Roleplaying, micropayments, co-creation and the commons

This post will talk about a way to explore sustainability for digital goods and creations. For that, an example will be given using roleplaying games, some with classical copyright license, some with a more liberal licenses (ie. something in the creative commons licenses family) and how I can relate with both schemes. This will be talking with some readings from Who Owns the Future and, of course, the games themselves.

I have just finished Who Owns the Future by Jaron Lanier. It was a really enjoyable reading and I think that Jaron has a lot of really good points. My favorite one is that "information is people in disguise". There is no information by itself without people creating it or making sense of it. I share the idea of current information economy being a feudal system where cyber-landlords (Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter, etc) let us inhabitate the cyberspace with the condition of making them richer (I have called this cyberfeudalism). I think also the we need a better way to make sustainable for the people the worth creation that they made through information. I differ with Jaron in important issues. That happenned also in my reading of his previous book: You're not a gadget. Despite of Jaron's clear sight for a lot of grey areas in the information landscape, his view seems binary in other aspects: individuals versus hive mind, capitalism versus communism, State versus Private Corporation. It seems that there is no place for third places like communities or The Commons which do not participate of the mentioned disyuntives. Elinor Ostrom and Biella Coleman have shown us that there is room for places between binaries, in the perspectives of hacker communities and knowledge as a common, among others.

I'm willing to pay more for digital goods after reading Jaron's book, as a way to recognize the people behind the creation of such goods, but also I want to make evident that there are some other ways to be part of the sustainability of the information economy and the people behind it, that are related with what some have called post-capitalism practices. For that I will take a particular example with roleplaying games and the way I participate in both schemes: capital oriented and commons oriented. Hopefully, this example will show that there are possible bridges between them and that you can explore them as a person or as a small group of persons. Of course, top-down explorations are necesary and bigger institutional oriented frameworks like corporations and goverments surely are exploring or will explore some other bridges. And hopefully we will get some convergence between these bottom-up and top-dwon explorations

So, after ending my reading of Who Owns the Future, I started to prepare my next roleplaying session, which I will run (I will be the game master or storyteller). On it I would like to explore some distopic future consequences of the trends on our use of digital technologies and the blind believe in the singularity credo. At the same time I am trying to explore the intersection between commons, cocreation and roleplaying, mainly after I found the successfuly crowdfunding campaign of Evil Hat productions which also let them releasing Fate Core roleplaying game engine as a Creative Commons (cc-by-sa licensed) work. Previously (~2010) I explored this intersections in The Forge, mostly as questions about which games had an open license and if authors where willing to release their works, starting with game engines, under such liberal schemes to allow co-creation. Being roleplaying mainly a co-creation act, this seems like a more viable path to enable this activity as a less fringe phenomena. Anyway, the current signal for me after seeing the Evil Hat's success is that the time has come for sustainable cocreation in RPG. I started to use Fate Core with my roleplaying party, in the previous months. I also bought non-free extensions like Fate Worlds (I & II) and Atomic Robo. This seems like a proper balance: having a commons oriented rule system under liberal license and privative extensions under restritive ones. I have seen this schema on software and I don't like it, but that's because software is mainly a service oriented business while books are around the book as a product. (including the roleplaying genre.)

But I was having narrative isses with my current adventure and, as I said, after reading Jaron's book I was willing to spend some bucks on dealing with them. I went to DriveThruRPG and buy some items searching for inspiration. Two of them will exemplify my relationship as a gamer interested in co-creation and the commons: Numenera, which intriged me since the time when I was not willing to spend a penny on a pdf, if the authors don't contribute to the commons (thanks Jaron!) [2] and Always / Never / Now (A/N/N for short) which was a rewarding discovery thanks to The Free RPG Blog. The first one costed me USD $20 and the second one was in a pay as you want scheme. I pay USD $2 which was over the average as the store tell me later. Numenera is massive, top-notch graphics and ~400 pages for world building and game playing. A/N/N is minimalistic, graphics for the characters only and 32 pages. Kickstater campains for both where successful but Numenera got USD $500.000 (aprox) and A/N/N got USD $8.000 (aprox). So they are in opossite parts of the spectrum, but remember, this post is about bridges and how we can build them, so is about emphasizing differences and interactions with the extremes.

