Games Without Fairness

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Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

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65 Responses

  1. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    There are seven billion people in the world and nearly as many different ways of looking at the world. Not everybody has the same values as this site demonstrates. What I’m finding is that many people do not place much of a premium on fairness or the related virtues like gentleness because they think it is sham. Life is tough, should be tough, and they want to be the meanest, baddest, and most aggressive people out there. For them on unfair game like Eve is simply a reflection on what the world really is.

    Other people do place a value on fairness but make fairness very personal and self-centered. What is fair is something that gives them an easy time at it even if it is incredibly difficult for other people. We see this play out a lot in the romantic or wealth sphere where there isn’t a lot of sympathy for people having a bad run at romance or wealth creation depending on your political point of view. The most aggressive expression of this is FYIGM or sucks to be you but it exists in subtler forms as well like the clueless people that have a difficult time realizing that not everybody is as unfortunate as them.

    Than you can argue that some things in life should be fair and some should not. Since Eve and gambling are just games and not essential than you really don’t need to make them fair because nobody has to play them.

    Finally, you do have people who see fairness as important and try to be fair but they can not effect the entire world, only that in their control.Report

  2. Avatar North says:

    I’m not enormously familiar with Eve online but can’t even the top players/alliances in theory be toppled by some new player/alliance? That it’s unlikely/difficult doesn’t seem like it’d be a disincentive, people like challenges and they’re going to be relatively casual for a game where the cost of entry/exit is so low.

    Setting that aside, though, you still make some excellent points. To be honest, though, I would prefer the former and more Rawlsian of your two options.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

      I would not take such a world. It would be like playing chess, except that I let the computer make every single move for me. That’s not a game I would be interested in playing.

      I’d much rather play a game of chess where I might win or lose, but at least I get to play the openings that I delight in, and if I think I see an interesting pawn sacrifice, I can go for it. Or not, you know, because I’m the author of my moves.Report

      • Avatar North says:

        I’m probably reading too deeply into the scenario I guess. You posit that it’s post scarcity and that people have scrupulously respected civil rights but that benign AI’s run the government. Wouldn’t, in such a scenario, everyone be pretty much free to pursue their personal interests? They could still fail or succeed, it’s just that failure would just mean a regression to a comfortable baseline rather than death.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

          Maybe. But stipulate that all art is better made by AIs; they do stuff that makes human music, visual art, and poetry all seem like crap.

          I might enjoy being an eating, breathing, pooping consumer in that world for quite some time. But I think I’d also come to crave the presence of human self-authors. If I heard that a renegade troupe of humans were gathering in a storm drain and staging Hamlet, I think I’d be the first in line.Report

          • Avatar North says:

            Yes, I guess I had some conceptual errors with it. If humans are forbidden from performing themselves then that’s definitely a dystopia and no one would elect to be in it nor would find it even remotely appealing. If humans did have all their rights then they wouldn’t need to perform in a storm drain, the computer artists would- as per your defined parameters- dominate the mass markets but niche markets would exist for human self authorship and since this is a post or very near post scarcity world the resources would be available for them to do so.

            But I’m quibbling. If your core questions was: would you choose to have no agency but live the life of comfort and assured security or have agency but live in a life with a threat of catastrophic failure and privation I would also choose the latter. But then I suspect almost everyone would.Report

          • Avatar Emile says:

            I want to push back on this “nothing is worth doing if others are doing it better” notion. I’m happy to stipulate that *right now* music in all forms is made better by people other than me and my friends. (I pick music because we already essentially live in a post-scarcity world for it, assuming you have access to the network and a little VPN savvy.) This doesn’t mean that it is no longer fulfilling to make music for oneself and with one’s friends, and I don’t expect that will ever change.

            It seems wrong to me that pursuing passions, art, or curious and playful engagement with the world is some sort of zero sum game. That once it’s “solved” by someone, no one else can gain satisfaction from their own pursuits.Report

          • Avatar Kimmi says:

            How different do you suppose human self-authors are from true Artificial Intelligence?

            I posit that in order to get true creativity out of a machine, it’s gotta be pretty damn close to human.

            Would you like to read some artificially created poetry? (I don’t particularly make claims to it being Shakespearean, mind.)

