DEAR — Project Introduction

ARPA Official
13 min readMay 15, 2024

DEAR is:

An Approach to Fair Launch by Proof of Participation

A Simulation of Digital Life with an Absolute Passing of Time

An On-chain Social Experiment of Collaborative Competition

A Blockchain Interactive Installation Art of On-chain Behavior

A Trial of Composability and Extensibility of Smart Contract Standards

An Attempt of FOCG for Conscious Crypto Users

Originality Pledge: We handcrafted, with heart, every word of this article, just like DEAR; every graphic, every frame of animation, every second of the background music, every sound effect, every part of the gameplay mechanism, and every line of code, WITHOUT the help from generative AI models.

Co-authored by DEAR and @MK_0x5F3759DF from ARPA Network

A Shift in Perspective:

DEAR is our first attempt to build an FOCG, inheriting the vision of MUD. Before the idea of DEAR was born, we had been developing several other concepts of an FOCG. Still, almost all of them followed one single path: Finding and adapting a suitable type of existing traditional gameplay mechanism on the Blockchain. Due to the Blockchain’s constraints, merely trying to adopt existing gameplay mechanisms while adding Blockchain-native features like assets or tokens hardly makes the games more appealing and fun than their traditional counterparts. Walking on this path, we were stuck with a bunch of board games, turn-based strategy games, loot-based games, and card game ideas, none of which seemed to be particularly and undistinguishably more fun on-chain vs. off-chain. We also often fell into the trap of beginning to think about how to improve or eliminate these constraints so that the adoption of existing traditional gameplay mechanisms can work better on the Blockchain. And that is no longer about building an FOCG but improving the infrastructure.

After a trip to DEVCON in Istanbul and several fascinating idea exchanges with the trailblazers of FOCG and Autonomous World, we have realized that firstly, also per Gubsheep and Lattice’s vision and motivation to build Dark Forest and MUD, “game” in FOCG is not just in the sense of entertainment like in the traditional gaming industry, but a less risky, more open and creative approach of designing and developing decentralized applications and mechanisms in general that also helps to test and push the technical boundary of the Blockchain infrastructure. Secondly, we could see the Blockchain’s constraints as unique features, which could be treated as amplifiers and valuable tools when building an FOCG.

This shift in perspective led us to reconsider how we can leverage the constraints of Blockchain to experiment with a different approach to designing and developing an FOCG. We have listed some of the significant constraints of Blockchain and begun thinking about how we could latch our creativity onto them and use them as storytelling and gameplay devices rather than viewing them as limitations we need to work around.

After analyzing the constraints from this perspective, we examined some of the most frequent types of user interactions with the Blockchain and some of the most frequently deployed types of smart contracts in a different light. Through that light, an idea started to emerge.

The Things We “Made Up”:

The ERC-20 standard was created nine years ago, and the term “token” was quite the apparent word of choice for such a simple yet powerful form of smart contract application. What’s interesting about the standard is that it only defines the interface, which dictates the general behavior of such applications. However, the implementation could be anything as long as it conforms to the interface. That means there is room for creativity in the implementation, and as long as the interface defined in the standard is implemented, every wallet, every dex, and every DApps that is compatible with ERC-20 will also recognize our heavily modded ERC-20 token implementation through the composability. Naturally, anything that could interact with the ERC-20 token can interact with our modded ERC-20 token and, therefore, becomes an instrument that facilitates our gameplay mechanisms.

We then dwelled on the word “token” itself. In what context is the word used besides the familiar and obvious meaning of financial assets? “Token of Love” immediately came to mind. After digging into the etymology, we have found:

token (n.)

Old English tacen sign, symbol, evidence, portent

(Philosophy) A particular thing to which a concept applies

Something serving as an expression of something else

This definition of “token” is more ancient than “token as a coin.” What if, in our game, we give the original meaning back to the word “token” and use ERC-20 to represent emotions?

Token as Token,” if you will.