A/N/N is more suited for what I want to explore in narrative, co-creation and commons related issues. Is more agile as a low preparation setup for this weekend roleplaying, but also I feel that me and my party can give back more easily. The fan conditions for Numenera are cumbersome compared to the ones of A/N/N, licensed under cc-by-sa-nc v3.0, which basically says create what you want with this, as long as your creation preserve the same liberties I give you for other creators and you don't make money, which I think is what most roleplaying groups do all the time. In fact I think the critical p2p license (derived from cc-by-sa-nc v30) could be more suited to this scenarios with the possibility of a more fluid comercialization under certain conditions.

But I don't want to pay more for the closed product that for the open one. That would be a way to say: because I'm forced to pay to get the closed products easily I will add more value to it instead of helping building co-creation and the commons with the open ones. So, what I'm going to do to cover the differences between the prices? I will give back with several experiments:

  • I will document and write about the experience and try to reach creators to get feedback and ideas. This blog post is a first example, but also the update 502Lab Zotero repository made while I was preparing this blog post, with gems like the Free RPG Blog, The Gentleman Gamer and reading snipets from A/N/N.
  • I will create a fossil-scm [1] repository to track the changes that A/N/N detonates: translations (surely you have noticed that I'm not an English native speaker), characters sheets, and notes about adventures, some small software apps and so on. They will be licensed under a commons license, so the original work can be enriched complemented and bundled together for a richer playing experience.
  • We will run some experiments about cryptoassets at HackBo, our local hackerspace, this year. (Jaron says that 1000 geeks can change the future, but I think that this number can be reduced with the proper articulation of enough hacker/maker spaces.) I want to see if we can create some combination of cryptoassets and microtasks. So imagine that you're a roleplayer and you have something to give back to the creator: A translation, setup/host a wiki for the local communities, help them with graphics or technical issues. Crytocurrencies can also be used, that can be exchanged with "metalic money". So you can pay as you want with microtasks or micropayments. Even open pools of crytowallets can be introduced for particular authors/products, and similar schemas to Humble Bundle to "beat the average", to increase individual micropayments (a scheme that should be introduced in RPG stores for pay as you want models ASAP!). This goes inline with Jaron's idea of making more accountable the value creation of digital works, but introduces a tweek on the ways of making that efforts oriented towards the commons. This doesn't mean that current schemas can't coexist, and still you can go to your RPG store to pay as usual, but if we want bridges and explorations we need to think outside these schemas to progressive complementary/substitutive ones.

I want this to be a exploration by serendipity. I will go slow, without hurry, while I deal with the rest of my life (family and friends, PhD thesis, research, teaching and consultancy works, etc). This will start very techie/geeky, as you can see, but with the proper convergence with other projects, surely this will start to be more player/author friendly in the future. Of course I could launch some kind of crowdfunding campaign or search for other ways to get economical support for speed up this experiments, but I want to be reactive on the matter instead of proactive, follwing the winds (may be the time for this idea has come and some proposal will be a strong wind in that direction).

So, what will happen with Numenera? Surely I will read it and surely we will play it with the time, but I will wait to see what happens with their contribution schemas for community and players before trying to contribute back. A good sign of the direction they're thinking to follow will be related with the release of their Cipher engine for the creation of other games. What will be the license? Will they follow the Evil Hat approach and release them under a liberal license or will they asume something more close to their current policy?

Numenera and A/N/N are also mediums to explore the future and this will be my way to contribute to that exploration in these mediums.

[1] for a panoramic view see the Wikipedia article about fossil and for a non software developer oriented manual about fossil see the excelent fossil book by Jim Schimpf

This means that I'm willing to expend money now mostly on pdf for read them? No. The costs of the current schema are prohibitive if you live in the Global South, as studies have shown, and most of academic literature is not being served by paywalls. While we can get micropayments and commons working properly, accessing information by alternative means would be the only sensible way to get culture and research properly expanding and healthy.

If fact I wouldn't have been exposed to Jaron's works and corpus of ideas, if I woundn't had access to digital copies of non payed versions of them (Jaron is fully aware of these kind of readers and talks to them in his prologues). Fortunately after talking compulsively about them with friends, Yaneth made me a gift of the physical book. She take the responsability of balancing my karma, and that also allowed a new perspective about what experiments I want to do to take that responsability by myself and to build a better scenario for autors, players and communities, among other people, with same concerns.


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