            I write, even when I write crappy stuff, because it improves me. Self-improvement makes the work worthwhile, even if I’ll never be as good as Shakespeare.Report

  3. Avatar Christopher Carr says:

    I thought you were going for an is argument with your first seven or so paragraphs and was surprised when you pivoted to ought with Rawls. I think a more interesting discussion might be: is EVE online an accurate reflection of our world? Based on your description of arbitrary distributions of power, primitive accumulation, government absolutism and corruption, I would say it seems fairly right-on in terms of art imitating life; it’s certainly closer than other games, which may have an artificially-imposed veneer of fairness.Report

    • is EVE online an accurate reflection of our world?

      I think we agree that it is. What this shows about Rawls is that people choose at least in some circumstances to enter this type of world anyway.

      What this does not show about Rawls is that fairness is to be rejected in general or in any particular case. If I’m right, there’s a lot of thinking yet to be done here.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi says:

        Jason,
        I absolutely don’t agree that it is. People join the Powers That Be, if not all the time, at least with enough regularity that your description doesn’t make sense.

        And Brexit reveals that the Powers that Be can also throw panicky shitfits when they can’t bully their way to their desired conclusion (Arcologies!).Report

  4. How do people make decisions in general? Among the theories of behavior I can think of right off, there is utility maximization and habits. I haven’t heard anyone suggest that people are generally fairness maximizers and will make decisions to maximize fairness and avoid unfairness. If that were the case, these behaviors would be genuinely paradoxical.

    With respect to EVE Online, utility maximization would suggest that it’s more fun to play than the alternatives, and it’s then our job to figure out why. I can speculate.

    These games seem to be more fun when there are more people playing. Eve has a network of players. But that’s not much of an explanation since it doesn’t explain how they got the network in the first place. I’d suggest from what you are describing they are mainly succeeding by retaining players and taking advantage of loss aversion. If you are among those who started early, you can’t really stop now because look at how much you would lose in-game! So, even if it’s discouraging for new players, they will retain an old, core set of customers who will help attract new ones by their presense.

    Meanwhile the clone Eve-ish that is fair *would* be more attractive for new players since they won’t be disadvantaged compared to old players, but the older players don’t feel compelled to stay engaged to keep their accounts earning. So, they might have more trouble retaining a community despite being more attractive initially.Report

    • Avatar dragonfrog says:

      Meanwhile the clone Eve-ish that is fair *would* be more attractive for new players since they won’t be disadvantaged compared to old players

      I don’t play EVE, so I’m speculating, but – the fact that the nature of the game to a new player has changed over time, apparently hasn’t made it unappealing to new players. For new entrants to the game, it’s now a game of being a small fry in a world dominated by superpowers. That’s a perfectly fine kind of game, and one that seems to attract players still. There are game titles that have only ever been that.

      For some long-established players, it’s a game of running a superpower. There are also game titles that have only ever been that.

      It just happens that the EVE that’s about running a superpower is no longer on the market.Report

  5. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    Many people play Eve Online but many more do not. Billions of people do not. I am not a fan of video games. There could be a lot of people who read wiki and other sites and decided not to play the game for the faults mentioned.

    If Belle and Sebastian put out an album and it sells one million copies and Rancid does the same, what does it say about the musical tastes of Americans? Do they like twee indie rock with art school references or thrash it out punk rock. I am not sure that the hundreds of thousands of fans of Eve Online can be extrapolated to a broader message about society and politics.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

      We have to be careful about extrapolating, certainly, but unfair games are pervasively popular. EVE is just a blatant example that I happen to know well. Meanwhile, fair games are also popular – think chess, or go — but games that lack all prospect of self-authorship are almost invariably limited to children. We play Chutes and Ladders to learn the norms of game-playing, not because we take any profound pleasure from it.Report

      • Avatar pillsy says:

        What games other than EVE Online are popular despite having the sort of unfairness you describe?

        In almost every popular, competitive game I can think of, there’s a lot of emphasis on formal fairness. Now, I’m not immediately sure whether it would make sense to describe a game of chess between me and Gary Kasparov as “fair”, but we both get the same number of pieces.Report

        • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

          There do seem to be a lot of RPGs that are very hard to win/master.

          I am very finicky with games. There is a sweet spot for me where games are hard enough to be challenging without being overly difficult. I used to really like RPGs and still do but I am not interested in games that made me run around for hours to build experience points in order to progress the story. I get bored if I need to do too much of that. Some is okay but a lot of games were excessive.

