Possibilities for converting useless fun into utility in Online Gaming

by Aleksei_Riikonen2 min read27th Apr 201019 comments

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Personal Blog

Online gaming in immersive MMOs such as World of Warcraft or EVE Online is a common way of having fun. As technology progresses, MMO gaming will likely become ever more popular, until MMOs are fully immersive virtual realities, leading many to consider them as the primary venue of their lives, instead of "the old(/real) world" (without such thinking being pathological anymore).

Currently, however, many people such as myself mostly find MMO gaming a threat to their productivity. MMOs can be very fun, druglike even, without providing any utility to valued real-world pursuits such as reducing existential risk and having money to buy food.

The default recommendation regarding MMOs for most rationalists should probably be "stay away from them -- or at least don't get into active gaming". This is also my current attitude.

Despite this, it may actually be worth considering whether some utility could be extracted from MMO gaming, specifically from the point of view of SIAI supporters such as myself. (From here on, I'll use the term "SIAIfolk" to refer to people interested in furthering SIAI's and allied organizations' mission.)

It seems that the amount of SIAIfolk is undergoing strong growth, and that this may continue. At some point, which we may currently have passed or not, there may therefore (despite all recommendations) be a substantial number of SIAIfolk engaging in somewhat active MMO gaming.

In such a circumstance, it may be beneficial to form a "Singularitarian Gaming Group", which along with functioning as a gaming clan in the various MMOs participated in, would include an internal reward and ranking system that would motivate people *away* from spending too much time on gaming, and encourage more productive activities. Some amount of MMO gaming would be done, with the company of other SIAIfolk making it more fun, but incentives and social support would be in place to keep gaming down to a rational level.

It would be critical to build the incentive system well. A poorly built system would lead SIAIfolk to spend more resources on gaming and less effort on productive stuff than would have happened if "Singularitarian Gaming Group" didn't exist in the first place. I however believe that "SGG" can be set up in a meaningful way, at least if we already have SIAIfolk who are spending more time on MMO gaming than they find optimal.

With this article, my main intention is to gauge whether such SIAIfolk already exist. If so, make a comment or email me. Let's then set up a mailing list for discussion of what kind of a "SGG" could be useful. (Opinions on what service to use to set up the mailing list are also welcome.)

In addition to what's mentioned above, a Singularitarian Gaming Group might also provide utility by serving as an outreach tool towards the MMO gaming community. It could market Singularitarian activism and existential risk reduction as working towards the ultimate gaming world.

It is also worth considering whether we should actually have a Less Wrong Gaming Group rather than SGG. And since I'm posting this here, an intention of course is to invite commentary on the rationality of all of the above thinking.

(My intention is not to discuss the specifics of an incentive system too much here on Less Wrong, though I'll mention one non-obvious feature which is teaching MMO addicts to play profitable online poker and giving points for progress and achievements in that. I'm currently spending a lot of time on poker, and the thought of a Less Wrong Poker Group as a separate thing from this "SGG" has crossed my mind, but that's a topic for some other time.)

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19 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 12:49 AM
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I dunno, LW already seems like it's massively multiplayer enough. Plus its incentive system already tends to lead to spending more time on it, not less. The combat system still needs work, too, as a good position on a controversial topic wins you more karma than an insightful comment on a less-inflammatory topic.

;-)

How about factions with reputation based on completing exam quests (Bayesians? Frequentists? Consequentialists? Bards?), built-in arenas (bets? challenges? predictionbook?), PVP areas where dropping out of arguments without resolving them is punished by karma hits, general chat (permanent open thread?), achievements and meta-achievements ("Karma King: Accumulate 1000 Karma in a Month"?), user profiles (should they show IQ or books read by the players as inventory, as long as they are able to prove that?), random drops ("Downvote Zapper: Negates all downvotes of your next 10 top-level posts and comments."?)

I dunno, LW already seems like it's massively multiplayer enough. Plus its incentive system already tends to lead to spending more time on it, not less.

