We’re looking for a few good pre-alpha users to play “Sugar” — our game of social challenges and rewards. We’ve been working on it for several months as our pandemic project and we’re at the point where we need feedback.

First I’ll explain the absolute bare-bones basics of how to play, and then talk more about why we think there is something special here, and the kind of feedback we hope to get.

Note I should mention that the whole idea is fraught with risk, and who knows if it will really succeed or crash and burn horribly — but we are excited by it; and any help or time is hugely appreciated!

THE ABSOLUTE BASICS OF GAMEPLAY

The game consists of 3 core actions:

  1. Make a post — offering a challenge to others.

How do I sign-up?

Sign up at https://sugarhero.world . You need to ask one of us for an invitation code — we are limiting this to friends and peers only — but will be fairly permissive on who we let in. Message any of us if you know us or join us on Discord and we will set you up: https://discord.gg/Wnwv4rB .

The actual process of signing up takes place on the home page. We use google cloud services to provide a secure private signup mechanism, and we promise not to share your email with anybody, or use it for anything except for directly communicating about issues in the game — we’re not going to spam you with messages or let other people have your email address.

Here is the current splash screen you should see that invites you to sign up:

Note you may get a google pop-up to sign in (basically we ourselves are using a third party service to make sure your emails are secure).

How do I see posts and other user activity?

If you are logged in and click on the logo in the top left corner you should see a scrollable activity feed of recent posts. This looks like this right now (depending on how you have set your screen color options and so on):

How do I make my own post or delete a post?

On the very top row of the app, once you have been approved and logged-in you will see a speech bubble “💬” icon. Click on that:

Once you click on that to see a form you can fill out for your post. Making a new post gets its very own page — which may be a bit unusual for you if you are used to Twitter or Facebook. Here is one I am making:

Note: If you are in a group area when you post — then your post will magically go into that area.

Also — although this is totally optional, you can add a “reward” to a post. This tells users in general what kind of reward you may be offering. More on that later.

You can delete posts also — as shown below. This will delete all responses on the post of course.

How do I respond to a post?

Click on the “💬” speech bubble on the post itself:

You will see a response input box — you can type into that and also add a photo:

How do I give a reward? What are rewards?

Rewards are a way to change the dynamics around posting. Basically a reward is a small amount of money in a cryptocurrency. They are a core part of this experiment. We are looking for ways to separate noise from signal. While this isn’t about money, the fact is that talk is cheap, and money helps prevent spammers from posting tons of noise that wastes time of all participants.

First you will have to load up your wallet with Ripple. You will need a Coinbase or Uphold account to do that. To see your public Ripple account information you can go to your Sugar Page — which you can see from the menu.

On a post itself you will see a diamond emoji “💠” — click on that to show the rewards you can give,

What other basic activities can I do?

  1. Create a group, or join a group, or leave a group (by hearting it).

BEYOND THE BASICS: DESIGN

What is the game all about?

Sugar Hero is a game of real challenges and real rewards. Anybody can post up any challenge to other players, and then other players can respond to the challenge. All challenges, all responses and all rewards are consensual. If you like the responses to a challenge that you posted, or any other challenge anybody posted, then you can give those players a reward.

Why do you want people to test?

Help us find good use-cases, examples and tiny tasks or chores that you need solved — and see if they can be solved. These can be serious, fun, silly. Find bugs. Help frame and seed the conversation, set the tone and tenor of the experience — defend the core values from bad actors.

What do you mean by “challenges”?

There is a space of tiny fun challenges and tiny rewards that is a rich fertile territory for playful engagement. We’re still actually ourselves trying to get a feel for it, and that’s part of the conversation. But here are a few ideas:

  1. Suggest a good DM for our zoom D&D game!

Why bother doing challenges?

Really it comes down to why bother doing anything? Do we do things only for money? Or do we do things because we’re bored? It’s not 100% clear what our motivations are. Do we do things to meet friends? To get laid? To make ourselves feel like we’re contributing? There are a million motivations — and finding healthy motivations is part of the puzzle.

There are some other possible reasons or motivations besides the obvious however:

  1. Challenges can be socially useful; for example a challenge to come help do a beach cleanup can help your community and also introduce you to like minded friends. People want to help people; they just need ways to filter through the noise.

Notably, the game itself uses itself to help debug and test the user interface — and this is an example of the kind of “micro task” that the service is intended to help formalize:

https://sugarhero.world/sugar/post/IL9znP4lyNZrtyiucAKi#The-first-5-people-to-post-their-best-halloween-pumpkin-photo-%F0%9F%8E%83%F0%9F%8E%83%F0%9F%8E%83-will-get-a-pumpkin-reward-which-translates-to-about-45-XRP-or-about-11-dollars.-Trick-or-Treat!

