The Tragedy of the Commons


SmileUrbo is largely based on the Tragedy of the Commons theory. This economic theory explains that within a shared-resource system, individuals will behave and act on self-interest rather than the common good by depleting the system of its resources through their collective action. The Tragedy of the Commons was popularized in an article by ecologist Garrett Hardin, published in the magazine Science (1968).

In the article, Hardin illustrates the tragedy of the commons by describing rural communities that feed dairy cows on shared land. Initially, the cows grazed just enough to allow the pasture to grow back. However when farmers continued to buy more cows, the land became overpopulated destroying the pastures. With the lack of usable pastures, the cows were unable to produce the dairy products that were the main source of income for the farmers. In this example, Hardin emphasizes the detrimental consequences of the greed that underlines the Tragedy of the Commons.

When this sort of unsustainable cycle of using resources begins, not only is it beneficial in the short term, it also encourages relationships based on mistrust. For example, 3 farmers who share a patch of land to feed their cows begin to notice that their pasture does not have enough space or resources to continue to feed their cattle. 2 of the farmers agree to remove a certain number of cattle to avoid completely depleting the land of resources; one farmer however, may verbally agree but never carry out his promise in order to have an economic advantage over the other two. The Tragedy of the Commons shows the value of cooperation in the use of limited resources.

SmileUrbo is based on the assumption that the Tragedy of the Commons will apply to most players. Quick profit (individual points) is inherently more motivating than the village development (final indicators). Even with the threat of losing the game as a group (red indicators), immediate profits are alluring.

When playing SmileUrbo, it would be beneficial to emphasize to the participants the effects of the Tragedy of the Commons because they are reflected in the real life social structures SmileUrbo is based on.