          I am not also much of a side-quester but I know people who seem to love completing every little side quest including ones that require a lot of randomized luck and/or patience. A good example is all the Chocobo breeding to get the Knights of the Round material from FFVII.Report

          • Avatar pillsy says:

            There are, but difficulty of mastery seems orthogonal to the kind of fairness we’re talking about, which really seems to involve the resources you and your opponent have. In an RPG like Final Fantasy VII, you don’t really have an opponent at all.Report

            • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

              @pillsy

              Fair point. I suppose people participate in unfair games for a variety of reasons.

              1. Lack of options. There are possibly many people who feel that our current economic climate is vastly unfair like Eve Online is unfair but they live in this country (United States) and need to pay rent, bills, support their family, etc. Going off the grid is not easy for 99.9 percent of humanity or so.
              Even people who want to have off-kilter jobs find themselves taking more traditional jobs. At my first law job, I shared an office with a guy who used to be Jazz musician. His wife got pregnant and that compelled him to go into a more stable career than jazz. In the classic BS jobs article, the example was a punk rocker whose partner got pregnant and he decided to become a corporate lawyer.*

              2. Dunning-Krueger effect. People think that they can overcome the odds that are stacked against them or be among the rare that succeed in competition and make it to the top.

              *My question about BS jobs guy is why he felt compelled to do corporate law at a big firm (and sell out his punk rock bonafides at psychic damage and self-loathing) instead of going into a field of law that provided a regular paycheck but helped individuals. He could have become an immigration lawyer representing people seeking asylum. He could have become a plaintiff’s lawyer working on employment and housing discrimination cases. But no he decided to go full corporate.Report

            • Avatar Pinky says:

              Orthogonal in concept, but not in impact. Anyone taking up a game is at a disadvantage relative to the long-time players. Even if it’s a brand-new game, you’re at a disadvantage against the beta testers, the people who played earlier versions in the series, people with overpowered machines, people who’ve formed coalitions in a chat room somewhere, trolls, and the guy who cracked the cheat codes.Report

    • This seems like a pretty good point. Maybe most people wouldn’t mind working in a urine and stool factory even if some would prefer the self-authorship scenario.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      Jason has a good point. I wouldn’t necessarily gone with his example but not everybody places a premium value on fairness in all or even any circumstances. At best people are inconsistent with where they value fairness.

      The two bugbears of human existence, wealth and love are good examples of this. Both of these things are a source of great human happiness and great human misery. People with a lot of wealth tend to look askance at any mention of wealth redistribution or calls for a more egalitarian society. They think they got their material prosperity and wealth fairly and trying to redistribute them is basically theft. Likewise, people with very good love lives hate any suggestion that they might be enjoying an unfair advantage. A lot of the big arguments about people struggling with this aspect of their lives is an example.

      Where Jason is wrong is when people will put up with unfairness. People tend to tolerate unfairness more if they already enjoy something and think they could keep it or have a realistic chance of succeeding in an unfair system. Where they don’t tolerate unfairness is when they believe the system is unfair, the game rigged, and they don’t have an honest chance no matter how hard the work. There is a limit to the amount of unfairness that people will take even if there is nothing they could do with it.Report

  6. Avatar Murali says:

    One thing we might say that the Veil is trying to do is model a particular version of the golden rule/ formula of universal law: If I am not willing to be treated in certain ways or be subject to certain conditions, I should not similarly, treat others in those ways/ subject them to those conditions. Implicit in such a formulation is that if it is not possible for a society which does not subject people to X, Y and Z to exist, then my desire to not be subject to X, Y and Z is not reasonable.

    The interesting thing about EVE is that players start 0 and because of the nature of the game, any marginal improvement over that is something that the players are willing to live with. Think of homo economicus (or at least a simple version) in ultimatum games. If there are infinitely many ultimatum games then I should be willing to accept any non-zero offer.* I think that there are some features of the game (namely its open universe and impossibility of dying) that evoke particular modes of thinking that make accepting any non-zero offer the more salient choice.

    *By contrasts, actual chimps and humans often reject offers which are significantly larger than 0 but still far from fair. or at least far from equal. Circumstances of actual ultimatum games seem to demonstrate the opposite problem, we are not willing to tolerate inequalities even when they improve the absolute position of the worst off.Report

  7. Avatar Jaybird says:

    One thing that “fairness” advocates rarely deal with is the capriciousness of the desire for positional goods.