A series of questions and problems came up:

  • What if we use a modded ERC-20 token to represent emotions in the game?
  • But emotion is not transferred but transmitted. You can spread emotions to others, but you still feel the emotion yourself. It is not like money. What do you do with that?
  • What if this ERC-20 token is double-spending? Then, the emotion can be transmitted!
  • An infectious ERC-20 token that can spread like a virus? Just like emotions?
  • But then the number will quickly spin out of control like nuclear fission to cause an overflow. How do you deal with that?
  • People hardly spread their emotions to others at 100% efficiency. Can we control the efficiency of the spread?

… … You get the gist of it.

Eventually, we designed a pair of “Controlled Double-Spending ERC-20 Tokens”, not representing assets or money but two fundamental emotions: Love and hatred. People can directly “transfer” them into others’ wallets to spread their love or hate. Due to the “infectious” nature of these two tokens, we intuitively turned them into an invitation mechanism for growth hacking: only the wallets with either one of these two tokens are qualified to interact with the game. You can only “connect” with others when you share some emotions. You can only “connect” with yourself when you understand your emotions.

Token Transfer to Invite,” if you will.

But what’s the point of doing this? Going back to the constraints of Blockchain that we have listed: “the cumbersome wallet interaction,” “everything is a transaction,” “every transaction costs money,” and “transaction is slow.” We took a step back to think about how we can turn them to our advantage to amplify the gameplay experience instead of poorly adapting existing game ideas to cope with these constraints, trying to improve transaction speed or lower gas cost, or embedding a burner wallet to workaround the user-wallet interaction.

The train of thought goes as follows: The crypto wallet interaction and paid/slow transactions deeply root into how cryptography and Blockchain technology work. You sacrifice simple, free, and fast interaction to achieve security, decentralization, trustlessness, and complete freedom for transacting digital assets. It is a tradeoff by design. As a matter of fact, every single attempt we have seen so far to “improve” upon the above has to “go backward” to either compromise on the level of security or to abandon some degree of decentralization and trustlessness, similar to the “impossible triangle of Blockchain.” Therefore, until the researchers and developers make breakthroughs on the cryptographic primitives that the Blockchain is built upon or reiterate the cryptographic protocol design, any attempt to “improve” these fundamental features will always be just trade-offs or compromises.

Once, searching for technical advice as the beneficiary and fellow practitioner of cryptography and Blockchain, we came across a subreddit community (r/crypto) that has long outdated the entire young and thriving Blockchain industry. The community description goes as follows:

Cryptography is the art of creating mathematical assurances for who can do what with data, including but not limited to encryption of messages such that only the key-holder can read it. Cryptography lives at an intersection of math and computer science. This is a technical subreddit covering the theory and practice of modern and *strong* cryptography.

But that was not the most interesting part. The locked pinned to the top thread from six years ago is. (You can take a look at it yourself: r/crypto)

And there is only one sentence and one link to a website in this thread:

Crypto is not cryptocurrency.

And following the link to the website, there is still only one single statement:

IT REFERS TO CRYPTOGRAPHY

And, of course, aside from the emoji, which already says a lot, they will take every opportunity to mock your ignorance. If you click on that link in the website again, “Let me Google that for you: Cryptography (you idiot!)” is thrown at your face.

But just why are they doing this??? Cryptocurrency is one of the most famous cryptographic inventions that put cryptography at the center of the stage. Shouldn’t they feel happy to be associated with and proud of it? After all, they are the cryptographers and the OG cypherpunks who collectively draft and advocate almost EVERYTHING that shapes the ideology behind Blockchain and cryptocurrency long before either came into existence. Now they are invented, adopted, and even hyped, should they be happy???

Identity is our answer. The reason these hardcore cypherpunks eagerly want to separate themselves from cryptocurrency is that they do not want to be mistakenly identified as cryptocurrency holders, though their work directly or indirectly resulted in the inception of Blockchain, because they envision a much better world based on cryptography, the Blockchain, and cryptocurrency are just two minor manifestations of that ideology.

