Basic Game Outline

Posted on Saturday, March 7th, 2009 at 7:59 pm by Alie in prototype | 3 Comments


Update: Jeremy’s edits are in red. Other team members will make edits as they wish with whatever color text they like! Many thanks to Alie for getting this started.
Hunter’s edits are in fuchsia.

This experiment, if that’s the right word, is to determine if a set of rules can create a more productive discourse in the (digital) commons. We’re using the Janssen and Kies’ net-public sphere criteria to judge the discussion. But first, we have to choose an issue… Should we allow the participants to suggest topics for discussion in order to guarantee some degree of interest and passion? I don’t think we gain anything by forcing dispassionate issues on them, as might be the case in a formal competitive debate structure.
I agree with Jeremy, but I believe it is important that we help steer the conversation towards a debate on something meaningful. If our ultimate goal is to foster social change, we should center the debate around issues that have conflicting views. Looking at it is apparent that users are actively searching discussions in which they can join. They are not just thrown into a room and goaded to speak.
smsc-1Once that has been determined, the participants are divided by their stance on that issue. Each one is paired with a member of the opposite side. (Or rather, paired with someone whose stance is simply different from their own. I am reticent to always default to a polarizing either/or set of relationships because I think it is harmful and generally a huge problem with our political discourse.) Their fates are intertwined because if one is voted out of the commons, their partner must leave with them. (I think we ultimately decided against a voting system, which I’ll address in more detail below.) This is to encourage participants to follow the criteria for a good dialog. And to understand that the value of the commons of ideas depends upon the maintenance of a diversity of perspectives which can be shared equitably and respectfully.

smsc-3In this scenario, the commons is simply a room with good food (and drink!) in it. There is enough for everyone, so no one benefits from kicking each other out — in fact, the object of the discussion is to have a good discussion and that means everyone needs to stay and participate.

smsc-4The discussion proceeds in ten minute intervals (we might start with five for the sake of expediency), even if a participant happens to cross the line or be otherwise unbecoming.

smsc-5At the end of ten minutes, all of the participants vote. They choose one person to remove from the commons based on the specific criteria previously discussed. They can opt not to vote anyone out, which would be the ideal.

I remember that in our initial discussion we had begun to move away from having the participants vote to determine who was behaving contrary to the criteria. Peer evaluation and voting in this capacity seems to complicate the scenario too much both in terms of the relationships and length of the experiment. I think it will be more effective to establish an external moderator who monitors and judges the discussion according to our established criteria and then determines who is ejected from the conversation (if at all). Obviously, there are potential problems with this structure — is the moderator a god-like tyrannical figure? — but if the process is transparent and the criteria clear, the moderator may be positioned as the “common good,” i.e. the pursuit of civil discourse. Of course, one iteration of this scenario might keep the evaluation criteria secret as another case study.
From our last meeting I remember us agreeing that the idea of having a supreme judge would not work if we are attempting to model the commons. We also spoke about the “Like” feature on facebook, where users can only praise, not denounce. I think we said this would be a positive model for interaction because it is encouraging participants to contribute more relevant and intriguing comments. By using a system of voting for instead of against, we could eliminate those who are slacking in the conversation, thus engendering a sense of competition and respect for another’s views.

smsc-6If they do decide to remove someone, their partner must leave as well and the discussion continues without them. They do have to option of eventually returning to the commons, however. (By what mechanism? Simply waiting a period of time, or something else?)

smscThis same game is conducted through various media to determine the similarities and differences in the methods of communication and hopefully carry the courtesies which are common in face to face interactions over to digital media.

I’d really like to start exploring other modes of communication sooner rather than later — I don’t think we necesarrily need to follow a linear progression. It might make sense to hold a group chat version of this as soon as we can organize it and the participants.

3 Responses to “Basic Game Outline”

  1. # On March 11th, 2009 at 12:59 pm Jeremy wrote:

    Great work, Alie. And the illustrations are quite effective and helpful. I’m adding my own comments about the game into your post directly and hope others from the team will do the same.

  2. # On March 18th, 2009 at 10:11 am Jethro Heiko wrote:

    I think this looks really good. The two questions I am still asking, not resolving, but want to share are:
    -How does the incentive (food and possibly drink) function and is it another variable that complicates the experiment? In the commons what is the incentive to participate by the rules and can we duplicate that?
    (this may be overlay simplistic)
    -Does this approach reinforce the false notion that there are just two sides to a discussion or debate, and is that a problem for us if it does?

  3. # On March 20th, 2009 at 4:35 pm Alie wrote:

    Good call Hunter on the means of “voting.” I do remember us being reluctant to vote someone out, but I also know we were worried about the “god-like” moderator. Elevating the most ideal is probably the best way to avoid the pitfalls of the alternatives.

    I’d like to point out in light of Jethro’s second question, that in the argument of voting people out versus using an external moderator, it was a third option that won out. Is there a moral to that story?