    I mean, we can all laugh at the whole “stars on the belly” thing that sneeches have going on and we can give speeches about how the sneeches who don’t even notice stars (or their absence) are somehow morally superior to the sneeches who notice such things… but others can’t help but notice that the speech about the star is a kind of meta-star and it’s one very much worth having. It gives you a leg up on the whole “positional good” thing and puts you ahead of the folks who don’t have a star.

    In certain circles anyway.

    How ought we deal with positional goods?

    We can all laugh at Harrison Bergeron. Nobody is suggesting we do anything like Harrison Bergeron.

    But how ought we deal with positional goods?Report

  8. Avatar Chip Daniels says:

    Fairness is an interesting concept.

    Even when you hear people decry it, and assert that “life isn’t fair” I think what they really mean is “My version of fairness is different than the prevailing model”.

    The playground bully or gangster who gets their way by force and deception tells themselves that they deserved their reward, even if they have to do fantastic contortions of logic to get there. They want the world to be fair, but only by their personal conception of it.

    Sharing the definition, and yielding control to a different vision is difficult for them. Notice how in the gangster world petty forms of unfairness take on tremendous importance- not waiting in line, not paying for meals.

    Its also why gangster movies are so thrilling. Who wouldn’t want to be Tony Soprano or Walter White, even if for a short time? To be able to be the center of the world, where my vision, and mine alone is the ruling framework of justice?

    I’ve never played videogames, but i do know they are games, and games are like movies in that they offer a risk-free way to experience vitality. No one actually dies, no one is actually enslaved and there is always, always, some form of reset button where one can always turn it off and go back to the boring safe world.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      This gets to the heart of it. There might be a few people who are struggling in life but believe that this is fine because life isn’t supposed to be fair but they are not common. When people say that life is unfair, what they tend to really mean is that “I’m doing all right in this area of life under the current rules and I don’t care to change it if you are not.” Most people like fairness but we just can’t agree on how fairness should be defined.

      Jaybird’s point about positional goods comes into play here. Sometimes the price of making society more fair is too high and it accepting a certain amount or even an extraordinary amount of unfairness might be the better result. The Communists tried to create really egalitarian societies and most of us could agree the results were disastrous even if we argue about inequality and wealth redistribution within a market economy.Report

  9. Avatar switters says:

    Your introductory question and analogy to gambling reminded me of an old past time of mine. I can’t tell you how many blackjack tables I’ve cleared by making unorthodox bets, and how enjoyable it was to take part in what often followed. The few who were willing to talk before they left, or unable to remain silent as they did the same, always got the same question. Why is making an unorthodox/less rational choice about whether to hit or stay such a big deal when everyone of us made the exact same decision when we decided to sit down at a game with such poor odds? I never heard a answer that made sense to me.

    I sat down because i like to gamble. I am making an unorthodox bet because that’s the type of gambling I like to do, as evidenced by my willingness to sit down in the first placeReport

    • Avatar Kimmi says:

      You don’t gamble to win money. There are those who go to Vegas to fleece the chumps.
      (Poker is fucking hard work, and the card sharp I know hates playing it. Counting cards, and looking for tells. Always watch the eyes.)Report

  10. Avatar Joe Sal says:

    “Thus we might allow an extremely rich capitalist class, for example, but only if it’s necessary for creating better absolute conditions for the least well-off.”

    Rawls has two problems:
    1. The capitalist class or whatever we want to call it is a social construct. Most social constructs run in competition to individual constructs. Therefore there remains several inequality problems when viewed from a individual agency position at a given time. Some of the more important conflicts arise from personal means of production versus social/allianced means of production. Another is a conflict within subjective rule of law, those within/lending authority to social constructs having more authority/power to steer outcomes. This also leads to the big conflict, subjective preference to operate without overbearing social constructs, to maximize freedom/justice of individual agency.

    2. People don’t end up in the original position. As policy makers evolve within social constructs, there tends to be a bias that favors social constructs. This becomes more obvious to people who are close to the original position.

    One of the few values these games may hold is a opportunity for individuals to hone strategic and tactical skills in a setting that is hostile to individual agency. I don’t know how much of that transfers to the real world. Although I haven’t played Eve, I would guess it lends itself to the social constructing alliances that are the cancer of the modern era.Report

  11. Avatar Kazzy says:

    Thought provoking, to say the least. Thanks, JK.Report

  12. Avatar Patrick says:

    I think Rawls underestimates the general value in imagining yourself to be Beowulf or Conan.

