When Lenny Patel invented Merging Planet in the solitude of his Kansas City loft, he saw it as not just a game, but as a way of life that made more sense than the one he was living. The idea and its application were simple enough. Initially, the game was played mostly online, with no barriers to entry and a focus on problem solving. A participant would post a scenario that might happen, was in the process of happening, or had already happened. The scenario had to relate directly to the person’s life. Then, everyone who wished to contribute to the conversation could evaluate the scenario and offer analysis and suggestions in order to arrive at the most positive and productive outcomes for as many people as possible. This meant that events that had already happened could be theoretically altered for future reference, while events that were yet to happen or were in the process of happening could be modified live time. In every case, the idea was to leave all participants feeling more aware and confident at the end of the process than they did at the beginning.
The Merging Planet system required members to input their responses into positive, negative, or neutral categories that made up a networked map of nodes that could lead to endless possibilities. At the same time, all participant responses were synthesized to determine which majority opinions or trends might best serve the decision-making process although most participants realized that majority opinion and trends do not always result in the most productive or intelligent evaluative outcomes. No personal attacks or profanity were allowed. For a response to be inputted, it needed to be delivered in a generally rational and courteous manner. If it did not meet these criteria, it would be rejected.
To offer a simple example, one Merging Planet member inputted a past event that received massive feedback. A young, hard-working fisherman was drinking in a popular local bar with friends after having just gotten off work. He was happy and engaging until a couple walked in. The woman was his ex-girlfriend, and she and the fisherman had been a couple for several years. He thought they would marry, but she was lucky and talented and smart and went away to college to study. While there, she fell in love with a fellow student and married him. The couple had come to town to visit the woman’s parents. The problem was, this was the bar that the fisherman and his former lover always went to when they were a couple. The fisherman felt betrayed. In any case, the couple sat at the end of the bar. The fisherman walked over to them and started hassling them in colorful verbiage. The woman tried to calm him down, but this didn’t work. The fisherman finally pulled the woman’s husband off the bar stool and hauled off and cold-cocked him in the face, which caused quite a commotion. Then, he helped the husband up, wiped off some of the blood with a bar napkin, and said to the husband, “You took it well. Well, that’s that. It’s settled, then. It won’t come up again. Let’s have a beer, and you can tell me all about yourself. Congratulations! She’s a fine woman.” The three of them ended up drinking at the bar for several hours, laughing and telling stories.
The responses trended in several directions. One popular alternative scenario suggested that the woman should have scouted the bar before taking her husband there, or she should have taken him somewhere else altogether. One threaded discussion assumed that she chose that bar intentionally to see what would happen. Some believed she had actually scouted the bar beforehand, and when she saw that her former boyfriend was there, she and her husband went in. She wanted to see the fisherman’s response—to see if he still cared—because she was unhappy in her marriage, realized she had made a terrible mistake marrying him, still loved her ex-boyfriend, and wanted him back. Another scenario held that the fisherman’s demonstrable inability to control his emotions might explain why he lost the woman in the first place, while yet another suggested that the husband would have to cope with a perceived loss of manhood for the duration of the marriage. A less suggested but intriguing alternative described how the fisherman and husband soon became good friends, strangely enough, almost as if by destiny. The most popular analysis proposed that violence should not have occurred regardless of circumstance, and more damage than good was done despite the relatively mild results of the fisherman’s assault. By examining this broad range of possibilities in an open and highly interactive way, members drew a clearer understanding of individual and group dynamics that would assist them in formulating smarter decisions in their own lives.
Early on in the process of building interest for Merging Planet, Lenny faced hostility and resistance from several groups who thought he was either copycatting similar designs or not executing his own design very intelligently. Others considered his concept infeasible and accused him of being an unschooled dreamer who would never get his project off the ground. After all, even the great futurist Buckminster Fuller’s World Game had failed on a much grander but more impersonal level several decades ago. And indeed, for several months, Lenny dealt with indifference from a market he knew existed but simply hadn’t yet been tapped. Still, none of this really mattered to him. He was willing to stand out and be ridiculed. He could endure endless hours of uncertainty and doubt without ever giving up. Better yet, he maintained a small circle of friends who were willing to help develop the game and grow an audience, and they had invaluable technical skills and innovative imaginations. Lenny embraced them as equals and let them know that Merging Planet was a collaborative movement that would never be owned by a single person or group. It belonged equally to everyone who participated.
