is no initiative pulling humanity together as if our species’ very existence depended on it.

“Science suggests the next step of human evolution will be marked by an awareness that we are all independent cells within a super-organism called humanity.” Bruce Lipton & Steve Bhaerman, Spontaneous Evolution

No initiative has yet attempted a rapid, global cultural shift towards a form of civilisation more closely aligned with Nature.

“The major problems in the world are the result of the difference between how Nature works and the way people think.”― Gregory Bateson

Very few initiatives gently and lovingly point out our own complicity — no matter how ‘green’ or ‘sustainable’ we may think we are — in the system that we so desperately want to change.

“If one does not understand how one is part of the problem, one cannot understand the nature of the solution required.” — Anthony Judge

Renee Lertzman, psychologist and author, explains this tacit complicity best:

“It’s important to remember that inaction [regarding climate change] is rarely about a lack of concern or care, but is so much more complex. Namely, that we westerners are living in a society that is still deeply entrenched in the very practices we now know are damaging and destructive. This creates a very specific kind of situation — what psychologists call cognitive dissonance. Unless we know how to work with this dissonance, we will continue to come up against resistance, inaction, and reactivity.” —Renee Lertzman, author of Environmental Melancholia: Psychoanalytic Dimensions of Engagement.

We believe that a game can achieve — at scale — what previous initiatives have thus far not been able to achieve: the global coordination of the birthing of an entirely new — as yet undefined — form of human organisation, instead of resistance, inaction, reactivity and disjointed efforts to address symptoms.

“Frame it simply, and people can act, even if ineffectually; frame it as the complex adaptive system that it is, and people go back to television. From climate change to biofuel debates to biodiversity, we therefore continue to flail, trapped between the Scylla of simple, individual, local and ineffectual, and the Charybdis of complex, emergent, and unintelligible.” — Brad Allenby, Naming the Problem in Order to Solve It

Characteristics of the Game

The following intentionally brief characteristics, in no particular order, describe the final version of the game, if indeed there is ever a final version. Some may sound impossible to achieve, within our current understanding. The list is provided as a starting point for game designers to develop further.

Worth bearing in mind is that the game does not directly address any specific topic of ecological or social activism. The primary objective of the game is to achieve Collective Intentionality.

“The crucial element in collective intentionality is a sense of doing something together, and the individual intentionality that each person has is derived from the collective intentionality that they share.” — John R. Searle, The Construction of Social Reality
  • Highly engaging, massively scalable with rapid adoption — ideally we require 1bn passionate players in a short space of time.
  • Global reach but local impact (glocal).
  • Inspired by Nature’s principles and informed by Indigenous peoples, who are generally in close commune with Nature.
  • Current popular games often involve the “slaying of dragons or monsters.” This game’s monsters are war, poverty, inequality, fires, floods, cyclones, plastic waste gyres, dying forests and coral reefs and the plethora of super-wicked challenges our planet faces. Humanity’s foes become our invented economic systems and monocultural science at odds with spirituality and Indigenous teachings about the duties to future generations and the interconnection of all of life. The goal isn’t so much triumphing over enemies, but making glocal friends to manifest a world that works for all.
  • Appeals to those who self-identify as activists as well as those who don’t i.e. wide appeal.
  • Mainly played on a smart phone, tablet, laptop or computer, with options to engage offline (to cater for those who don’t have access to technology).
  • Free to play with in-game purchase options to convert fiat currency into the game’s cryptocurrency. (The game exists not to make a profit, but should be able to cover running expenses from voluntary purchases.)
  • Rewards are issued in tokens or cryptocurrency.
  • Players may use anonymous player names, but each player has a verifiable self-sovereign identity, with the game ideally running on a decentralised, blockchain architecture.
  • A leaderboard, by geolocation, with scores reflected as reputation. The leaderboard (or dashboard) also serves as a repository of all feedback, where every player is a feedback mechanism.
  • The game’s “currency” should create an entirely new economy or method of exchange. See LETS, CES, Time Banking, Sardex and the Terra as well as earlier examples like Curitiba’s garbage, the 1930s post-war Wära and Wörgl, Japan’s WAT, Turkey’s vadeli çeks, the Brazilian Saber, the Swiss WIR and the Balinese complementary currency system.
  • Regular payments to advanced players, based on their reputation, along the lines of a decentralised Universal Basic Income. Note the risks of a centralised UBI and reasons why UBI won’t work.
  • A marketplace or classifieds directory which allows the community of players to trade goods and services directly with each other, using the game’s currency.
  • An internal governance system maintained by the players themselves, where those with higher reputation have more voting power and votes can be delegated to those with reputation in specific areas of specialty.
  • A highly dynamic game, influenced by real-world crises like wild fires, oil spills, flooding, drought, immigration issues and other crises reported in the news.
  • The game’s ecosystem should, in due course, become a potential replacement for long-standing institutions which are no longer trusted, for example: media, education, healthcare, energy, technology, communications, mobility, judicial, retail, banking, globalised businesses, charities, NGO’s, the concept of leadership itself, and others.
  • Longer term, the game itself should evolve into a system of organising societies where every member thrives within ecological limits, transcending the two dominant organising systems today: capitalism and communism. Essentially, players become a collective of technologically advanced stateless people scattered throughout the world, coordinating regenerative activities en masse. Watch Professor James Scott, author of The Art of Not Being Governed explain why people would deliberately remain stateless:

Game Examples That Inspire

Buckminster Fuller

Our primary inspiration is Buckminster Fuller’s 1961 World Game — the game he envisioned for solving the greatest world problems as seen at that time. Today, though, we have even greater crises, as well as immense progress in the field of gaming enabled by the Internet.

The World Game has more recently been adapted by o.s.Earth, the International Futures Forum and Schumacher Center for New Economics.

Overview of Bucky’s World Game
Brief demonstration of the IFF World Game

The limitation of these adaptations of the World Game is that they don’t start with the assumption that the system itself can and must be changed i.e. they all operate within some very basic constraints of the current system.

Jane McGonigal

Jane is on a mission to show that playing games can change the world, because games:

  • Trigger urgent optimism
  • Weave a strong social fabric
  • Inspire blissful productivity
  • Have epic meaning:

Quote from her talk:

“We’re witnessing what amounts to no less than a mass exodus to virtual worlds and online game environments.” — Economist Edward Castronova

Some of Jane’s similar games:

Will Wright

Will is the creator of the highly popular SimCity (1989) and The Sims (2000) with numerous sequels and spinoffs. In this TED talk he describes his 2008 game, Spore. We are inspired by the ability to navigate through various scales of the game, from micro to macro.

Loom Network

Founded by James Martin Duffy and Luke Zhang, Loom Network is a highly scalable gaming ecosystem running on Ethereum. It’s a proof of concept for games with tokens as rewards and without causing congestion on the entire mainchain (a common problem with popular Ethereum dApps). The Loom team built CryptoZombies to help educate and inspire the next generation of blockchain game devs and they’re about to launch Zombie Battleground, a blockchain-based card trading game that raised over $320k in crowdfunding. You can see their latest news, as well as a video demo of their game, in this announcement:

Many, many other inspiring examples of world-changing games could be provided, but hopefully this short list provides some indication of the intentions we are holding for this game.


If these brief notes about a game-changing game have triggered ideas which haven’t been considered, please leave a comment or reach out privately.

Thanks for playing along!