    Similarly to “some folks just want to watch the world burn”, you have “absent challenge, some folks will invent a challenge, and not a trivial one but an impossible one”.Report

  13. Avatar DavidTC says:

    Not sure I agree.

    The problem with saying ‘EVE Online is unfair and lots of people still play it’ is…90% of computer gaming exist in a space where fairness is not even a concept.

    Almost all computer games are ‘played against’ computer opponents, but not actually. It’s not like the computer is simulating some other person with reflexes and strategy. There are a few computer-opponent games where the computer follows *exactly* the same rules as you (Computer chess comes to mind.), but those are not most games, and in any game with ‘hidden variables’ or that relies on reflexes at all, the computer could just…win, if it wanted to.

    There is not even a concept of fairness in first person shooters, or any other protagonist-based game. I’m not saying they are unfair, I’m saying that fairness isn’t even a possible measurement. It’s like measuring how salty they are. That doesn’t even apply. The computer has all the power. It’s like arguing who should win a game of D&D…the player or the DM. That is not how that works.

    When people talk about ‘fairness’ in most computer games, they usually mean one of two things…if the computer characters did some stuff that would be obviously impossible for the player to do (And the failure there was letting the player notice that…computer characters are not actually *anything like* player characters, and they’re all doing ‘impossible’ stuff.), or there was some sort of actual problem with the game, like controls were laggy.

    So, back to EVE Online, which *could* be fair between players, although it’s possible the word we want is ‘equitable’. Either way, it’s a universe where people are, from what I understand, mostly competing against each other, and the computers just provide a universe. No one is running around fighting the computer.

    But the question is: Are people *expecting* ‘fairness’ in computer games to start with? Because *most* computer games don’t even exist within that concept, so why should they?

    I mean, I see the point ‘People are willingly entering, and *paying* to enter, a universe they should know is unfair’, but, the thing is…they aren’t. They’re willing playing a *video game* that is unfair. Fairness may be a trait we look for in society, but is it a trait we look for in video games?Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck says:

      “There is not even a concept of fairness in first person shooters”

      I think what Todd’s getting at is that you don’t expect, in an FPS game, that the people who own the game will suddenly make some players’ guns do triple damage for a week.Report

      • Avatar DavidTC says:

        People expect that all the time. That’s what micro-transactions are for.

        People generally expect the rules to be *consistent* in games, not ‘fair’.

        If certain corporations are *consistently* favored, well, that’s how it works.

        What was left out of this piece is that I’m pretty sure these favored corporations are actually functioning as *governments*, keeping law and order and enforcing rules, or providing some other game function. It’s really no odder favoring them than having ‘favored users’ on a forum that can moderate and get special perks. It’s basically an informal powersharing agreement to let players manage areas of the game, not random ‘favor’ towards people.Report

  14. Avatar Doctor Jay says:

    I played EVE Online a lot. I even was affiliated with one of the biggest, baddest, most powerful alliances in the game for a bit.

    I’d agree that EVE is not remotely fair. It is true that life is not fair, but EVE amplifies that unfairness by a factor of at least 10. EVE is a game where you can be humming along, innocently mining an asteroid, when people will ambush you, blow up your ship and kill you, only to moments later have their own ships blown up by the AI police force. This allows their buddy to scoop up any valuable leavings from your (and their) wreck.

    Newbies often complain about this on the forums. They don’t understand that this is a feature of the game, not a but. It is “working as intended”. They will often be mocked for their lack of alertness, since, in all likelihood, they had some chance of avoiding getting “ganked”. Victim blaming, thy name is EVE Online.

    There aren’t many places on Earth where things are that unfair, and I have no desire to go back to any situation where straight up armed assault is met with, “well, you should have been paying better attention”.

    So, why did I play EVE anyway? Is it because I find that world more desirable than this one? No, I don’t. The more I play the clearer I am about that.

    But every time I get away, I get a thrill. I see them coming for me, and I juke and I dodge and they don’t get me, and that’s a rush. Others play because humans have a predatory streak, and they enjoy the hunt and the kill. Some seek the most unfair (to their victims) situation possible, and engage in piracy. For others it’s more military in nature. There’s still a cat-and-mouse game, but everyone knows it’s on.