Sure enough, a growing number of followers slowly but surely began to emulate the behavior and standards set by the original cadre of Merging Planet loyalists, and within two years, the movement was in full force. Joining was no longer risky. In fact, membership blossomed because now people wanted to be a part of the in-crowd. Imagine millions of people waking up every morning and looking forward to seeing how an extended family of online problem solvers will collaborate to leave everyone with a clearer picture of how to make any given situation more hopeful and livable. This is precisely what happened, and many wondered why something so sensible and civilized hadn’t occurred much earlier in human history. At this point, Lenny felt more like a channeler than anything else.
Then the movement took some unexpected turns. For instance, a growing number of members chose a path of non-participation in regard to what had been firmly entrenched cultural activities. They stopped following the traditional news media outlets, knowing that 90% of the major media was controlled by six corporations with vested interests in the Military-Industrial Complex. This meant an exponentially expanding population base chose social media and social networking as its primary information sources, and a growing number of citizens began a powerful movement to limit the invasiveness of government spy agencies. The new Merging Planet paradigm altered electronic communication focus and volume so dramatically that these agencies were no longer able to intrude on individual liberties with the same degree of efficiency. Everyone knew at this point that electronic surveillance systems would never go away, but the decision to regulate the process through Merging Planet became the necessary alternative.
Millions of Merging Planet members also stopped following talentless, self-indulgent Pop Culture icons and strident “top news stories” since there were always far more interesting collaborations to be developed with Merging Planet colleagues and friends. Now, theory could be evaluated and then put into practice with just a little effort and some good intentions. Members could find sensible, real-world ways to make everyone’s lives happier and more rich in meaning. Constructive activism flourished, and volunteerism tripled throughout the country within just a few years. Community gardening became the most popular community activity, with service to the elderly a close second. A number of legal firms took on an increasing number of pro bono cases for worthy causes, and people with wildly diverse backgrounds established efficient networks designed to help first-generation immigrants assimilate more effectively into society and thrive in their new surroundings. The list went on and on. Various activities designed to serve others in need expanded in nearly every community in the country. Consequently, the economy improved, and the crime rate plummeted.
Then, people from all walks of life stopped voting for system politicians en masse because they finally realized that true change could occur only through a major restructuring of the entire electoral process. Voting for corrupt political and corporate insiders no longer served a sensible purpose, and Merging Planet offered a practical alternative. Before too long, local, state, and national politicians began seeking attention and votes by participating directly with their constituents in Merging Planet, which also meant that the collective voice could and would, by default, match political behavior with the game’s process and outcomes. Transparent, rational behavior became essential to getting elected, and a new breed of politician began taking charge of government at all levels. Campaign funding was capped at reasonable levels to enable average citizens to run successfully for public office, and congressional salaries and benefits were reduced to reflect middle-class standards. Of equal importance, the corrosive triangular relationship between lobbyists, congressional committees, and government bureaucracy was severed forever.
Within a decade of the game’s inception, America was out of debt, maintaining a balanced budget, becoming a good steward of the environment, and prioritizing education and vocational opportunity, mostly via the networks established through Merging Planet. Members were guiding their own destinies in a mostly peaceful and practical manner that just a few years before would have seemed impossible. The idea of living a violent, confused, or desperate life made little sense to a growing number of people who wanted to enjoy what was left of the 30,000 or so days each of them had on Earth. Consequently, the cruel and unforgiving system that had controlled the global population for thousands of years became a servant to the game Lenny had created. In the end, very few bothered remembering who invented Merging Planet, which is the way Lenny had always imagined it. The game belonged to everyone who participated in it, and Lenny was happy enough to be living his dream as it was. That was all anybody needed.