What kinds of communities is this game aimed at?

I’m glad you asked. This is one of the hardest problems.

One of the main goals of this early alpha stage is to find the right communities where there are both energetic participants who want to play, but also other participants who want to create rewards.

I’ve been personally imagining things like this:

foodies … “what can you make with a persimmon?”
adventure … “show a picture of yourself on this peak”
photos … “whats your best garden flower photo”
exercise … “show your mapmyrun photo”
ecotecture … “whats your best eco intermediation that is artistic?”
health … “whats your exercise plan?”
pandemic … “show us that you’ve been staying home”
chores … “help me replace this bike wheel”
jobbies … “help me fix this wordpress”
helpme … “help me proofread this essay”
garden … “whats your best cucumber?”
knittery … “show us your best hat”
meta … “what is a good challenge to ask somebody on sugar?”
artistic … “draw this figure”
musical … “do a riff on this musical motif”
funny … “whats a good joke to go with this image?”
poetic … “i need a poem for my wedding”
kind … “who have you helped today?”
challenges … “can you run to the top of dolores heights and back?”
games … “solve this suduko first”
quizzes … “we’re looking for people to help us review this website”
humangoogle … “does anybody know somebody in scotland?”

Here are some sample groups I posted — I suspect these will change over time:

What about group dynamics and freedom of speech?

When you’re dealing with more than one person you start to encounter issues around freedom of speech, healthy conversations, even some fears around “cancel culture” real or not.

I tend to be sympathetic towards people who have been injured, and who have been injured historically. In America (where I’ve been living for the last 20 years) there’s a long history around abuse of minorities, newcomers and disenfranchised that we’re only starting to examine. And in some ways I’m less charitable to an idea of absolute “freedom of speech” such as many of my more libertarian friends espouse — but at the same time I do want to find ways to foster healthy discourse at a community level, where people don’t have to appeal to authorities, where power is pushed to the edges, and people have the right powers to boot bad actors or insincere trolls or other people out for a quick laugh or who just want to hurt others.

I do acknowledge that there’s an issue today where tools and techniques are weaponized. We’ve all seen real issues where people are injured by others, and at the same time we also see a tendency towards using any tools we have to push each other away. The stakes feel unreasonably high, and it often feels like people are pushed into corners and are reacting badly. I do tend to be somewhat charitable to over-reactions but I do look for ways to destress any feeling of duress; to find ways to create a feeling of comfort around engagement over stressful issues.

In that light I do feel like sincere conversations, reasonably engaged, that trend towards system wide beneficial outcomes are what I’m seeking — but ultimately as (or if) this project grows it will need to deputize people to help administer these social interactions.

Understanding the psychology of handing out rewards is still very much part of the research. It’s complicated, because we have to separate out the idea of bad actors, and people who want to troll, grief, cheat or ruin the experience for others, and then we have to focus in on real usage. Although the value is not actually around getting rewards, the idea of rewards helps filter out bad actors.

We’ve posted up some example groups — I don’t actually think these groups are going to be the final groups. I believe more will come to exist quickly if this whole idea works at all.

How are you filtering bad actors?

A game like this can be used for all kinds of things, many of which are highly illegal. I think the best way to keep this game from getting shut down by say various levels of legal authority is to police ourselves first. There are several mechanics:

  1. Making everything fully public; so everybody can see every post — discouraging say adult material or drugs or other things we don’t want right now. [ Note I personally support adult material but I can’t deal with it right now in the current scope of the app which is pg rated — and it will have to be added later. I simply cannot police it.]

These are just a few ways that I’m trying to reduce bad actors using the game for nefarious ends. I’m actually a bit worried about this, and it’s one of the things that we need to explore and discuss — and why I’m restricting sign ups.

As mentioned I think I may later shift the system to emphasize participant quality and trust, where people earn powers over time for being sober, non-escalatory, and not trolls — and remove the invite only mechanic.

Participants can cash out? Isn’t that risky?

Yes it is risky. We will see how it works out. Right now this is the direction I am exploring. I want to play with the fabric of our reality; not just within the current system itself. To play with the fabric I have to play the with economics and rules of our society.

Rewards are currently in XRP (Ripple). I require that all players only use legal sources to play (so you should have either a Coinbase or an Uphold account or a legal crypto account in your jurisdiction); I don’t want this site to be used for money laundering and I don’t want to get arrested for somehow helping enable transactions even though people could do it without me anyway and I am not in the “middle” in any sense.