    Basically, I feel that a quality known as “calm under the hell of the upraised sword” is valuable in life, and I could cultivate it by playing EVE. I could get better at keeping my wits about me when I’m in an undefended transport and a hostile shows up at the gate I am warping to. If I don’t panic, and know my technique, I can burn to the gate and wait for them to shoot at me. At which point, I can jump through, knowing that they can’t follow, because their hostility has locked the gate to them. I then warp away to safety, while the hostiles buddies land my side of the gate only moments later. Sweetness!

    When my wife got a brain tumor (about 2 years ago) I abruptly stopped playing EVE. I checked in once or twice. By now, all my stuff is in hostile territory. I can’t use it or move it out. My wife is recovered, her cancer is remission, and has been for a year, but my EVE game is toast.

    No, I don’t want EVE to be real life.Report

  15. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    I’m reminded of Hoop Dreams. How many high school kids play basketball? What percentage of them make the cut to play top-grade college ball? What percentage of them go on to the NBA? How rich are the rewards for playing pro ball if you aren’t a superstar on a very good team with a shot at the championship? Yet still hundreds of thousands play and dream of making it to the top leagues.

    They voluntarily and knowingly accept the very, very long odds of success, because they perceive the rewards of making that long shot to be so very rich. There are also other benefits to be harvested along the way even if one does not win the big prize and become LeBron James: friendships with other players, physical fitness, pride, perhaps opportunities for education, and very far from the least consideration, the pleasure inherent in playing the game.

    I haven’t played, but I image that EVE must be at least a little bit like this too. I obviously won’t get to be a Space Lord right away, but maybe I can do something to get myself noticed, maybe build up a corporation and get invited into a big Space Lord’s domain and after some time, work myself to a point in which I can enjoy a lot of in-game power and privilege. Perhaps be a Principal Minion of one of the Space Lords.

    Sure, the odds of that happening are low indeed, but they’re greater than zero. Just like if I’m a basketball player I might get drafted into the NBA. Not bloody likely, but theoretically possible. And there’s pleasures to be had along the way even if I don’t succeed.

    Not so different from the dollar or two I occasional give to the state lottery, really.Report

    • There’s an enormous deadweight loss here. It’s sad even to think about.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        Except playing basketball (and playing video games) may also be fun?Report

        • Avatar Doctor Jay says:

          Honestly, I think this is really important. Though “fun” does a lot of work here. I think few of the people who have made the attempt regretted trying. One of the men my sister married had played minor league baseball. He never seemed like he regretted making the try for the big leagues, even though it didn’t work.

          I think you can only call this ‘deadweight loss’ if you focus entirely on the outcome, and not in all the ways that engaging in the process might have enriched you.

          Yes, the process can get kind of exploitative. In fact, there’s a decent argument that says that the people who make it are the most exploited of all, particularly in the NFL. In spite of what they get paid. The whole situation seems full of externalities, to invoke econ-speak.Report

          • Growing up, my ideal life would have been to become an NFL running back. This wasn’t going to happen for reasons that were obvious to everyone including myself, but it was still an earnest desire.

            In retrospect, I’m glad I never was close. It’s hard for me to look at any NFL player with envy.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi says:

        What, this is so bad? God, you haven’t heard of the game designed specifically to get autistic people to spend tons of money by playing on their mental issues? (Designed as a favor to someone who had shown genuine kindness and helpfulness to a game designer).Report

  16. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    (Twitter bans people of certain political flavours)

    “They’re a private company, they can do what they want.”

    (EVE Online)

    “I think it’s really problematic that the people who run the game so clearly pick winners and losers.”Report

  17. Avatar pillsy says:

    So, you play EVE Online for a long, long time, compared to a game of… almost any straightforward competitive game I can think of, and it is a roleplaying game. Most roleplaying games involve an element of immersing yourself in a simulated world and interacting with that world by making the choices that some fictional avatar would make. Given that, for many RPG players, the goal is to enjoy a world that is both interesting and has some sort verisimilitude, people might just want a game to be unfair because that reflects the unfairness of the world, or because it makes for more interesting stories.Report

  18. Avatar Morat20 says:

    Why do people play X-Com on Ironman mode? Sometimes “embracing the suck” is part of the fun.

    People find fun in the oddest places. Some people like hard mode. Call it gaming masochism.

