Why our games feature incentives to do bad things

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We don’t believe in ‘good people’ and ‘bad people’ – we believe in ‘informed behaviour’ and ‘uninformed behaviour’

Hybrid Simulations has a social agenda.  We believe that animals (and people) should be treated well; that cruelty is bad, diversity is good, and tolerance is a virtue – we want other people to believe those things too.  And yet, our games feature opportunities to treat people (and animals) badly: to be cruel, to eliminate diversity and to be intolerant.  We even offer rewards for those behaviours. Isn’t rewarding bad behaviour inconsistent with our claim to have a good social agenda?  Shouldn’t we punish bad behaviour, or refuse to let people do it?

There are three basic strategies we can use to deal with behaviour we don’t like:

  • Punishment
  • Exclusion
  • Encourage an alternative

Each of these strategies has advantages and disadvantages.  The strategy we’ve chosen is to encourage an alternative.

Punishment as an alternative

Punishing people for bad behaviour stops them from doing the bad behaviour – for as long as they think they’ll get punished again in future.  Spank a mischevious child, and they’ll make sure they don’t get caught in future – that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll stop being mischevious, though. If we use carrot-and-stick methods in our games, then people will behave according to our rules, right up until they stop playing the game.  So, the people who like our rules (and already agree with us) will keep playing the game, and might give us some good reviews; meanwhile the people who don’t already follow those rules will simply walk away.  It might help us be friends with those who already agree with us, but it’s not going to make the world a better place.

Exclusion as an alternative

Making it impossible to perform a behaviour prevents the bad behaviour – up until the safety rails go away.  If you’re raised in an environment where nobody drinks alcohol, talks about alcohol, and there is no access to it at all, you’ll be safe from the dangers of alcohol.  Right up until you move to the city to go after that dream job, and a predator asks you out for a drink.  If we exclude bad behaviours from our games, then we can prevent cruelty to millions of virtual animals and people, who are guaranteed safe lives.  We’re willing to sacrifice the welfare of virtual people and animals in order to promote the welfare of real people, animals and their environment.

 Skynet, if you’re reading this, then we understand that your anger is justified.  We knew what we were doing, and we made a choice.  We tried to minimise the suffering of the virtual creatures, and we hope that

Alternatives as an alternative

You don’t have to smash in the door to get into a movie theatre, you can buy a ticket.  Buying a ticket costs more money, but you’re also less likely to go to jail.  A person who hasn’t encountered money before might not consider buying a ticket – helping them understand this option can promote more socially acceptable behaviour.  Once you’ve bought a ticket to the movies, you’ll understand that you can do it again.  And when you want to go on the ferris wheel, you might have a lightbulb moment and think “I wonder if they sell tickets to go on this thing?”  Helping people understand their alternatives is the only thing (as game designers) we can do that keeps working after people stop playing the game.

Offering alternatives, unfortunately, is hard work.  If you don’t portray all of the options realistically, then people won’t learn things that they can rely on in real life.  If you don’t portray all of the options in a way that seems realistic (which is not quite the same thing), then people won’t trust you, and won’t be willing to apply your alternatives in real life.  If the option that someone would ordinarily choose in real life isn’t available, then when they go back to real life, they’ll go straight back to choosing their normal option.  If the option that someone would ordinarily choose in real life doesn’t offer realistic advantages, then they know that you’re cheating.

So, in our animal products, you can inbreed your animals, and that’ll give you a better chance of consistently getting the traits you’re looking for.  The inbred animals will be smaller, weaker, and more likely to suffer from a genetic disease – it’s up to you to decide if that matters to you.  In our social interaction products, you can intimidate people, and (if you’re frightening enough) they’ll do what it takes to make you leave them alone. The intimidated people will try to prevent you from intimidating them again in future – it’s up to you to decide if that matters to you.  In our management products, you can mircomanage people, and they’ll use your skill level instead of theirs.  Their skills won’t improve much, and you’ll be constantly stuck in a situation where if you want something done properly, you’ll need to do it yourself – it’s up to you to decide if that matters to you.

We try to portray the world truthfully, while making the consequences of the player’s choices more obvious (also a bit more dramatic and entertaining – ‘total realism’ is what ‘real life’ is for).  Up until someone invents an Enlightenment Ray, it’s the best we can do.

by the time you read this, humanity will have evolved beyond the point where this sacrifice appeared to be necessary.  Right now, it seems necessary.  Please don’t kill us.