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Subject: Redirecting Human Nature: Can game systems solve social problems? rss

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Sight Reader
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NOTE: This question is not about a game, but rather about applying game systems to the real world.

Consider capitalism as a game system.

Using money as "victory points", our desire for wealth gets harnessed to satisfy material needs.

My question is this: can other human desires be similarly "gamed" to solve social problems?


ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS:
The elegance of a system where our basest instincts drive an "invisible hand" is obvious when you compare the ruthless adaptability of a market-driven economy to the ineptitude of a centrally planned, government-run one.

However, the more difficult it is to monetize a problem, the worse it gets under capitalism.

Social problems certainly jump out. Our inability to turn family and community needs into financial incentives has led to widespread alienation.

There are other problems too - medical, cultural, intellectual, moral, environmental, etc - that either monetize poorly, don't monetize at all, or even obstruct the flow of capital.

Of course, governments try to pick up the slack, but such artificial measures suffer the same waste and inefficiency as trying to centrally plan an economy.


My challenge to game designers is this: can capitalism be supplemented by additional game systems that channel other basic desires towards unfulfilled needs?

Rephrased in a more flippant way, is Greed really the only Deadly Sin we can solve problems with? Might other Sins be put to work to complement it?

EDIT: rewordings, note added to beginning
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Robin Gibson
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Re: Redirecting Human Nature: A Challenge to all Game Designers!
sightreader wrote:
Rephrased in a more flippant way, is Greed really the only Deadly Sin we can solve problems with?


Of course not. Think of how many crimes Sloth must stop every year.
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Re: Redirecting Human Nature: A Challenge to all Game Designers!
Survival is a good one often used.

Money is just a form of control (which means power). In that way you could generalize your point to power, I think. That would also envelop many more games than capitalism.

There are also games where you strive to improve yourself, Zen-like games where you want to build the most beautiful of something, games where you try to last the longest (that's what she said), games where each player has special goals (e.g. dieing first...) ...
 
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Re: Redirecting Human Nature: A Challenge to all Game Designers!
Starflier wrote:
Think of how many crimes Sloth must stop every year.

I think Sloth could definitely be useful.

Suppose, for instance, you wanted everyone to vote. You create an option whereby, in lieu of voting, people could instead a perform community service of some sort.

Thus, refusing to vote is still an option, it's just not the easiest option.

I believe the power of the Default (opt in, opt out, etc) derives from the power of Sloth.
 
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Re: Redirecting Human Nature: A Challenge to all Game Designers!
Dagar wrote:
Money is just a form of control (which means power). In that way you could generalize your point to power, I think.

I believe that is the genius of money. It puts an exact number on Wealth, a key component to Power, which was probably a lot more abstract back in the days of pharoahs.

Once money made it easy to convert different forms of Wealth, you had an extremely powerful game system that coherently organized and incentivized production.

Dagar wrote:
There are also games where you strive to improve yourself, Zen-like games where you want to build the most beautiful of something, games where you try to last the longest (that's what she said), games where each player has special goals (e.g. dieing first...) ...

Yes, exactly. Might any of those mechanisms be useful outside of the gaming world to incentivize or discourage behavior?
 
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Re: Redirecting Human Nature: A Challenge to all Game Designers!
sightreader wrote:

Of course, governments try to pick up the slack, but such artificial measures suffer the same waste and inefficiency as trying to centrally plan an economy.



    Governments are a centrally planned economy. It's the sole reason for their existence, and they are driven by private interests. You can argue that compassion is a second driving factor next to money, but the moment it's pressed to a government to find a solution money enters the equation as the arbiter of degree.

    Your questions are naive, though granted you're looking to abstract a monstrously huge, largely mysterious subject matter onto a table top with maybe 100 pieces. It may be intentional.

    If I can paraphrase Berkely Breathed, government is based on one simple principle -- "money talks". It's always a factor.

             S.

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Sagrilarus wrote:
you're looking to abstract a monstrously huge, largely mysterious subject matter onto a table top with maybe 100 pieces. It may be intentional.