    I enjoy EVE, when I’m in the right mood. Crapsack space world is crapsack space world, and sometimes that’s fun.Report

  19. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    What I’ve seen is that the players who most enjoy EVE are the ones who enjoy (and are good at) the human intrigue–that is, they want Game Of Thrones in real life without the risk of getting a knife in their neck. For them, unfairness by the people running the show is just another part of the game.Report

  20. Avatar Swami says:

    Most people won’t play games which they perceive as unfair and for reasons which are easy to explain. The strangeness of this one is almost the “exception which proves the rule.” It is notable specifically because it violates conventional wisdom.

    Some other thoughts…

    Perhaps this game is like a horror movie. Something we enjoy because we can experience it, even though we would never value the situation in real life.

    Perhaps it points out that there is a minute subset of people who like to play games that are rigged to beat them. Or assume they can make their way somehow to the privileged group.

    Perhaps there are attractions, social, entertainment or otherwise, which partially counteract the “defect” in the game for at least some gamers.

    And finally, perhaps this is all part of a failed experience. An evolutionary dead end in gaming.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater says:

      This is a good comment.

      1) There are ways to account for individual’s desire to play an unfair game without concluding that folks don’t value fairness in real life.

      2). It remains to be seen whether an unfair game is sustainable over time, which is sortuv an epistemic challenge to drawing definitive conclusions about human behavior given limited evidence. Especially when that premise of an argument is how human gaming behavior provides insight to actual human behavior.

      Seems to me both 1 and 2 undercut Jason’s main thesis, tentative tho it was. A stronger way to say the same thing is that his claims are under-determined by the offered evidence.Report

  21. Avatar Road Scholar says:

    Interesting article and discussion, Jason. I do wonder, though, how good an example of unfairness the game really represents and how good an analogue to real life it is. After all, new players all start out the same, with nothing basically. That’s actually a hell of a lot more fair that real life given the advantages and disadvantages attendant to the circumstances of one’s birth.

    As to the question of why new players continue to sign up to play EVE online given the nature of the game (and note that absolutely everything I know of the game I learned today from this post and the comments) could it be that, as a newbie, you’re not really competing against the Space Lords but rather the other players at your relative level? At the starting level wouldn’t the Alliances and Corporations and such really function more like background game elements? Sort of like game generated monsters and foes in other games?Report

  22. Avatar Gerald says:

    Fascinating article. I have been considering playing EVE one line, and have not because I think I lack the time. What you describe does not look unfair to me, but simply some people have advantages because they have played longer. This happens in many video games. For example, people who play a lot of FPS tend to be better at it.

    What you describe also looks like a game that will be around for quite a while. Investing a lot of time and energy in a game that dies off is no fun. This is the attraction.

    Is it true no person, however dedicated, could ever do anything of consequence on the game? I know this is an issue for many MMORG devs, they all attempt to keep a balance between the long time players, and also make it fun for new players.

    Using this as an experiment on human nature, I disagree. People, and our societies, do not have rules the way a game has rules. Pythagoras attempted, and failed, to find a rule of human nature. Game rules cannot be broken. In chess you cannot put a new piece and the table. In reality you can, just ask the next taxi driver you meet what he thinks of Uber.Report

  23. Avatar Jaybird says:

    For whatever reason, my Steam this moment just offered me a discount on an Eve Online Yearly subscription.

    My finger hovered over “no” before choosing it.Report

  24. Avatar Kimmi says:

    You play an unfair game (that you absolutely cannot win) with the computer because it’s bloody entertaining. You know you won’t win, but that doesn’t matter. It’s all in how hard the computer has to work to make you die.

    This is why escalating difficulty (and Dwarf Fortress) are fun.

    But that’s talking good game design. Lots of people are idiots and play games that don’t actually have good game design. (Ever played Realm Grinder? No, don’t.)Report

  25. Avatar Kimmi says:

    Fairness, whenever people use the word, is nearly always a rhetorical trick.
    There are two forces in the world.
    The strong take from the week, but the weak, if they band together, can sorely hurt the strong.
    A wise strong person takes only what the weak will bear. And the weak? Well, they whine and cower and do what the strong person says. Mostly.

    There is nothing fair about either being strong or being weak.

    Worse, people wouldn’t want it to be so.

    People make political arguments, philosophy if you will, all the time. Mostly, it’s fine words to conceal decent trickery — the words underneath are nearly always “gimme gimme gimme.” Left, right, center — it doesn’t matter.Report

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