A case for democracy’s digital playground

Article by Petr Špecián: “Institutions are societies’ building blocks. Their role in shaping and channelling human potential is crucial. Yet the vast space of possible institutional designs remains largely unexplored…In the institutional landscape, there are plenty of alternative designs to explore. Some of them, such as replacing elected representation with sortition, look promising. But if they appear only faintly through the mist of uncertainty, their implementation would be an overly risky endeavour. We need more data to get a better idea of our options.lly.

To explore alternative designs for the institutional landscape, we first need more data. I propose testing new institutional designs in a ‘digital playground’ of democracy

Currently, the multitude of reform proposals overwhelms the modest capacities available for their empirical testing. Only those most prominent — such as deliberative democracy — command enough resources to enable serious examination.

And the stakes are momentous. What if a radical reform of the political institutions proves disastrous? Clever speculations combined with scant experimental evidence cannot dispel reasonable doubts.

This is where my proposal for democracy’s digital playground comes in….Democracy’s digital playground is an artificial world in which institutional mechanisms are tested and compete against each other.

In some ways, it resembles massive multiplayer online games that emulate many of the real world’s crucial features. These games encourage people to work together to overcome challenges, which then motivates them to create political institutions conducive to their efforts. They can also migrate between communities, revealing their preference for alternative modes of governance.

A ‘digital playground’ of democracy emulates real-world features. It encourages people to work together to overcome challenges, thus creating conducive political institutions

That said, digital game-worlds in their current form have limited use for democratic experimentation. Their institution-building tools are crude, since much of the cooperation and  conflict resolution  happens outside the game environment itself, through forums and chats. Nor do these communities accurately represent the diversity of populations in real-world democracies. Players are predominantly young males with ample free time. And the games’ commercial purpose hinders the researchers’ quest for knowledge, too.

But perhaps these digital worlds can be adapted. Compared with the current methods used to test institutional mechanisms, they offer many advantages. Transparency is one such: a human-designed world is less opaque than the natural world. Easy participation represents another: regardless of location or resources, diverse people may join the community.

However, most important of all is the opportunity to calibrate the digital worlds as an optimum risk environment…(More)”.