Applied Rationality MUD

by rlp103 min read30th Jun 20186 comments

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Hey, do you want to help me build a MUD dedicated to learning and applying the principles of rationality?

What's a MUD?

A Multi User Dungeon. A virtual online world with a text interface. You have one or more characters who move through locations in a virtual world. The world has some rules or mechanics: perhaps for fighting, spell-casting, leveling up, buying/selling and so forth. There might also be a system of quests with rewards. You can meet other players and interact with them, or interact with automated characters.

Certain players ("wizards") are promoted to be able to create the world: digging new locations, creating quests, inventing new spells and automating the characters and items.

What might an Applied Rationality MUD look like?

So, let's imagine what ARMUD might look like once it had been written. You log into using your web browser. You're told that your character is in an ancient marketplace, an "agora". The philosopher Diogenes is here who randomly pulls stunts and mutters words of philosophy from time-to-time. "If only I could relieve hunger so easily by rubbing my belly!" he says. Hm, wonder what that means.

He offers various quests which, if accepted, will practically challenge you to apply principles of minimalism and simplicity to your life. "Tidy your room, bucko!" is one such quest. To complete that mission, or any others, you must accomplish the required task in the real world, but don't worry, you get some experience points here in the virtual world too. And that's what really matters.

To the south lies the Parthenon, the temple of Athena Goddess of Wisdom. Yoda is to be found here and he teaches the spell of "Yoda Timer". When cast, that spell helps a person to focus on the accomplishment of an important task to the exclusion of other distractions for a given length of time. The first levels are easy, but as you want to cast it at a higher level, it requires longer focus and concentration. Again, experience points and leveling up are to be achieved by learning and casting this spell. Although experience points are lost if it is cast, but the timer is not completed.

To the northeast of the Agora, is the Stoa Poikile. That is where people go to learn the practical philosophy of stoicism and related modern ideas such as CBT and other therapies. Epictetus is always found there, and he offers quests designed to learn and apply stoic thought. You can accept the one-off mission to read specific stoic writings, for example Seneca's 13th letter to Lucilius "On Groundless Fears".

He can also teach you spells. The spell of stoic meditation, for example, has various levels: level 1 is the "view from above", level 2 "contemplation of the ideal person", and level 3 "cultivating philanthropy". This spell can only be cast once a day, and you must successfully cast it several times at your current level before Epictetus will teach you the next. Often too, there are other philosophers there, always willing to discuss the cultivation of resilience and strength of mind.

To the west is the Ecclesia or the Assembly. It is here that the community meets from time-to-time in order to discuss and vote in order to reach decisions. The community is a democracy, or perhaps a do-ocracy, so that decisions can be made for the good of all.

A (mostly fictitious) management consultant called Allen-David is there too. He can give you a magic scroll which you can use to record the things that you need to do. With the right spell (called "context"), the scroll changes from showing you the things that should be done in your home, to the things that must be done at work. Again, as the player levels up, more become available: the scrolls can tell you how quickly your tasks are achieved, or estimate how long it will be until all the current tasks are completed. They can be searched and organised in different ways. But as usual, it takes time and effort to unlock and learn these additional spells. At first it is a much simpler endeavour: add things to the task scroll and then later cross them off when they are done. It is convenient to have Allen here because when the Assembly reaches a decision they can tell him any decided action points. He then can then magically record on the appropriate citizen's scroll of pending tasks.

Why Athens? I don't know - they were rational, right? Perhaps Hogwarts would be another possible location. Maybe the spells should all have Latin names. Maybe Hogwarts could be located in Ancient Athens?

Why would anyone think this was a good idea?

It sounds fun to me and it speaks to my inner nerd. It would be a gamification of winning at life and would combine learning skills whilst also measuring their use. All of this would be flexible and could be developed by the community who would decide upon and add new features.

Hell yes, how do we make this happen?

If there are people interested (one other person?), then I will create a public git repository and setup an empty game server. I've already identified a code base we can use, Evennia, which looks very flexible, simple and well-documented. Its written in Python, which should be widely accessible.

From there, I would privately message those interested in order to setup the first meeting in the Assembly. We could decide how to proceed and then take things from there.

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I’m a big fan of RPGs, but how does your proposed MUD help anyone learn and apply the principles of rationality? I don’t see any specifics on that aspect of it (which seems to me to be the critical part).

You say:

It would be a gamification of winning at life and would combine learning skills whilst also measuring their use …

How?

You meet an old wizened man, sitting by a fire. As you sit and talk with him, he shares his regrets - if only he were young again, the things he might do differently.

He challenges you to seek out and read a Lesswrong article called "bug hunt", which suggests writing a list of potential improvements to your life. You evidence you have done this by giving him the 25th word of that article. Well done, he rewards you with some experience points.

Next he gives you a bound leather tome, your own bug book. He teaches you two level one spells: "hope" which records a bug in the tome, and "surpass" which marks a bug as completed. Each time the latter is cast a short explanation must be given of what was done in the real world to beat that bug.

Come back, the man suggests, when you are a level higher. Then he will teach you "ambition", a spell to help overcome some bugs by setting a motivating goal. But you'll need more experience points before you're ready for that.

Or perhaps you find some bugs difficult because of internal fear. East of here, he claims, is a fearless warrior woman. She is difficult to find, but can teach you a spell called "approach". That spell allows even the most fearsome bugs to be attacked, by approaching them incrementally.

You leave the meeting eager to employ these new spells you have learned, empowered to improve your life step-by-step.

Does that example answer your question?

I suppose it does. Thanks.

Count me in, please.

An interesting idea and I might sign up to it, but

  1. While you call it a MUD there is no Multi-User aspect in your description. It sounds like an interactive website which can be built on a simpler platform than a MUD. Still, I think that collaborative user interactions may enhance the gameplay and improve players’ communication skills.
  2. Assigning any in-game credits for unverifiable real-world tasks seems problematic. Although most players might report their real-world achievements in good faith, even a few crooks may dishearten the whole community.

Funny, creating such MUD may be as much a learning activity for me as for the players.