Actually, I'm not trying to put anything on the tabletop at all (sorry about the misunderstanding: I'll reword the initial post). Rather, I want to know if we can use game systems to fight real-life social problems.

My approach is, basically, to fight one compulsion with another compulsion.

For example, Capitalism uses Greed to fight Sloth. The result is that the hunger for power motivates people away laziness.

Can other "sins" be used to motivate behavior in a positive way?

Certainly, the idea of playing "sins" against each other is ancient. A body builder, for instance, might use Vanity (how he looks in the mirror) as a defense against Gluttony.

The challenge is this: can a system be designed to do this on a sufficiently large scale to address real problems?
 
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The question relies on all people placing similar value in the same set of incentives, which is demonstrably false. It also relies on people having good judgement. No need to review that one.

Part of Hayek's fundamental observation is that you can't pretend to control or even understand economies (incentives and behavior) sufficiently enough to control them. I don't agree with the man in detail, but that particular part of his writing certainly appears to be on solid ground. Game theory implies a clear set of rules, and that's difficult in so complex a system.

All that said, economists have been doing what you're talking about for years. Have a look at Earned Income Tax Credit and see what you think of its outcome. Quite a mixed bag.

S.
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Aric Ashgrove
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Other systems are commonly being used by governments the world over! Worker placement, no-contest bidding, negotiation and let's not forget the traitor mechanism!

But really everything Sagrilarus has said so far covers what I would have mostly said.

P.S. Research endemic warfare and its historical examples to see how different "games" were used to resolve social issues. Especially in tribal cultures.
 
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Sagrilarus wrote:
The question relies on all people placing similar value in the same set of incentives, which is demonstrably false.

I propose that the more accurately a system reflects human nature, the less management it will require to change behavior. Money, for instance, is an effective incentive in all societies despite the diversity of financial systems. Sexual incentives, for another example, exist in every culture as well (whether they admit it or not) but generally are not organized into anything nearly as coherent as most financial systems.

Sagrilarus wrote:
It also relies on people having good judgement. No need to review that one.

Actually, I'm proposing systems based on people making self-serving decisions. Certainly bad judgement occurs when it comes to self-interest, but by nature such errors tend to be self-eliminating.

Sagrilarus wrote:
Part of Hayek's fundamental observation is that you can't pretend to control or even understand economies (incentives and behavior) sufficiently enough to control them.

It's definitely true that the outcome of any large system is extremely unpredictable, but I'm not sure that guarantees that things will run out of control. Like a beta test, you never know what behavior you'll actually get, but that doesn't mean it useless to adjust the rules and try again.

Sagrilarus wrote:
All that said, economists have been doing what you're talking about for years. Have a look at Earned Income Tax Credit and see what you think of its outcome. Quite a mixed bag.

I don't know Hayek or the Earned Income Tax Credit very well, but is it really true that all behavior is motivated purely by economic incentive? Economic interest is definitely a factor in most interactions, but there are times it really seems to take second place to motivations like Sloth, Lust, Intolerance, or whatever.
 
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    The seven deadly sins aren't incentives. I don't understand you referencing them repeatedly. Frankly Compassion is as much an incentive as the Sins, which is considered a virtue.

    Truth be told, "self interest" often destroys entire systems. Self Interest is why governments exist, in order to better manage common resources and needs that would otherwise be destroyed.

    At this point I think I need to sit back and watch for a bit, as you seem to be in the midst of a serious bong binge, with a lot of philosophical thoughts rolling through your mind and onto the page. There's not a lot of continuity to what you're writing. Apologies if I'm misreading you.

             S.

 
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Ashgrove wrote:
P.S. Research endemic warfare and its historical examples to see how different "games" were used to resolve social issues. Especially in tribal cultures.

OK, I did a quick search on edemic warfare. From what I can tell, it sounds like the human version of male dominance rituals.

I think this a great idea and fertile source for inspiration, but its gonna be really tricky figuring out precisely what actual desires are behind these traditions.

