on Apr 12, 2007
Corvus is talking about morality, as judged by game engines.
If I could nitpick this a bit, I think the “tribe” idea is beginning to hit on what the real crux of good vs. evil is. If my buddy brings me $100 which he stole from someone who I dislike, I would still want no part of the $100. Stealing is wrong, even if the person I’m stealing from is from “another tribe” and is a jerk. Even if he’s a billionaire and will never miss a measly (to him) $100, I would still not want any part of it. Even if I knew I would never get caught and that the victim would never miss the cash, I wouldn’t want it. Most games would give me “light side” points for this, I suppose, although I hardly think this is a position of novel or heroic altruism.
You could turn around and argue that I’m simply expanding my personal perception of “tribe” to include people like this billionaire. But this hits on my main point, which is that good vs. evil could be defined by how big I think my tribe is. An evil man might have a tribe of one. (Himself.) A slightly more reasonable person might include their family. Most people would include their neighbors and people they know. So, the more “good” your are the more inclusive your tribe is. The good / evil slider in games is really a very crude tool for figuring out how big your personal tribe is.
Some people strive to extend their own “tribe” to include all humans. (While I agree with this notion, it turns out to be very hard to pull off in the real world, as you face many situations where your “fellow” tribe members hate and kill one another. It’s pretty hard not to take sides in this, which ends up kicking someone out of your mental tribe.) Some people (PETA) want to extend their tribe to include animals. Most of us balk at this idea in general, but our own pets get a pass for being members of our “family”, as it were. Marking tribal distinctions based in race is a taboo in our culture, although doing so based on political beliefs is not. Thus, saying “I think [pick a skin color] people are stupid and untrustworthy” can get you fired, but saying the same thing of Democrats or Republicans is hopelessly routine. In real life, I’m sure the system is more graduated than tribe / not tribe. Usually family ranks above friends, who rank above coworkers, who rank above employers, who rank above total strangers in your area, who rank above total strangers from someplace far away, who rank above conquering space aliens, Nazis, and telemarketers.
Having said this, I would not want to try to model all of this with a computer. Not on a bet. Sweet mercy. You’d need a quad-core machine with a couple of gigs of memory just to figure out if NPC A would be willing to lend a dollar to NPC B.
This reminds me a lot of my earlier discussion about Oblivion, and how introducing a system of fencing stolen property simply moved the AI stupidity from one point to another. In the end I concluded that you would need AI capable of investigating and solving crimes before you were free of nonsense behavior from NPCs.
I hasten to add that I don’t want to suggest that the plans for the Honeycomb engine are in any way stupid. Most of the writing he does about it has me nodding my head, “That’s a really great idea!” My nitpickery aside, I actually find his idea to be pretty compelling. It will be interesting to see it in action (uh, someday?) and to see what sort of reactions players have to it. The rules of a game world drive player behavior to a certain extent, and more interesting rules will lead to more interesting behavior, which – all other things being equal – will lead to a more interesting game.
Shamus Young is an old-school OpenGL programmer, author, and composer. He runs this site and if anything is broken you should probably blame him.