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Grizzly bear trade post and the inverted tragedy of the commons

Jeff Warrender
United States
Averill Park
New York
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Semi-coop is a term used to described games in which players are playing competitively but there's a "group loss" condition. Think of, e.g., the wildlings in Game of Thrones; if not enough people contribute to the wildling track, the group as a whole loses. This style of game has its detractors, and I think I'm joining their ranks, but not because I have any particular objection to that style of game; rather, because I think as a sub-genre it glaringly omits (to date) a different problem, which I'm calling the inverted tragedy of the commons.

The tragedy of the commons is a familiar game theoretical concept usually illustrated with, well, a commons. There's a town with a shared area where the townspeople may bring their sheep to graze. If we all let our sheep graze a reasonable amount, all will be well, but if I let my sheep overgraze, I incur no direct consequence from this, and in fact gain an advantage, so there's an incentive to me to overgraze. But if we all think that way, the common will be depleted and none of us will benefit from it.

The inverted form of this problem is illustrated a new game idea called Grizzly Bear Trade Post.

This game is set in the Yukon, and we are each homesteaders. Each turn we have a limited number of available actions, which we can use to improve our homestead and expand our prosperity. But there's also a grizzly bear in the neighborhood, who has set up a trading post. If one of us gives him fish, he'll happily provide that player with some of the needed resources, and since fish are plentiful this is a much lower cost than what we'd pay to acquire those resources at the market in town, and in fewer actions than if we were to harvest those resources ourselves. So, there's considerable benefit in trading with the grizzly bear.

At some point, when the bear has been fed enough fish, he has become freakishly strong, and eats all of us, at which point the game ends.

He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
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