Commons game

In a classroom simulation game with changing conditions students develop strategies for the use of a common resource so that the profit for the entire group is maximized. Different versions of this game can be played to help students experience and reflect on their behaviors, strategies and outcomes under different conditions.


You can use this game to implicitly or explicitly introduce Elinor Ostrom’s Design principles for cooperation (see teaching material here), as the students identify the different game conditions that allowed them to cooperate and develop strategies.

You can also use this game to implicitly or explicitly introduce the concepts of proximate and ultimate causes of human behaviors. Here, the proximate causes are the game rules and conditions that change between game phases. Depending on the conditions, players are more likely to show rather competitive or rather cooperative behaviors. The ultimate causes of players’ behavior are found in human evolutionary history, where survival over many millennia depended on group life (up to 150 people) and on cooperating in order to use and share the resources around us efficiently and sustainably. Students are able to communicate and cooperate relatively easily when the right conditions are met.

Author: Susan Hanisch

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