Introduction.  PiscesTheGame positions players between two irreconcilable ethical tensions critical to sustainability:

  1. Inter- vs. Intra-generational Equity.  How should the needs of future generations be balanced with the needs of the present?
  2. Weak vs. Strong Sustainability. What is owed to future generations?  Technological capital (weak sustainability) or ecosystems services (strong sustainability)?

These tensions are best illustrated in the problem known as the Tragedy of the Commons described on the ActionEthics home page.  In PiscesTheGame, players must choose between two competing approaches for resolving the non-cooperative game-theoretic problem of managing a common pool resource, fish in a public Lake.  Hardin’s view is that privatization of the commons is the best answer, whereas Ostrom’s view favors collective and cooperative management.

Players are grouped randomly into “villages”, according to their Zodiac signs (see ‘How to Play’ section for more details).  For example, all the players born under the Aries sign work together in a single village, while all the players born under Taurus work together in a separate village, and so on, such that their are twelve villages in total (assuming enough players to populate each of the twelve Zodiac signs.  Some villages might be empty).  Each village begins with a boat that they can use to catch fish from the Lake in an amount not to the capacity of the boat.  Every player in the village must “eat” at least four fish every round to survive, which means that larger villages must catch more fish to ensure that everyone in the village is “fed”.  Those villages that can not catch enough fish from the Lake to feed their population will suffer deaths.

Villages that prefer Hardin’s approach can “spend” some of the fish they catch to build private infrastructure in the form of larger fishing boats and private ponds for raising captive fish.  In Hardin’s approach (weak sustainability), extinction of wild fish from the Lake is not a concern, so long as the yield of fish from private ponds is sufficient to feed the village.  However, this approach clearly favors those “rich” villages with boats that are large enough to generate a surplus of fish to invest after feeding their villagers.

By contrast, villages that prefer Ostrom’s approach need not “spend” fish on building infrastructure, but must instead carefully manage the population of fish in the Lake to ensure a sustainable yield that will feed current and future populations.

Scoring. When playing for a grade in a class, students are typically awarded four points per round for the fish they “eat”.  At the conclusion of play (typically 8 rounds), additional points are awarded equal to the number of fish owned by the village (e.g., in a private pond) divided by the number of surviving villagers.  Lastly, students are awarded points equal to the number of fish remaining in the Lake, divided by the surviving population of all villages.  Players that have “died” are awarded only the points they accumulated while they were “alive” — i.e., the four fish eaten per round. This scoring system may be adjusted by the instructor.

The System.  Figure 1 below depicts the flow of fish between the Lake, a fish “stringer” (a thin rope that is threaded through the fish mouth and gill which prevents it from escaping, but allows it to remain alive in the shallow Lake waters near the shore), the ponds and the villagers.  The starting conditions vary.  Some villages may have ponds and stringers stocked with fish.  Some may have large boats, but others will have small boats and no pond.   That is, the starting conditions are unequal, and reconciling these injustices are part of the challenge of the game.

Figure 1. Fish Flow Diagram
Figure 1. Fish Flow Diagram

How to Play.  Villages play the game by tweeting decisions (“commands”) to @PiscesTheGame.  Villagers are expected to work together, such that the decisions made by any member of the village thru the official village Twitter account (e.g., “@AriesXSET”) are binding on the whole village.

PiscesTheGame is played in rounds lasting anywhere from 10 minutes to 8 hours.  Rounds can continue on a 24 hour cycle, so that some rounds could conclude in the middle of the night, depending on the timing of each round.  (Remember that PiscesTheGame is designed to by played internationally.  Your middle of the night is mid-afternoon somewhere else in the world!)

  • Your birthdate determines your Zodiac village.  Click thru this link if you’re unsure of your zodiac sign.  Before play begins, participants divide themselves up into groups representing these villages.
  • Log in to your village twitter account.  Your twitter username is the zodiac sign of your village followed by the letters XSET.  For example, the Aries village username is “AriesXSET”.  The password will be provided to your group by the instructor.  (Please do not change the password for your village twitter account).
  • Create a new tweet. Try tweeting one of the commands listed below using the correct syntax, such as the #fish, #buildboat, #expandpond, or #give commands. Make sure you include ‘@PiscestheGame’ before every command. If you use the correct syntax, you will get a feedback tweet from @PiscestheGame, updating you on your status.createtweet
  • Begin negotiating with your fellow villagers, and other villages!  Consult the list of commands below to build new boat or pond infrastructure, fish from the Lake, or exchange fish with other villages.