Simply imitating the structure of a tribal ritual without understanding its true subtext would probably be unwise. Is it competition for female interest? Is it to determine a heirarchy amongst men? Even if you were to ask its participants, they probably wouldn't really know the true meanings and purposes buried in the subconscious. Without understanding the actual needs being addressed, it will be impossible to determine how you would adapt such rituals a very alien internet culture which is far more impersonal than anything a tribal group could imagine.

Still, examining the purpose of rituals may prove extremely useful. It is interesting how things like initiation rites arise spontaneously in gangs, fraternities, and other closed groups. Can the tests designed to affirm membership be systematized to serve neglected social duties? Can coming-of-age rituals be harnessed to fulfill vital social services? I find myself thinking of Mormon missionaries in suits and ties...
 
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Sagrilarus wrote:
The seven deadly sins aren't incentives. I don't understand you referencing them repeatedly. Frankly Compassion is as much an incentive as the Sins, which is considered a virtue.

Hmm. The fact that this confuses you indicates that we're seriously talking past each other. Redirecting "selfishness" is pretty much the whole purpose of this discussion. Certainly there seems to be at least some misunderstanding in your previous replies.

The fact that motivations based on self-interest are lambasted as "Deadly Sins" indicates just how dimly the Church views self-interest.

However, I argue that simply labeling all self-interest as "sinful" or "destructive" blinds us to how human psychology (not to mention survival in the natural world) actually work.

Sagrilarus wrote:
Truth be told, "self interest" often destroys entire systems. Self Interest is why governments exist, in order to better manage common resources and needs that would otherwise be destroyed.

Money and power are pursued in self-interest, and yet capitalism is able to convert such "greed" into material production.

Is it possible to construct other systems where the pursuit of self-interest can be redirected towards beneficial behavior?

Quick example: a guy helps a blind man cross the street to impress a pretty girl.

Self-interest: the guy wants to get laid.
Useful behavior: a blind man gets needed help.

An entrepreneur tells his people he really just wants to "make the world a better place".

Self-interest: get rich
Useful behavior: helpful products.

Sagrilarus wrote:
At this point I think I need to sit back and watch for a bit, as you seem to be in the midst of a serious bong binge

I apologize deeply if I said something that provoked the condescending reply. No offense or disrespect was intended to you or your ideas.
 
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Man thinks, the river flows.
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    Sorry for the condescension, there's just some parts of what you're saying that don't appear to be grounded in coherent thought, at least in what I generally read in conversations on this topic.

    Some people help old ladies across the street just because they want to. That sort of "want to" incentive is real, and it's not rewarded via any sort of deliverable material. I think a huge amount of the contributions made to society fall into this category, and there's significant evidence that providing overt rewards actually suppresses the behavior. This is a very complicated topic, as positive behavior is difficult to measure, and appropriate reward is exceptionally difficult to determine.

 
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Candace Mercer
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I am currently reading a powerful book called Super Better which documents how gaming and gamification can help people solve their most entrenched problems. It is not specifically economic, but it is fascinating the real life skills games support: ability to fail/resilience, hope toward a win, problem solving.

Most interesting to me was pain. I have moderately severe chronic pain and I have noticed when I game I do not notice my pain as much, if at all. I thought it was just distraction but science shows that pain signals actually do make it through due to the cognitive processing of gaming blocking them. MRIs show low/no activity in pain centers, even with severe burn patients.

So my point, I don't think the power of games to change thought should be underestimated. I think it is a matter of what are the best questions to ask, which I think this thread it attempting to do.
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Aric Ashgrove
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Yes, look further into endemic warfare via scholars such as Richard B Lee's writings or other anthropologists for certain.

Many tribes when asked WHY they do something or to explain the origins of it, would simply say they do not remember. The origins would be of less important, I think for a particular, rather than its observable current key role. Systems and traditions that have no use seem to just be slowly absorbed into a vacuum. Not that I necessarily agree with it, but see marriage in the USA an example of this.

My point in citing it was to label that human animals have always developed social games and systems to resolve problems, understanding the need for relative peace and harmony. It could be done at the local tribal level or outsourced to a foreign body like a government.

