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Gamers Will Be the World’s First Digital Citizens

Last Updated May 16, 2024 10:11 AM
Last Updated May 16, 2024 10:11 AM
By Pavel Bains
Verified by Ana Alexandre
Key Takeaways
  • Digital communities in gaming offer a prime example of group cohesion and cooperation that transcend traditional boundaries.
  • Exploring the evolution of video games into network states reveals their potential beyond conventional gaming.
  • Enriched by tech advancements, gaming communities will likely serve as breeding grounds for future societal norms and governance models.

The internet is a remarkable tool for connecting us with like-minded people from all over the world. Sometimes, it feels like life would be easier if we could take these online communities and make them tangible. If we could know that our neighborhood was only populated by those with similar beliefs, motivations and priorities.

Well, why can’t we?

What if it were possible for groups to organize in these virtual communities—and then, purchase physical space together to bring them back out into the real world?

Digital communities, gone physical

In our current digital society, in which we increasingly self-organize into virtual groups, it feels like a matter of time until we start to do the same in our physical lives.

While in centuries past, people identified by trade, nationality, or social class, today, citizens of a certain country might feel more affinity with strangers on the other side of the world; avatars who share their passion for manga, Call of Duty, or zero-knowledge proofs.

Even if the mutual interest itself is trivial, it just feels good to find people who value the same things we do, as trivial as they may be.

Currently, they only exist on the internet. But I would argue that these digital communities are akin to virtual tracts of land inhabited by settlers from different corners of the world.

We now have the ability to create the age of the Network State, as delineated by Balaji Srinivasan  in his seminal book on the concept.

A network state is a highly aligned online community with a capacity for collective action. It crowdfunds a territory somewhere in the world before eventually gaining diplomatic recognition from pre-existing states.

First, you conceive it. Then, you achieve it.

I believe, the day is fast approaching when the tools and consensus for realizing a network state are in place. After all, humans have already been self-organizing around mutual values—both online and offline—for many years. The novelty of the network state is that it combines both realms, originating online and then, moving into the physical world.

I believe that a network state will emerge from an unlikely quarter—video games.

Gamers might not seem like the most obvious architects of this new social model. On closer inspection, however, you’ll find there is not such a wide gap between the sort of community envisaged by Balaji and that which exists in gaming culture. Let’s break it down…

Seven steps to self-sufficiency

Balaji’s seven steps to creating a network state are as follows:

  1. Found a startup society.
  2. Organize it into a group capable of collective action.
  3. Build trust offline and a crypto-economy online.
  4. Crowdfund physical nodes.
  5. Digitally connect physical communities.
  6. Conduct an on-chain census.
  7. Gain diplomatic recognition.

Now indulge me, for a moment, and let’s overlay a video game framework:

Found a startup society. Games like World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy already have builders’ guilds and factions with shared goals and aspirations. These virtual communities can take it one step further and become startup societies, wherein players collaborate, organize events, and envision grander objectives beyond the confines of the game world.

Organize into collective action. Gamers naturally organize into groups capable of collective action. Whether through raiding parties in Destiny 2 or strategic alliances in Civilization VI, players collaborate to overcome challenges within the game. This Day Z server  shows people abiding by community laws. These organized groups lay the groundwork for the transition from virtual communities to network unions, where collective action extends beyond the boundaries of individual games and encompasses broader societal goals.

Build a crypto-economy. Crypto is a linchpin that makes a game network state happen. V-Bucks in Fortnite and Robux in Roblox have players using virtual currencies; implementing crypto within a game is a natural evolution. Players can have a currency they can use within and outside the game. Web3 games have started this. In 2025, there will be games that show how a true economy can work within a game in a manner analogous to a country’s GDP.

Crowdfund physical nodes. Players already have a common bond, a common currency, and a vibrant economy. Crowdfunding to buy physical space to gather is next. Gamers have been going to gaming cafes and stadiums to watch esports championships for decades. Now, they can own them. They can take possession of workspaces, living quarters, and hangouts, all centered around their shared interests.

Digitally connect physical communities: With physical nodes established, the next step involves digitally connecting these communities with VR. Games already use it, and platforms like VRChat allow players to socialize, collaborate, and explore common interests. With VR, players traverse seamlessly between digital and physical realms, fostering a sense of belonging and cohesion within the network state.

Conduct an on-chain census: The game network state will need to demonstrate the growing size of its population, income, and real-estate footprint. Games can track all this through blockchain and provide cryptographically auditable proof of legitimacy and growth. This on-chain census serves as a testament to the viability and resilience of the network state, garnering recognition and support from both virtual and real-world entities.

Gain diplomatic recognition. Okay, I’m reaching here. We are a long way from a WoW guild issuing its own passports and welcoming gaming exiles to its low-latency territory. This would be the toughest requirement to meet, but with the previous six in place, critical mass would propel the movement toward its final form.

Games have millions of players and generate billions in revenue. There are sovereign states with significantly less GDP and people. With suitable strategic alliances and diplomatic efforts, there is no reason why a game can’t one day become established as an internationally recognized entity.

Don’t call me a dreamer

I know that with their immersive environments, preexisting digital communities, and complex economies, video games are the closest thing we currently have to the network state.

Video games are transcending the boundaries of entertainment, becoming platforms for social experimentation and innovation, and there you have it—the first scalable realization of a network state emerges. And it won’t be just one game working towards this—there will be many.

The convergence of AI, AR, and video games is blurring the lines of where the physical world ends and the digital realm begins. We are already living through a timeline that our former selves of two decades ago would struggle to comprehend.

Twenty-or-so years from now, don’t be surprised if the first liveable version of a network state has manifested and its citizens are graduates of the very games you play today. The future is going to be wild. Embrace it.

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