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🕊 Freedom and Open Source

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Freedom has long been a cornerstone of the Web 3 narrative. Cryptocurrency will liberate us from centralized financial systems. Decentralized storage and data commons will allow us to take back our data and identity. For Web 3 games in particular, Non-fungible Tokens (NFTs) are seen to be the standard that will let us break free from closed virtual ecosystems.

In 2018, as the game industry zoomed past the 100 billion dollar mark, platforms doubled down on ads and in-app purchases. Empowered by the promise of NFTs, some Web 3 startups emerged as a counterculture to the entrenched attention economy.

This is a critical point: the products we create should not aim to make people "more free" - that way lies false marketing campaigns and disappointment.

Our products should be conscious of, and communicate clearly, how they constrain the people who use them. In doing so, they create the environment for people to become aware of the trade-offs they themselves are making, which is the only kind of freedom we can trust to generate sustainable value.

Just A Piece of The Puzzle

Three years on, and the game industry seems to have hardly noticed. In Superdata's 2020 Year In Review report, there was no mention of blockchain and NFTs.

NFT utility in games have become less trendy, and more startups have started to focus on other use cases for it such as cryptoart and DeFi. As gas prices soar and our game NFTs become too costly to use, we can easily come to the conclusion that we've just replaced our centralized shackles with a brand new set of constraints.

...the first lesson of complex systems theory is that the world is not linear, it's loopy:

Loopy Interconnected Systems

We can turn once again to Nicky Case, who helpfully reminds us that change usually comes from Evolution, Not Revolution.

The game industry is a huge interconnected ecosystem of agents that includes game developers, content creators, platforms, publishers, ad providers, and game engines, just to name a few. If we try to replace one part of the puzzle, the part that replaces it will be exactly the same shape.

There are numerous examples of this: one instance is when app stores were seen to be an equalizer for game development, but through the years have reconsolidated around who controls discoverability. Another is how game engines like Unity were supposed to democratize game development, but the drive for growth and current market conditions have led them to optimize around ads.

To those trying to enact meaningful change, it may feel as if we're simply a pathetic dot in a universe of overwhelming forces.

Systems on Systems

So, no matter where you are in the system – a voter or senator, an inventor or consumer, a buyer or seller, an artist or audience – you can, you must, play a part in changing the world.

Even though evolution revolves slowly, the cultural aspects of it can only begin if you and I start them. And we are not alone: Web 3 itself is an evolution of a movement that started with the Internet, and was carried on by Free and Open Source Software.

Loopy Interconnected Systems

We must always remember that, even though what we're working on doesn't always seem to move the needle now, each of these systems are themselves comprised of smaller subsystems. By focusing on the ones that we can currently affect, we can cascade these small changes into a mass movement.

Humility

Humility is the knowledge we don't have that much knowledge. We're all too stupid to completely overhaul a complex political/economic/cultural system. We can't build a world from scratch, so we have to use what's already there. We can't find a silver bullet, so we've got to evolve all the parts simultaneously. We can't let hubris get the better of us, so we should go slow and steady and sustainably.

It all circles back to how Kernel fellows need to practice humility in the face of these complex systems. Do we know enough? If we were to build our own metaverses, what will stop them from being co-opted by our collective hunger for attention? If we remove governance and moderation in these metaverses, would they not quickly devolve into corrupt societies only focused on revenue?

We need research studies to help us get a clearer view. If we can identify the pieces that make up our systems, we'll be able to more reliably create the outcomes we envision.

Open Metaverse by OV

Finally, we also need to look back and realize that this is a movement that started before us.

Before Web 3, Freedom was also a core tenet of the Internet as we initially imagined it. We are standing on the shoulders of giants like John Perry Barlow, Lawrence Lessig and Sir Tim Berners-Lee.

In the face of these loopy ecosystems we should press on, mindful of the paths these giants have trod.

🎮 A Game Each Week

lichess.org

Lichess - Started in 2010 by Thibault Duplessis, Lichess is an inspiring masterclass on how to build a sustainable, open-source, web game. Lichess.org is a fully-featured service made all the more impressive by its massive scale: the game's servers can support more than a million games played each day!