Male dominance rituals may be over-represented in endemic rituals, but are not exclusive. The female part of anthropology is just must newer to observation than the male counterpart, in the west. See the Hamer tribal people as an example.

Outside of particulars you will be hard pressed to break any new ground, would be my own guess. Put another way, there is nothing new under the sun, or better yet; "the secret to creativity is how well you hide your sources." Also always beware the re-percussive reaction for which a new system attempts to replace.
 
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Sagrilarus wrote:
Sorry for the condescension, there's just some parts of what you're saying that don't appear to be grounded in coherent thought

Oh, no problem, thank you so much for clearing the air!

I'm struggling to be as coherent as I can, but perhaps, as simple as this idea may seem to me, it's actually much harder to explain than I thought? Of course, I'm not familiar with the other debates you've had on the topic; is it possible that the terminology I use makes it sound similar to ideas that are substantially different in some important way?

Sagrilarus wrote:
Some people help old ladies across the street just because they want to. That sort of "want to" incentive is real, and it's not rewarded via any sort of deliverable material.

Why of course! I'm no Ayn Rand; I definitely believe that altruism can be both real and sincere.

However, what I'm looking for here is a motivation that drives behavior so consistently that an entire society can depend on it: a "behavioral infrastructure", so to speak. Like any infrastructure, "behavioral infrastructure" must be consistent, dependable and efficient even in extenuating circumstances, something not characteristic of occasional pro bono gestures of goodwill.

As the saying goes, "Do someone a favor and it becomes your job". How likely is charitable behavior to continue if people not only take it for granted, but demand and expect it day after day? Only behaviors containing a component of self-interest will continue through such conditions: reliable, consistent behavior requires reliable, consistent rewards based on self-interest.

Note that rewards not anchored in our most critical self-interests - the "Deadly Sins", so to speak - are simply too insubstantial to motivate endless service. How effective, for instance, would a pre-printed "thank you" be in lieu of becoming the boss, getting a vacation, getting a steady paycheck, or maybe even "getting lucky"?
 
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Aric Ashgrove
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More of anything I have to add to the conversation is more anthropology. Look into examples of reciprocal altruism in tribal cultures, as another term for what I think you are describing in your last post.
 
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James Wahl
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You seem to be talking about gamification (using behavioral economics tricks to fool people into misjudging relative value) more than game systems being used to solve social problems in general, but there have been games systems proposed and used to solve social problems. For example, Olaf Helmer, designer of Square Mile and Summit, also developed the Delphi Method[1] which is this strange game that teams of extremely smart people use to predict the future. He co-founded the Institute for the Future[2] in 1968, an organization still around and dedicated to playing the game.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delphi_method

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Institute_for_the_Future
 
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Ashgrove wrote:
Many tribes when asked WHY they do something or to explain the origins of it, would simply say they do not remember. The origins would be of less important, I think for a particular, rather than its observable current key role.

This is a serious challenge with the anthropological approach: we're forced to work backwards.

Rather than understanding our self-interest first then designing "game systems" for them, we are instead reverse-engineering existing "game systems" (the tribal rites) and trying to discover the self-interests they might serve (if any).

There are serious dangers to this approach, not only because the reasoning behind these traditions are lost to the distant past, but also because these rites evolved in an ad-hoc manner: you're reverse-engineering something that wasn't engineered to begin with!

I would postulate that a combination of both approaches is needed. Design systems based on studies of self-interest, then compare the results to existing rites to see how such systems might play out over time.
 
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candio wrote:
It is not specifically economic, but it is fascinating the real life skills games support: ability to fail/resilience, hope toward a win, problem solving.

That's OK: this thread isn't supposed to be economic, but all about converting the worst of human behavior into the best.

candio wrote:
I have moderately severe chronic pain and I have noticed when I game I do not notice my pain as much, if at all.

Yes, I noticed that having a baseball game on or something occupies the mind and keeps it from focusing on physical pain.

candio wrote:
So my point, I don't think the power of games to change thought should be underestimated. I think it is a matter of what are the best questions to ask, which I think this thread it attempting to do.


