(Governance) are you in Creative Mode? Or Survival Mode?

Kent Dahlgren
7 min readJul 3, 2019


Here’s an exercise: approach pretty much any kid between the ages of five and 11, and ask if they like the game Minecraft.

If they say yes, hit them with this question, which is both simple and profound:

“Would you tell me about what you have built?“

The joke is that you can’t get them to shut up about it, and the reason is pretty simple: it’s one hell of an engaging game.

The game satisfies a desire to do something which doesn’t easily exist in the real world: the ability to exercise agency over your affairs. To create the world of your own contrivance.

There are a few interesting corollaries between the game and real life, one of which is the ability to define a governance model of your own contrivance.

The state of current discussions regarding politics are perverted such that no quantity of well-articulated contention will move the needle in any meaningful way.

We are trapped within a hell hole of furious impasse and inaction, even while the entire thing appears to be collapsing, and on fire.

I refuse to debate politics. It’s a dead end.

However, one fantastic way to short-circuit any debate is to ask someone the following question:

Do you believe that the existing governance model is ripe for optimization?

Just push for a simple yes or no answer.

Most people will say yes, and if you agree, then you have created a tenuous trust circle with someone with whom you may have hitherto considered an enemy.

But let’s stick with the trust circle, and avoid any divisive topics.

Good news is: a greater number of people are thinking about how to optimize the world within which they operate, and I’ve been thinking that maybe Minecraft serves as an interesting example of how this will play out in the future in the real world.

Let’s begin with metaphor, and pretend we are children.

There are two modes of gameplay within Minecraft, in general.

One is called “Creative Mode,“ where you are afforded infinite resources and there’s pretty much no way to die.

By the way, “creative Mode“ is really boring. “God Mode” sucks.

There’s a mom that wrote a hilarious blog about her experience with the other mode of gameplay in Minecraft: “Survival Mode.“

At first, she observes that the game is pretty, there’s music playing, and look at the trees and the animals.

And then within about 10 minutes the sun goes down, and it’s dark, and she’s like, “OH MY GOD WHY ARE THINGS EXPLODING?”

The really delightful thing about “Survival Mode“ is that you have to get really efficient about how you are going to survive, because the margins of error are pretty thin.

You have to create shelter to get through the night, you have to collect food, or you will starve to death, etc.

For almost everybody who plays that game, the first few hours are spent literally standing in the dark trying to figure out how you are going to get out of this mess. They don’t know if it’s day or night, and they can hear monsters above. And they are starving to death.

In fact, in short order you are going to have to start thinking about how to invest in a sustainable agricultural enterprise, or you will run out of food eventually.

I mean, technically you could go and try and beat chickens to death, but eventually you run out of chickens.

And in order to feed the chickens, you have to grow wheat, which means that you have to harvest grass, build a farm, and protect it all from animals that tend to wander around and smash your food.

You also need to create tools and weapons. For a game that is supposedly recreational, it’s one hell of a lot of work.

If you are playing on a server that features multiple users, you either figure out how to defend yourself against them, or you enter into collaboration with them to achieve economies of scale.

For example, one of you might spend a lot of time underground, digging up minerals, while the other is off collecting food and resources.

In other words, in “Survival Mode,” nobody starts the game by endlessly debating what’s better: representative democracy or a polyholonic aristocracy, or whatever.

I mean, they could. But they’ll just end up starving to death.

(So it is in the real world)

That’s one good way to tell if you yourself are living in privilege, or have a real life and death need for governance.

Most of us are still living in “Creative Mode,“ which allows us to sit on our asses and talk verbosely about some sort of Utopian future.

It’s pretty popular to spend literally hours at work (on the job, while being paid) debating about how bad our governance model is, but the kind of people who can afford to spend all day debating these things are also the kind of people who are probably not in a life or death situation.

There is an entirely different class of person. They are literally living in “Survival Mode.“ Their real world is literally defined by thin margins; life or death.