I don’t take any cut of this right now; so I’m covering the hosting out of pocket. Right now my goal is purely to explore the idea and implications. This is effectively an art project at the moment.

Later I may switch to something like this : https://medium.com/the-cargo-times/the-comprehensive-guide-to-gem-mining-9d22bf24384d

(Note that one slight current hassle of using XRP is that new accounts have to be funded in the XRP ledger to the tune of around $12.00 to start due to fluctuations in XRP. That means the first gift given to a new account has to be $12.00 USD at least. My goal is more around tiny rewards such as 5 cents or 25 cents. But that can be improved later.)

How can I provide feedback?

The kind of feedback works best is “yes and” feedback; what I can do to make it better — what it needs — what do people expect? I do need criticism that is constructive; that is actionable.

You can reach me directly on twitter at ʞooH ɯlǝsu∀ and also at anselm@gmail.com or https://linkedin.com/in/anselm as well.

We also have a discord server for casual conversations where other collaborators are present beyond myself if you have urgent issues:

Why are you making this game? Why aren’t you flipping burgers somewhere?

I tend to think a lot before I execute. In this case I have probably too much thinking here that I need to get out of my head. I’ve been unable to do much else sadly and I’ve turned down good opportunities elsewhere to explore this vision. Here are some of the deeper ideas:

Money and the architecture of space. On the surface the game is an exploration of ideas around what money “is”. I’m captivated by how the spaces we build in turn change us as people. We build rules and laws, including currencies, and those in turn create incentives for certain kinds of behavior. I’ve written about this more in other posts at https://anselm.medium.com and we ran a conference recently at https://futureofmicropayments.web.app that explores these ideas as well.

Sugar Hero. I specifically call the game “Sugar Hero” (or sometimes “Sugar”) because it is a metaphor for the idea of how incentives attract people to certain activities, while as well, there’s an idea of being heroic, or going above and beyond to help people in the world around you. I believe that the right kinds of rewards, rules and structures may provide new tools or ways to help solve some of the other challenges we are facing.

Geological systems perspectives. More deeply some of the ideas inspiring this site include “1000 blank white cards” and “Oblique Strategies”. Beyond this there are larger conversations around how we organize as communities, how we solve problems — and this touches on a different perspective of how we relate to the world as discussed by Lewis Mumford or Manuel de Landa.

Serendipity. We live in a world brimming with invitations; secret side doors on reality that lead to whole new perspectives. These are often invitations to embrace serendipity, to escape the routine, to find our worth, to leverage our competencies, to grow. To get out of the house, to do use our bodies, to engage and interact with others, to explore and strengthen our communities and neighborhoods.

Real world. How do we build real world experiences? Where players have to take action to take part; not merely consume the experience passively. At the very least it should be a kind of oblique strategies todo-list; where you can pickup challenges just for fun, just to try something new and get out of your own head. At the most it may be a way to signal about real services or opportunities that are transient, or not high value, or somewhat personal or private, or otherwise difficult to communicate and share.

Creating glue. How do we produce something that has real meaning and real value for communities; that actually helps? To not just solve problems but to create glue, to broker connections between people. To help people see each other better, to help people signal to each other better, and to exercise ideas around building trust — where trust is earned over time.

True Signals. We live in a noisy landscape where it is hard to see and hear each other clearly. There are outside actors who actively work to penetrate our social networks and inject distorted news and events for their own benefit. If we are a kind of group organism it is as if our nervous system is being hijacked. Is it possible to build networks that can mark competing interests? What would it be like if all the participants in a network acted with utmost integrity to that network? Or if the network could actually help find truth?

Verbs versus nouns. Transient and ephemeral events tend to be hard to share. So many of our tools focus on ‘nouns’ — concepts that are immutable and static. But there is a world of ‘verbs’ — where things exist only for a moment — that are actionable and useful only if you hurry. If our tools can work with us here then we can increase a latent field of serendipitous probability — perhaps services like foodcarts could pop up just in time and then fade to re-emerge elsewhere. A fluid fickle dynamic real time interaction that is less about things and more about relationships.

Relational networks to nature. There’s also a possibility of more people reconnecting to the world around them; of people in communities forming their own relational network that includes nature — not just each other. This means their own names for things, their own ways of identifying what is actually valuable, and their own choices about where to donate their energy in terms of time, treasure and talent.