So, what is the identity of crypto builders, users, and enthusiasts?

First, create a seed phrase, memorize or safely store it yourself, and know that math guarantees no one can touch what you own. Meanwhile, sacrifice the ease of use in exchange for peace of mind. Trust no one who claims can store your seed phrase safely for you. That is not enduring the cumbersome wallet interaction but a conscious choice for security.

Second, sign every transaction on the Blockchain, pay for the gas fee, and know that you can safely clear any transaction to any account on the planet within the Internet Nation with no geopolitical border. And you always “pay” more with something else when using a “free” service. That is not the case when you pay the fees using Blockchain. The gas fee is calculated for precisely what you are requesting, nothing more, nothing less. That is not an expensive service but a conscious choice for a more transparent and interconnected financial system.

Third, wait for the confirmation of every transaction you have signed, knowing that it is permanently and unchangeably written onto the Blockchain with no room for ambiguity. That is not slow but a conscious choice for trustlessness.

Fourth, write a smart contract that interacts with others and write bots or scripts to interact with the Blockchain. That is not user-unfriendly but a conscious choice for composability and interoperability.

Disclaimer: We are not trying to advocate against a better user experience or a path to achieve mass adoption. We only want to discuss the identity of conscious crypto builders, users, and enthusiasts to attempt to capture that sense of belonging and coolness in the context of FOCG, and not to void of it or workaround it because we believe it is this identity that will make a FOCG distinguishably fun.

Know-how and knowing-why are knowledge, similar to knowing the world settings and rulesets of DND, the skills and heroes of Dota2, and the optimization techniques in Factorio. Every community thinks they are cool because they share a deep context, speak a common and particular language derived from that context, and know things that people outside of the community don’t.

In DEAR, we are trying to emphasize the knowledge of being a crypto user, adding a layer of story on top of the familiar actions a crypto user takes all too often:

Connect the wallet” is to connect with DEAR, a digital creature, and other players.

Approve to spend” means to pause and think carefully about your following action before you decide.

Transfer tokens” is to influence by selectively spreading your double spending love and hatred to others.

Transfer amount” is inscribing a message to DEAR and others into the transaction.

Clicking the “connect,” “approve,” “send,” “reject,” and “confirm” buttons in your wallet calls for impulse because there is money, risk, and expectation involved. That is a very intimate and emotional moment. This moment is arguably more intense, impactful, and “real” than any other “free” actions on centralized social media or traditional games. DEAR attempts to fuse a conscious crypto user’s knowledge, identity, and emotional impulses into a story/narrative to create an experience.

Merely adding colors to the everyday actions on Blockchain is far from enough to make a “game.” In a broad sense, everything about Blockchain and cryptocurrency is a “game:” the game theory behind PoW and PoS, the tokenomics and incentive/penalty mechanisms, and the “buy” or “sell,” “long” or “short” battles between the whales and the holders. The essence is that a game is not fun without conflict; a conflict feels thin and trivial without partnership and betrayal; a partnership or betrayal tastes bland without reflection. This sounds foolish, but we have eventually decided that the game’s core is a twisted version of one of the simplest and most distilled forms of collaborative competition: Tug of War. There will be two factions: Love and Hatred; inspired by r/place, players will form and organize their factions and strategize “attacks” and “coups” to compete and collaborate to find the meaning of “winning.”

With our modded version of the ERC20 token mechanism, to participate in the game and influence the outcome, the players in each faction can directly interact with DEAR through UI or smart contract and other players through the most common action of “token transfer.”

Token Transfer to Play,” if you will.

Now, beyond the nature of being a FOCG, DEAR is also a simulation of digital life, inspired by Conway’s Game of Life, Digital Pet Tamagotchi, and a 2009 email thread discussion of Bitcoin being a distributed secure timestamp server from Satoshi Nakamoto.