And there are no systems for them to rely upon, or even worse, there ARE systems, but they are not benign. They are frequently predatory.

They claim dominion, extract resources in gross excess of the benefits they purport to provide, and frequently their aggregate ineptitude results in significant degradation of living quality and even loss of life.

So for these people, “Survival Mode“ begins not with some sort of grandiose, escapist fantasy-world discussion about what it will be like when we have a presidential election on Mars.

They begin with having a discussion about how they are going to divide and conquer at a far more fundamental level, shoulder to shoulder with people within their community.

And in that context, the conversations are shockingly similar to the type of things you will hear six and eight-year-olds talk about as they play Minecraft.

Proposal: I will give you tools if you get me food.

The funny thing about that particular type of statement is that it is a fundamental, foundation-level discussion that justifies the creation of something called a “State.“

In theory, the “State” is some sort of necessary agreement which provides safety to citizens so they don’t kill each other, and within its protective embrace people can collaborate and achieve economies of scale, to maximum collective benefit.

If you want a really good example of how well this could work, ask your kid to share with you the collaboration they have achieved on a multi player Minecraft server.

They begin with a mutual trust, and from that start to compile an earned reputation within a shared economy. Ask your child to show you a server with the “towny” modification. It introduces an economy, towns, nations, etc. Pretty interesting.

Earned reputation occurs when two or more parties enter into an agreement, and they deliver within the terms of those agreements, on a consistent basis.

Eventually, these collaborations bump into neighbors, and you can expect your earned reputation to be vouched for by a peer.

The summary on this article is that my team has developed software which runs on a mobile platform, facilitating secure financial transactions for goods and services, but also facilitates a barter economy if necessary. The platform includes the following seven functions within a single user experience:

  • Digital identity
  • Communication (chat)
  • Commerce
  • Banking
  • Reputation
  • Arbitration
  • Governance

When you describe this to people who live in “Creative Mode,” they don’t always get it. It’s because they don’t have to.

The ones who do get it are what we consider our early adopters: the ones who are facing a fundamental issue of survival. Who are, indeed, in “Survival Mode.”

I spent some time with some of them last night, in fact. Sometimes I talk to them, but most times I just watch. I just do what I can to be mostly invisible.

The young woman living between two bushes and an apartment building, taking shelter under a tarp, taking a break after an afternoon of prostitution. And an elderly woman walks by with a cooler filled with tamales, hands her one for sustenance, and offers words of encouragement.

The elderly woman speaks Spanish, the young woman speaks English, so although they don’t share a tongue, the communication itself is nonetheless transcendent.

It’s a gift economy built upon the notion of trust, mutual benefit, accrued reputation, a barter network, and, ideally. a way to anonymously and securely exchange financial resources without unnecessary overhead.

Most of these people die well before their time, but for others, some day, some things may improve such that these people will be afforded the opportunity to debate about what type of parliament they will put on Mars, or whatever other inane shit people talk about.

More likely, as they solidify their agreements, they will eventually settle upon a form of agreed collaboration which begins to resemble a rudimentary form of governance.

And obviously I’m not talking about the kind of decisions that pertain to a governance model which address is the aggregate needs of 300 million people. More like 30 of them. Maybe more, but generally it begins with a small “sample.”.

And while it seems pretty marginal, I have a feeling that it’s from this place that we change how people function. From the bottom up.

If you stop and think about it, you might realize that you already belong to a number of these small communities. They overlap, and I think we take for granted that they exist, but that’s actually how human beings are wired.

If you need a reminder about just how compelling the need is, just ask a little kid about why they enjoy playing Minecraft.

Then think about how that relates to your every day existence.

Are you in “Creative Mode,“ or “Survival Mode?“

Want more info? Contact us!



Kent Dahlgren

Product management fix-it guy. World-famous people skills. Extremely small hands. (edit) marketing lady says I’m also supposed to say “CEO of software company”