Thanks so much for the thoughts and support! I figure that, of all people, game designers would be perfect people to ask to engineer systems of incentives that could redirect the worst of human nature towards the best of goals!
 
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pharmakon wrote:
You seem to be talking about gamification (using behavioral economics tricks to fool people into misjudging relative value) more than game systems being used to solve social problems in general

Hmm, I'm a bit confused: I'm not sure what "misjudging relative value" might mean. Perhaps I need to reword my original post to make it more clear?

Essentially, I'm looking to create "win-win" systems where we are given ways to follow our selfish instincts towards beneficial rather than corrosive ends.

This would require a "game system" to redirect the rewards for selfish actions so they "do the right thing".

Does that make any sense?

pharmakon wrote:
there have been games systems proposed and used to solve social problems. For example, Olaf Helmer, designer of Square Mile and Summit, also developed the Delphi Method[1] which is this strange game that teams of extremely smart people use to predict the future.

It sounds like Delphi is a great system for regulating decisions and discourse amongst intelligensia: it might be a good way to design the sort of process I'm looking for.

What I was interested in, however, was a system where the active decision makers are really the opposite of intelligensia: common people following their most basic (and perhaps least noble) instincts.

The trick is to create a constructive outlet for the pursuit of self-interest so that, in an attempt to satisfy "primitive" desires, people (almost inadvertently) perform beneficial social services.

Hopefully that paints a little clearer picture of what I'm looking for? Is it more apparent why I think game designers are the perfect people to ask?
 
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patrick mullen
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The issue with your line of thinking as I see it, is that in a game, we get to define the rules. Games are an abstract and constrained set of rules, usually modeled from behaviors that have been observed in the real world. We take a concept that cannot be controlled in the real world, and tweak it and prod it, inventing a world where that concept can be made to provide an enjoyable experience. A well designed game has no holes. It is a complete system unto itself.

You can't easily apply this type of thinking in the reverse, and when you try, you think you have everything in hand until the real world hits you over the head. A game is a piece of the world, broken off and sanded down until it looks elegant. A game big enough to describe the world (and make it work toward whatever end you want it to work toward) would be as big, and as inelegant as the world!

That doesn't mean we shouldn't try to improve things where it can be done, but whenever we do so, we have to be aware of where our system and the real world will meet, and which parts of our abstraction leak.
 
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Hello there and thank you so much for your thoughtful feedback!

Essentially I'm fishing for innovative social organization ideas which play out a lot like a new set of game rules.

saluk wrote:
The issue with your line of thinking as I see it, is that in a game, we get to define the rules.

There are endless economic examples of "game rule" changes that are similar to what I'm fishing for: new tax policies, health care systems, investment rules, so on and so forth. Like my proposal, these policy changes attempt to manipulate human behavior so that, in pursuing self-interest, people "accidentally" do the right thing.

Note that these changes usually take the form of incentives and penalties that seek to "nudge" selfish behavior towards the right direction. The "game rules" I'm fishing could conceivably be done the same way: a set of incentives/penalties that try to nudge self-interested behavior towards beneficial (rather than destructive) ends.

The big difference here is that everything we do seems to be solely economic in focus. In other words, "Greed" seems to be the only self-interest our culture has any expertise in channeling.

But is Greed really the only self-interest people have?!?

Is Greed the only motivation that drives people - of even the worst character - to do something day after day? Certainly there must be other types of self-interest? Might the list of "Deadly Sins" be a good place to start when looking for powerful motivations that can be manipulated?

saluk wrote:
You can't easily apply this type of thinking in the reverse, and when you try, you think you have everything in hand until the real world hits you over the head

I agree, which is why you'd want to test any really radical idea in a limited setting. Certainly there have been a plethora of experimental communities that have tried different social rules and norms: religious communities, eco-villages, cohabitations, agricultural communes, sharing economies, so on and so forth.
 
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Jared Quintana
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From the original post.

Are you saying that Capitalism is a social problem?

Because I believe Capitalism, as in the free market, is the best system there is.

Now, if you are talking about Crony Capitalism then yes I can see that as an issue.
 
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