Very true. It already functions for me kind of like Aleksei_Riikonen describes MMORPGs:

Currently, however, many people such as myself mostly find MMO gaming a threat to their productivity. MMOs can be very fun, druglike even, without providing any utility to valued real-world pursuits such as reducing existential risk and having money to buy food.

Well, it's never kept me from having money for food. And it does increase my long-term productivity when it gives me a greater understanding of the rationalist arts, like in this article and this one. But still, it can be a source of distraction.

Attempting to bend it toward having more benefits to others seems like a prime case where you should watch out for Goodhart's Law. There are many things people can do that can get them quick karma but that they don't currently do because the benefits don't exceed the costs (like turning into a karma-whore). Increase the incentives too much, and the gap between "what gets you karma" and "what's actually helpful" will become noticeable -- and unwelcome.

(Confession: I probably wouldn't have submitted this as a top-level post if I were not reasonably sure it would get a positive rating, and that its rating would be amplified by ten for purposes of karma. That's just insane.)

QuakeLive is my drug of choice.

This probably belongs in a meta thread: I've also been concerned that the design of Lesswrong itself encourages poor use of time. It's set up with goals similar to other content sites: Lots of high quality comments, a semi-regular turnover of the front page, and even more on the 'new' page. easy tracking of long complicated threads.

All this is perfect if you're reddit and you want tons of ad views of content your users spend hours creating. This is less perfect if you want to maximize the productivity of your users.

There's been a lot of research on productive gaming. See http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-8246463980976635143&ei=Kpu0SJaLDJTy-wH55ICiDQ#

The most efficient form of productive gaming is simply picking up time that people would likely spend procrastinating anyways. The best analogy is to distributed computing systems. The relevant computing system with extra clock cycles in this case happens to be the human brain.

I don't however see how one would integrate that with an MMO or how this would be substantially useful to interact with in an MMO setting. I don't see how creating this sort of incentive system is at all helpful. If you want to get rationalists or SIAIfolk to do something it isn't efficient to first lure them to an MMO and then lure them from there into doing work.

Yeah that's one of the tricky problems I was trying to express: How to simultaneously not lure many new people into MMOs while luring into more productivity those that'd be in the MMOs anyway.

I don't think an incentives system for game activity is a good idea. For most online games, more in-game activity helps gain in-game utility. A gaming clan is intended to help its members all gain in-game utility, and incentives for game inactivity would be counterproductive towards those ends. Furthermore, forming a SGG or LWGG would probably draw many of us towards whatever game it is implemented in while likely only resulting in a slight decrease in activity for those already there (maybe an increase for those games where managing a clan takes a lot of work).

However, the idea of forming gaming clans as a way to get publicity for LW or SIAI could be a good one in games with a large social aspect. Still, I would not recommend incentives for inactivity, because increased interaction with other players would increase the effectiveness of a gaming publicity drive. Also, I think a Less Wrong clan would be much more effective than a Singularitarian clan, because most people would probably at first write of "Singularitarian" as some nutcase cult belief, and have no interest, but there are many people who desire to become less wrong and could be helped out a lot by this site, and many of them would learn about SIAI from LW after we hook them in.

Another possibility to use gaming productively is to try to start up a LW- or SIAI-backed MMO and use it to generate revenue. It seems unlikely that this would be practical, but I'm not sure of that, so I figure throwing that idea out there can't hurt.

Another possibility to use gaming productively is to try to start up a LW- or SIAI-backed MMO and use it to generate revenue. It seems unlikely that this would be practical, but I'm not sure of that, so I figure throwing that idea out there can't hurt.

I don't see any reason why it would be useful for the MMO to be explicitly LW- or SIAI- backed. It should be simple enough for anyone who affiliates with either to simply donate the profits of such a venture to SIAI/FHI/etc. without any of those institutions having to take the status hit of being involved in a video game.