Human Scale. There’s also an idea that in our endless nomic like rule making that we should think not just about a delightful user experience, but also about what kinds of people our tools, laws and architecture create. Our own lives are a form of applied philosophy. We want to live in a way that encourages honesty, vulnerability, neighborly relationships, respect for other people and nature and a life lived in human social networks, at human distances, under human cognitive burdens and at human time scales. To reward people for being friends with real actual people around them, not just self selecting for online friends in an echo chamber, but for being helpful, actually tolerant, for being able to walk somewhere to meet somebody than having to get in a car, or go online, for being able to interact with the natural world in a way that is not purely ornamental (as our world often seems to be) but one that is critical and vital; magical, serendipitous and worth mythologizing. See Ambers talk here for more on this:

https://dentthefuture.com/cal/dent-home-with-amber-case-living-planning-and-building-at-human-scale

As an echo on the human scale motif — I’m interested not just in making things feel human, but also in helping make better humans. And I’m interested in small exchanges of energy that are honest; and where we can watch who honors what promises over time, and find a virtuous circle of stakeholders.

How are you making this game?

The “way” I’m making this game experience also impacts on how quickly I can respond to design changes, new ideas and fresh thinking.

A game really is an exploration of a search space — and what you’re often really doing as a developer is more developing a “capability”.

Games are complicated, with many different elements, and can be hard to wrap ones head around. A recent conference poster has a nice image that for me summarizes the peculiar challenges of making a game:

Any game must be flexible, easy to change, easy to improve. To that end this game is currently browser based, running on firebase and using off the shelf tools. It is a single page javascript app and I’m trying to keep the code as simple and clean as possible with few third party dependencies.

Beyond the code itself of course are a ton of other materials; all of which end up being exercised and expressed in the actual code. There’s the game mechanics: the philosophy and theory of what you’re asking players to do, the impacts you imagine it will have on players. Then there are legal concerns, and security concerns, and scaleability issues.

Probably the biggest challenge is how the user perceives the experience. It’s easy to make something that “runs” but it is hard to make something that “feels real”; that somehow makes that transition from super nerdy technical teaser to a trustable user experience. This is somewhat intangible property is the hardest part of making a compelling experience and is the difference between make or break, and it is where I need the most help.

Will this go from an experiment to a product?

I do want to build a product out of this. That bridge will be next. It requires a team, and requires a bit of a different mindset; more around customer acquisition, marketing and so on. There are also a huge number of bridges to be crossed that are non-technical.

Also, as a product, it has to be fair to all parties from its foundation. I don’t want to see people exploited by a bad implementation. I want a rotating board of directors that has an ownership stake and that makes sure that no one party (including the founders) gets unfair power over a new social space.

My own particular struggle is commercialization. I’m a great “studio musician” in that I’m a good team player at building experiences to spec, for other creatives — but I simply need more practice building entire companies and businesses. Each of us obviously has strengths and weaknesses, and part of the challenge for me is becoming better rounded in other ways to be able to better execute larger more complete visions and stories that are fair to all stakeholders. I see this as a fairly typical artist journey however; we all have to work at this and it does feel like we are all constantly struggling and growing.

What if it fails?

I think as an artist that I want to build work that tangibly impacts the world around us; the social, political, economic and environmental concerns and possibilities for change.

For me talk is cheap — in many ways insufficient. Because I’m technically inclined, it is (for better or worse) sometimes easier to build something that others can try out themselves than to just say make a pitch.

Note that in this context of art when I say “work” I do mean something a bit specific. In my mind there are two kinds of work — the theory of a thing and the practice of a thing. I’ll belabor these points a bit for clarity:

  1. There’s a kind of work that is intangible; where one can try to suggest a new point of view or build an art piece that is a critical inspection of the status quo. We see excellent thinking, work and viewpoints from media theorists from all across the spectrum of views — from artists such as Banksy to media theorists such as Douglas Rushkoff. And we see many conversations examining how those theorists attempt to frame or re-frame issues in the world around us.

In any case, the best total work in my mind is a praxis of both; something that is thoughtful about its own intentions and repercussions, and something that has an implementation or example of itself. The one thing I want to avoid is “not even being wrong” — to not exercise the concepts well enough to even know if they are wrong.

If it fails I’m ok with that. I simply want to exercise the thesis. Right now I think I’ve put in 7 months full time, multiple years of thinking, and at least 100k of $$$ eating into other degrees of freedom I have. So, yes it is a risk, but why live? The point of living is to make art, or make something. I feel like there is something there that may contribute to the world.

I very much appreciate the help and time people put into this. This work is advised by myself, by my partner Katharine, by my friend Amber Case and by many other people who have all contributed time, talent and treasure to this work.

SFO Hacker Dad Artist Canuck @mozilla formerly at @parcinc @meedan @makerlab