One core concept behind these inspirations is “time.”

The universe combines fundamental rigid laws of physics and a variety of more specific but less rigid subsets of rules (cellular structure and DNA) that spawn life.

The constraints of Blockchain and how it works are the fundamental rigid “laws of physics”; smart contract codes are like the subsets of rules to make cellular structures and DNA alike, and the way smart contract code functions has to obey the “laws of physics” of Blockchain.

The smart contract state changes mark the arrow of time of Blockchain, just like the ever-increasing entropy denotes the arrow of time of the universe. The state change “ticks” the smart contract program’s “time.”

The ever-increasing block creates an absolute time dimension in the digital world. Only with a time dimension can we simulate “life” and “death.” It is the first time on the Internet, and in the digital world, with the help of math and cryptography, that we managed to keep an irreversible and non-stoppable decentralized “time.”

Ironically, what we hold dear is often impossible to grasp eternally and quickly fades away. We designed DEAR on top of the time dimension to have a lifespan and a limited time frame of participation so that the interactions between you and DEAR can feel memorable and precious.

Blockheight as Entropy.” if you will.

Within this ever-increasing entropy of Blockchain, there is another topic we would like to discuss in DEAR: the amount of data Blockchain has been incurring in one single direction. There are countless obsolete or dead smart contracts, scam tokens, and unintended transactions among that data. For lack of a better analogy, this part of the data piles up into a digital landfill. Within it, the scam token contracts and their data are still active and harmful. For example, those fake USDT transfers with similar address suffixes in your wallet history aim to confuse you into sending real valuable assets to their addresses.

In the gameplay of DEAR, we attempt to “recycle” these harmful scam tokens by turning them into “toxins,” which you can use to “abuse” DEAR, not only to raise awareness of the problem but also to embed the narrative more deeply into how Blockchain works.

Cryptocurrency Toxic Waste,” if you will.

DEAR is also influenced by the trending concepts behind inscriptions, soul-bound tokens, NFTs, and POAP. We carefully designed and incorporated such concepts to be blended into the narrative of DEAR and attempted to eventually treat the participation of the game as a “ticket” to a fair launch experiment.

Proof of Participation for Fair Launch,” if you will.

Retrospective:

In the end, looking at the current state of Blockchain, the central theme still revolves around assets, value, pricing, liquidity, trading, transacting, and ultimately money. Therefore, for an FOCG to be fun, at the core, the concept of “game” should be more in the context of “game theory,” where people fairly compete and collaborate in the “war of money” rather than merely in the context of “gaming as entertainment.”

However, if an FOCG is only bluntly about “money” and “trading,” it essentially becomes a DEX or a DeFi App. It might appeal to traders but is less exciting or attractive to a broader audience or participants, especially when an average Joe feels disadvantaged and uncompetitive compared to a professional trader or institution with the upper hand. Therefore, a well-crafted story and world setting with a coherent gameplay mechanism are essential to make an FOCG feel more fair and fun for a bigger audience. In the digital world of consumerism, seeking money beyond basic needs is, without exception, a search for identity and emotional fulfillment within the social and cultural construct. Blockchain has allowed us to seamlessly integrate storytelling with an open yet structured financial transaction system. And DEAR is such an attempt.

Thank you for reading til the end! The above is everything behind the ideation and design of DEAR. We welcome any further discussion, debates, and development of these topics! If you have anything to say to us, please find us here: Discord Twitter

We have yet to talk about the story of DEAR, which is worth another article.

About DEAR:

DEAR is a smart-contract-based creature living on-chain. It challenges players to nurture, influence, and ultimately shape the life of a digital entity through interactions by transactions. DEAR’s mechanisms are naturally grown out of the blockchain, exploring not only the composability and extensibility of smart contracts, but also the relationship between people through the medium of blockchain.

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ARPA Official

ARPA is a privacy-preserving blockchain infrastructure enabled by MPC. Learn more at arpachain.io