Tragedy of the commons learning game

About this resource

If you came here because you participate in some form of learning event, you are most likely supposed to click on the button below to select the game that your instructor has prepared.

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Theoretical background

Lack of well defined ownership is the grounds for a famous problem described by the biologist Hardin in 1968; “The tragedy of the commons” (he was not the first; Aristotle noted “What is common to the greatest number gets the least amount of care. Men pay most attention to what is their own; they care less for what is common”, 350 B.C. c:a). In short, this influential work highlight that common resources will tend to be overused as each user will try to maximize his own profit, disregarding the external cost of his/her exploitation (e.g. that there will be less resource left for other users). A typical real-world example of this is the ocean fisheries, where overfishing has led to the near extinction of key species in many places.

In theoretical terms the problem stem from the situation as the margin benefit of consuming one more unit of the resource is greater than the margin cost, for any particular user. In other words, the user gets the full benefit of (over)using the resource, but the cost is shared between all users. Possible solutions to this problem include voluntary or community induced restrictions based on moral or governmental intervention through privatization, regulation or internalization of externalities.

Why is this game important?

When students encounter the concept of the tragedy of the commons it can be difficult to comprehend its practical implications, and also the challenges in solving the problem. By engaging students in the Tragedy of the commons learning game they will get a first hand actor experience in utilizing and managing a renewable but limited common non-restrictable resource. The game also provides context for negotiation and exploring strategies in the common resource management, which is really fundamental to a range of societal issues that we need to deal with.

Post game analysis by the students will stimulate in depth understanding of the challenges of the different managment options and the effect of community induced restrictions. When logged in as an instructor you will get a number of proposed quiz questions, designed and tested to maximize the learning impact of the game session.

In short the game will put students in the role of fishing companies whose (initial) goal is to maximize their own profit by managing a fishing fleet. Options are limited to buying, upgrading and selling fishing boats, and they will get continuos feedback in terms of fish catch yield, experditure, income and financial balance. There are cruical information that the instructor can turn on and off to stimulate or limit certain behaviors.

Who is it for

The game is suitable to use in any context when students are to get in-depth understanding of the concept of the Tragedy of the commons problem. It can be adapted and used on many educational levels, from elementary school to university level courses and professional education.

How do I access the game as an instructor?

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This game differs from previous iterations, like Tragedy of the Commons game (Mitchell) by being a synchronous, countinuous iteration game.

Student reactions

"It was fun to do something completely different from what we're used to do."
"I did find the lack of information at the start and at the end of the session fueled suspicion of others and allowed for a more strategic approach to the learning activity."
"Very fun way of learning these concepts!"
"It´s a pretty good way of learn something. I really liked it."