Whether the word "Singularitarian" gives a bad impression may vary strongly from game to game. EVE Online, for example, has a science fiction setting and a smarter-than-usual playerbase, and the test server for the game is already called "Singularity" :)

About creating an MMO, it had crossed my mind that a team of SIAI-affiliated programmers could try to partner with EVE Online developers and create subgames to include in their game (they have very grand plans for the long-term growth of their game), getting to share in the revenue created in a way or another. This is quite a wild idea, but perhaps just crazy enough that it could even work. (Though I'm not making big claims regarding the probability.)

I'm a graphics programmer in the games industry so if anyone has any technical or logistical questions about what might be involved in this kind of project that they would like to direct to someone with relevant experience I'd be happy to try and help.

And since I'm posting this here, an intention of course is to invite commentary on the rationality of all of the above thinking.

I don't think it's very rational. I mean, sure, you deserve some credit for noting that people shouldn't do X, that some will do it anyway, and then trying to work out a second-best solution that exploits the fact that people do X.

But if you were really trying to solve the general problem "What are some good ways to divert gaming energy to rationalist energy?" then you should have focused much more on the poker example, or on AlexMennen's advertising idea, or on brainstorming for other ideas. Instead, you spend a lot of effort thinking about (and encouraging others to think about) the sub-problem of how to make a Less Wrong or SIAI clan in an MMO with the right incentives, even though you seem to acknowledge that this subproblem is much more difficult than the problem it's meant to help solve.

Without meaning to offend you or to accuse you of having had 'bad' motives on purpose, I invite you to consider the possibility that you have optimized for the solution to a different problem: "How do I justify my interest in MMOs so that I feel less badly about playing them?"

I was kinda hoping someone would mention that interpretation of my motives. Yes, part of this certainly is that on a level I'd like to find a justification for playing MMOs a lot.

You recommend me to focus more on e.g. the poker stuff, and I am actually doing that. Sooner or later I'll probably post about a suggestion for a Less Wrong Poker Group, but before I do, I want to develop my framework for introducing new people to poker a bit, and work on some other stuff having to do with poker.

Despite all this, I do maintain that there is a valid problem which this posting of mine addressed directly, even though it's one of the less important problems around these parts. I don't feel that I spent too much effort on this article (on the contrary, going ahead with my first draft might have been a mistake), or limited other people's ability to take the most productive approaches.

Sure, that's right--you haven't actually stopped people from being productive. There probably is an opportunity cost, though. Perhaps people who saw a more-appropriately-focused article would have written more appropriately focused comments. Good luck with the poker group!

[-][anonymous]11y 2

Actually, I was just watching a TED talk by a woman who was saying that gamer's were probably the future's greatest resource, we just need to find a way to harness what it is gamers are so good at [which she explains during the talk].

I would rather see effort towards a LWGG than a SGG, because the LWGG, being associated with LW, is more likely to succeed at creating/preserving the specific benefit you describe.

(My gaming time-sink is Team Fortress 2, which is not MMO, though it does have some related features such as giving persistent rewards for accumulating play time.)

Are there existing examples of thriving MMO guilds that have an extra-game primary focus? As far as I understand it, currently with all else being equal, a guild focusing solely on monomaniacal gameplay will outcompete a guild focusing on extra-game activities in in-game power, visibility and prestige, since most current MMO environments are mechanically and culturally fixated on laborious in-game achievement. This may be different in MMOs that reward skill or creativity rather than just grind capacity. Something like Second Life that supports user-created content looks like it would reward an extra-game focus much better than more game-like MMOs. But Second Life also has small mindshare compared to more game-like MMOs.

Agree that MMOs are likely to be a growing social phenomenon and its worth looking into what could be done with the mindshare they get.

The Guild is a fictional example; there at least used to be a Penny-Arcade World of Warcraft guild; I know that in games that I play I regularly play with people that I would like to associate with outside of the game, especially people I know in real life.

Groups with a social focus have a different status in the game, but they do exist in large enough quantity and can be satisfying if people are about equally competitive.