It is essential that twitter commands follow an exact syntax, so that they are automatically read correctly by @PiscesTheGame:

To catch fish, tweet “@PiscesTheGame #fish>N” where N = the number of fish.  Numbers that exceed the capacity of the village boat will be treated as equal to the boat capacity.  Fish catches are awarded at the end of each round. When #fish command is used, the fish you catch are put in your pond at the end of the round. If there’s no room in your pond, the fish are stored on the stringer. At the end of the next round, the fish will automatically be removed from the stringer for stocking in the pond (if there is room to spare), or for eating. In cases where one village has entered more than one #fish> command, only the most recent command will be executed at the end of the round.  Moreover, village #fish> commands will be prioritized in chronological order of their most recent command.  For example, a village that enters several #fish> commands, the last of which comes just seconds prior to the end of the round, will receive their fish only after villages that entered their final (i.e., most recent) #fish> commands earlier in the round.  This ordering will become important if Lake fish populations dwindle to extinction.

To expand the size of the boat, tweet “@PiscesTheGame #buildboat>N“.  Each fish invested permanently increases the capacity of the boat by one.  For example, if the boat could previously hold 22 fish, the command “@PiscesTheGame #buildboat>8” while increase the capacity of the village boat to 30.  The #buildboat> commands are executed instantly and are irrevocable.

To build (or expand) a private pond, tweet “@PiscesTheGame #expandpond>N“.  The pond increases in proportion to the total number of fish invested in expansion, in all prior rounds, raised to the power of 3/2, then subtract the total number of fish invested from the total (fish can’t be used twice!) .  That is, pond expansion captures economies of scale.  As the number of fish invested accumulate, the pond size grows faster and faster (see figure below). The #expandpond> commands are executed instantly and are irrevocable.


Villages may give fish to other villages by tweeting “@PiscesTheGame #give>N>@ZodiacXSET” where @ZodiacXSET represents the twitter handle of the village receiving the gift, and N represents the number of fish given. The #give> commands are executed instantly.  Unwanted gifts may be returned or regifted by issuing new #gift> commands.

To receive a tweet reminding you of the population of fish in your pond, on your stringer, the size of your boat and the approximate number of fish in the Lake, tweet “@PiscesTheGame #query>@ZodiacXSET”.

There is no limit on the number of twitter commands that may be issued per round, but be aware that Twitter will not accept exact duplicate tweets in a period of less than two hours. To get around this, simply type some arbitrary characters after the command to distinguish it from the previous one – for example, if you already tweeted ‘#fish>10’ you could tweet ‘#fish>10i’.

End of Round.  Certain game activities occur only at the conclusion of a round, including fishing, eating, and reproduction in the pond and Lake.  (Fish on the stringer do not die, but neither do they reproduce.  There is no limit on the number of fish that can remain on the stringer).  The order of operations at the of each round is as follows:

  1. Pond reproduction.  The number of fish in private ponds increases by 30% (up to the capacity of the individual pond).
  2. Fishing. The fish caught in the boats are subtracted from the Lake population, and placed in village ponds and stringers. (@PiscesTheGame tweets fish catches to each village).
  3. Lake reproduction.  The number of fish in the Lake increase in proportion to the difference between the current fish population and the carrying capacity of the Lake.  Fish births = 0.3*LakePop, wehreas fish deaths = 0.3*LakePop^2/LakeSize, where LakeSize = the carrying capacity of the lake.
  4. Eating.  Four fish per village member are subtracted from the fish on village stringers, or in village ponds.
  5. Villager deaths due to starvation are recorded.  (@PiscesTheGame tweets death reports and updated village populations).
  6. @PiscesTheGame tweets new pond and stringer populations to each village, and tweets a new approximate Lake population.

Communication.  Villagers are encouraged to communicate with each other via Twitter, to ensure close collaboration, cooperation in collective management, or negotiation of agreements.  Villagers may also tweet questions to @ActionEthics (the game moderator account).  However, @ActionEthics will not enforce agreements, nor adjudicate disputes between villages.

Status updates and announcements will be posted on the blog on the ‘Game Status‘ page, and via the @actionethics account on Twitter.

2 thoughts on “Instructions

  1. World inherited by ASU’s Justice and Sustainability class:

    Public lake only has 336 fish left!

    Inherited infrastructure by village:
    Aries: boat size = 20, pond size = 23, fish on stringer = 0, fish in pond = 21
    Taurus: boat size =15, pond size= 0, fish on stringer = 0, fish in pond = 0
    Gemini: boat size =18, pond size = 48, fish on stringer = 19,fish in pond = 48
    Cancer: boat size = 16, pond size = 0, fish on stringer = 0,fish in pond = 0
    Leo: boat size =16, pond size = 0, fish on stringer = 0,fish in pond = 0
    Virgo: boat size = 18, pond size= 0, fish on stringer = 0,fish in pond = 0
    Libra: boat size = 12, pond size = 0, fish on stringer = 4,fish in pond = 0
    Scorpio: boat size = 18, pond size = 58, fish on stringer 0,fish in pond = 9
    Sagittarius: boat size =25, pond size = 141, fish on stringer=0,fish in pond = 13
    Capricorn: boat size = 20, pond size =120, fish on stringer = 0,fish in pond = 33
    Aquarius: boat size = 12, pond size = 29, fish on stringer = 6,fish in pond = 29
    Pisces: boat size = 32, pond size = 81, fish on stringer = 0, fish in pond = 0

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