The Fishermen’s Dilemma
The Fishermen’s Dilemma is my Master’s thesis game, and the reason I joined the inaugural MFA program in Game Design at New-York University. The game was inspired by Garrett Hardin’s economic theory “The Tragedy of the Commons”, and its goal is to educate players to cooperate and maximize the social gains although their incentive for personal gains is higher. When given access to a common resource, humans tend to overexploit it, and could by all means do the same in the game; however this will result in a lose/lose situation. In the Fisherman’s Dilemma, players need to learn to govern the commons while using partial information, without an external “punisher” (like a government or police) that forces them to cooperate, in order to avoid the potential “tragedy.”
The game is played on iOS/Android mobile devices, and one mutual physical board game, through which two to four players can connect to the same game environment and share the same “augmented” fish distribution. When a player removes fish from the commons, the fish distribution gets updated and synced throughout all devices. The game has hidden information embedded through its augmentation, where each player can only see his nearby surroundings and therefore only part of the board’s information (what fish type remained in the ocean, and where).
The game core mechanic is an n-players prisoners dilemma, where each player (fisherman) tries to fulfill its own mission cards (fishing a specific fish quantity) to get bonus points. However, there are also common cards (public information), that contain the specific fish type and quantity which should be “sustained” by the end of the last round. This situation of common and private missions creates tension — players have to cooperate, although they have higher incentives not to do so. Inability to sustain a majority of the common cards (2 out of 3) results in game fail state, and none of the players receive points.
The players’ accumulated points will display on a public “Leadership Board” and contain the number of games each player played, their total points, and their ratio, to encourage cooperation. For example, if a player has few points but played many games – his ratio will be low, indicating that he is a non-cooperative player. Moreover, the end state of each and every game influences the initial fish population of other games – creating a multiplayer legacy game. Lastly, the game has a sophisticated game “flow” engine that adjusts the game difficulty to the players’ strategic behavior by controlling the fish growth rate, fish price, and fish quantity, hence creating a longer and more meaningful engagement.