Skip to main content

Designing Real Life

Lately, if I give my mind sufficient idle cycles, it may meander over to matters of social commentary in ways that only high gas prices and an upcoming presidential election can.

Considering how hopeless it would be to assume that a humble layman (let alone a computer game addict) such as myself could ever have any chance of understanding the U.S. political landscape, I instead have had fun with this thought instead: "What if we frame designing our societies in real life in much the same way as if were designing a MMORPG?"

Real life could be said to be more complicated than designing games in that the creator of the rule system has a whole lot less freedom over governing the nature of reality. If we wanted people to stop killing themselves in "Middle East Conflict: The MMORPG," we just code it so players can't attack players. No such luck for reality.

That said, the comparison still works in a certain level. The laws and other functions we adopt as a society are definitely intended to have the effect of the "carrots" (incentives) and "sticks" (punishments). These really function pretty identically to the mechanics of a MMORPG, only presenting difficulty in making sure they're properly enforced so they work.

In an example of a minor MMORPG snafu, you might accidentally make a single repeatable quest the most desirable in the game by giving a disproportionately larger reward than the other quests. The result is that players start fighting over the mobs involved in this quest while all the other content in the game goes unused.

The same thing happens in real life in the scenario of a blue light special resulting in this season's favorite Christmas toy being on sale for 80% off. You could hear the cries of trampled housewives from the next town.

Incentive: Money

This brings me into the whole concept of capitalism and how it'll either work or fail depending how it's designed. The idea behind money in real life, as in a game, is to provide an incentive for the citizens/players to act.

MMORPGs generally make gold magically appear off of every mob you kill. Sooner or later, it accumulates to the point where you've bought everything you could ever want and the mobs still keep dropping gold. When inflation happens, it's game breaking, money becomes more and more inadequate. Eventually, you simply can't function without a higher level player providing some seed money.

The same applies to monetary systems in real life. To even start to open the can of worms that is economics would take the economic training of a legion, so I'll stick to reiterating the moral we just learned: "Allowing people to sit on a massive amount of money requires a design that generates more more and this will inevitably lead to inflation."

The American dream is to get rich - accumulate, accumulate, accumulate. However, from a MMORPG design perspective, does this really work? The result of haves and have-nots mirrors reality to a startling degree. As an societal incentive, money seems off - it needs to circulate more than it does, perhaps be rendered unable to accumulate at all.

To keep the players seeking the proper incentives, and doing the right thing, is key. So why is it that it seems the people involved in wrongdoing make so much sometimes? From a MMORPG design perspective, it's clearly faulty.

The Designer Is Key

You really have to hope that those in charge of designing the game want to make a good game. If you're not designing for the good of the game, then what are you designing for?

Take the example of the power mad Dungeon Master who slaughters the entire party with an impossible challenge just so he can have the satisfaction of winning. No game can survive that kind of treatment for long, and therein lay the danger of corrupt officials in office.

In this way, it's clear that it's absolutely imperative that those who make the rules have the best interest of the people in mind. Otherwise, the "carrots" and "sticks" end up in the wrong place, and the game gets less and less enjoyable. In politics, that game is what governs the way you live your life.

That said, it is important to give the designer some leeway. Your politicians are only human, after all. However, the placement of the carrots and sticks are awfully telling as to their actual intentions. Who is being given the greatest incentives, and why? It's probably a bad sign if the designer is afraid to tell the players why they needed to make the adjustments they did.


So, the next time you hear of some major political altercation, frame it in the perspective of if you were designing a MMORPG. Why did the designer put those carrots and sticks where they are? How will it impact the world you live in? The result might be humorous or shocking, and maybe you shouldn't take it too seriously, but in any case it should be an interesting exercise.


Popular posts from this blog

Empyrion Vrs Space Engineers: A Different Kind Of Space Race

In my quest for more compelling virtual worlds, I have been watching Empyrion: Galactic Survival a lot this bizarro weekend, mostly via the Angry Joe Show twitch stream.  What I have concluded from my observations is Empyrion is following in Space Engineers' shadow, but it is nevertheless threatening the elder game due to a greater feature set (the modding scene notwithstanding).

Empyrion is made in Unity, whereas Space Engineers is built on a custom engine.  While this does put Empyrion at a disadvantage when it comes to conceptual flexibility, its developers nevertheless have a substantial advantage when it comes to adding features due to a savings of time spent that would have gone into developing their own engine.  Examples include:
Planets.  Empyrion already has planets and space to explore between them, whereas in Space Engineers planets are in the works but still awhile away (so you just have asteroid fields to scavenge).Enemies.  Space Engineers' survival mode boasts onl…

Resonant Induction Really Grinds My Gears... In A Good Way

From about 2pm yesterday until 8pm today, I've been dabbling with my latest custom mod mix for Minecraft 1.6.4, which is this time very much Universal Electricity focused.
Aside from the usual GUI enhancers and Somnia, the primary contenders in this mix were:
Calclavia Core - Of course: this is the base of the Universal Electricity system.Resonant Induction - This seems to be largely focused on increasingly more advanced methods of refining ores divided across 4 ages of technological progression.  It also includes some really cool things such as assembly lines.  I'll primarily be talking about just a few blocks out of this mod today.Atomic Science - A mod dedicated to generating more of those lovely universal electricity volts via the power of splitting the atom.  Build your own nuclear reactor!  Deal with nuclear meltdowns!  You maniac!ICBM - A mod dedicated to generating more destruction using those lovely universal electricity volts (and more than a little gunpowder), it cer…

Greasing The Grind: Adding Lasting Appeal To Virtual World Sandboxes

Game design, being about entertainment, is not as much science as art.  We're coming up with interesting things that the human mind likes to chew on that "taste" good to it.  Different people find different things, "Fun," and a game designer is tasked with coming up with fun, appealing things.  As pertains to virtual world sandboxes, I identified three of them.

Challenge Appeal.

Dwarf Fortress and Fortresscraft Evolved have the same end game appeal preservation mechanic: wealth equals threat.  The more money your Dwarf Fortress is worth, the bigger the baddies who will come for you, including a bunch of snobby useless nobles who do nothing but push dwarves around and eat.  The more energy you make in Fortresscraft Evolved, the more and bigger bugs come to shut down your base.  Rimworld does something a little different based off of which AI Storyteller you choose, but it generally adds time to your wealth accumulation when deciding what kind of threats to throw a…