Great ideas

MYOPIA: An intergenerational collective action game series



Myopia is a multiplayer turn-based strategy game about time, choices, and consequences. Players assume roles of political, business, military, and civic leaders in a series of epochs taking place between 1900 and 2050, each centered about a social dilemma of the time — a greater good is possible when players work together, but often-conflicting incentives make cooperation and trust difficult. The impact of investments (cf. temporal discounting) and agreements (cf. collective action) made within each epoch and the relationships developed in the course of negotiations cascade to subsequent epochs and so shape decision landscapes and player dispositions. Experience is gained against a backdrop of outcome value-neutrality, and replay exposes players to different roles, new relationships, and varied circumstances.





EPOCH 0 (1900): Technological Revolution, trade-offs training in a local context


An ugly industrial accident claims the life of your husband and best friend, but there’s hardly time to mourn—you’re now the first female president of the struggling labor union he started, and his legacy is in your hands. The place is western Pennsylvania, the time is 1900, and the future is bright but the present is overwhelming. You have limited time, resources and political capital to try to make a few changes. But what are your priorities? If you can get your boys a 20 cent per hour raise, is that more important than stopping the plant’s runoff of mercury into the town’s water supply? Maybe you should first try to get more money put into the schools so all the workers’ children might have a better life. Or maybe you should first line your own pockets and the union coffers a bit to make sure your husband’s children and his life’s work are taken care of first. You could work together with the mayor’s office, the local paper and your millionaire boss to accomplish more together that any of you could separately—if none of them betrays you for their own ends and the union doesn't decide that a woman isn't tough enough for the job.


EPOCH 1 (1920): League of Nations to United Nations


The League of Nations’ Covenant and the United Nations’ Charter strike different balances of organizational clout and member responsibility. Ultimately, only a surviving confederation can have any impact, but is a less binding confederation worth maintaining?


EPOCH 2 (1962): International Nuclear Test Ban Treaty


The second epoch takes place in 1961-63, after the Cuban missile crisis in 1960 and leading up to the nuclear test ban treaty of 1963. Hindsight bias leads people to believe that past events were more inevitable than they are. Citizens of 2014 may assume that successfully avoiding nuclear war and minimizing catastrophic radiation leakages were inevitable, but as players experience an alternate outcome of the Cuban missile crisis they should quickly realize that this is not the case. As role players try to recover and successfully negotiate an international test ban treaty, a number of different outcomes can be obtained, some better and some worse than what actually occurred. Implications in both the political and environmental spheres affect generations to come.


EPOCH 3 (1997): Byrd-Hagel Resolution & the Kyoto Protocol, trade-offs in a global context


The Byrd-Hagel Resolution unanimously disapproved of any international agreement that 1) exempted developing countries from reducing emissions and so 2) "would [relatively] seriously harm the economy of the United States." With this Resolution in place, Clinton signed the Kyoto treaty, but never passed it to Congress for ratification.


Is the Protocol’s disparity of treatment reconcilable, and would reconciliation assuage the concerns of the Resolution so that some form of the treaty could be ratified?


EPOCH 4 (2050): Reagan’s Aliens / District 9


The year is 2050, and the extraterrestrials President Reagan warned of over 60 years earlier have been detected at the Andromeda edge of the Milky Way. Of course, since they have made it this far, we have no hope of mounting a successful offensive campaign, but we do have time to prepare a defense, if we can put our differences aside and quickly unify to respond to the superordinate threat. Have bridges to other global superpowers been burned in previous epochs or can grudges be swallowed and national interests be overcome in time to secure humanity’s survival? When our visitors do arrive, their ship is in shambles, and they seek our help to secure their own survival – do we join in support, ally to subjugate, or fragment and allow contentious niche apartheid?





Many environmental problems are similar to the 'Tragedy of the Commons' where a community resource such as common grazing land is depleted because individuals do not have sufficient incentive to limit usage. There is a great deal of research on how and when to solve (or fail to solve) these dilemmas. Researchers such as the late Elinor Ostrom, (who shared the 2009 Nobel Prize in Economics for this work) have studied how real-world groups like fishermen and farmers solve these problems, usually through highly localized, culturally specific solutions. The world currently faces dilemmas, such as climate change, that play out on an unprecedented, truly global scale and a timescale of decades such that the equivalent of a 'town hall' meeting with all stakeholders is not possible. Multiplayer games, however, have the power to compress time, space, and society to present global, intergenerational problems on a more tractable scale.


Finding optimal solutions to long-timescale problems are also hindered by 'temporal discounting', a phenomenon where individuals undervalue future benefits as compared to present costs. Economists and psychologists have been able to make precise measurements of the discounting rate for decisions such as retirement contributions and personal savings, how many birds in hand are worth exchanging for those in a bush, or how many future marshmallows need to be promised for a presently-owned marshmallow to be relinquished. While some time discounting is perfectly rational, individuals often discount at rates that make even small near-term sacrifices unattractive.


Games allow time shifting of perspectives and so are particularly well-suited to exposing players to time preference issues that emerge from disconnects with their future selves. Commonly, future benefits are discounted because the present is more certain, vivid, and accessible. Simulating future outcomes with the immediacy and immersiveness of modern gaming should affect decision-making and mitigate discounting bias. There is also a second type of cognitive benefit of simulated time travel. Those transported forward in time and confronted with unexplained failures of their decision are more insightful about flaws or unintended side effects than were the same groups looking forward at the point of decision-making (Well-known psychologist Gary Klein developed the decision-making process called 'future backwards' to take advantage of this insight).





MYOPIA will be evaluated on three metrics:


1) Changes in time discounting rates for socially desirable outcomes with deferred payoffs. While there is no 'correct' discounting rate, some rate forms discourage pursuit of deferred-payoff public goods such as preventing climate change. Before and after gameplay individual players will make a series of multiple choice decisions trading off immediate and deferred public goods, across various topics, timescales, and levels of uncertainty. For example:


"Your company has $50,000 to donate to recreational development, which are an identified need in your community. You must choose between two programs:

• Buy and preserve a local farm, which the county has pledged to develop into a multi-use park serving 75,000 residents within ten years.

• Buy a smaller plot of land and develop the land into a park using corporate funds; park would serve 15,000 residents within a year."


By posing a series of such problems with a counterbalanced set of topics and problem frames, the player's implicit discounting rate can be determined. A goal of the game will be to effect a statistically significant change in discounting rates.


2) Increases in empathy and cognitive complexity of player justifications for game-related actions. Decision rationales will be analyzed using a combination of automated and human scoring methods. Empathy for and consideration of multiple stakeholders will be rated using methods to be developed. Cognitive complexity will be measured using LIWC's cognitive dimensions following Owens and Wedeking’s 2011 analysis of Supreme Court opinions, and validated by human raters.


3) Increase in player knowledge of related issues. In the course of the game players should increase their knowledge of important international and environmental issues including climate change. Knowledge of issues is a necessary although not sufficient requirement for political engagement.





Ariel Greenberg develops agent-based models of political and social systems, including models of political communication, regime change, and social identity-based conflict.


Nathan Bos is a psychologist and educational technology developer. His Corporate Social Responsibility game was co-developed at the University of Michigan School of Business and has been adapted for use in several other locations including Singapore and India. The game is based on competing socially desirable outcomes and realistic costs, and includes a novel method for socially-determined game outcomes.


Scott Simpkins is an operations researcher with 15+ years of experience developing games. He recently developed and led a series of competitive analysis policy games focused on the full spectrum of PMESII (political, military, economic, social, infrastructure, information) variables. Simpkins chairs the wargaming working group at the Military Operations Research Society.


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Idea No. 92