Social Science

How Would You Behave If the World Was Ending?

Apparently most folks would be nicer to each other.

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EndofWorldSdecoretDreamstime
Sdecoret/Dreamstime

Apparently most folks would be nicer to each other. At least that's the conclusion reached by some researchers at the State University of New York at Buffalo as they parsed data about player behavior in video game in which the world ends. I know. I know. It's a video game, but it's still interesting.

Years ago when I was a member of the War Games Club* at the University of Virginia, I was recruited by some social psychology grad students to play a sort of diplomacy game as part of an experiment. They recruited several other members of the club to play as well. I am not sure what the researchers hypothesized, but what they did find out was that if you tell a bunch of late teen/early twenty-something wargamers exactly how many rounds of play there is going to be, well, the ending round of play turns into an all-out scorched earth war of conquest. At least it did in our case. May as well go out with a bang!

But new research suggests that maybe other people are more pro-social. A team of researchers led by SUNY Buffalo psychologist Ah Reum Kang got their hands on 275 million records of player behavior in beta-testing phase of the massively multiplayer online role playing game ArcheAge. Since the game was in beta-testing, the 80,000 or so players all knew that it would come to an end. So what did their study, "I Would Not Plant Apple Trees If the World Will Be Wiped: Analyzing Hundreds of Millions of Behavioral Records of Players During an MMORPG Beta Test," find?

Our findings show that there is no apparent pandemic behavior changes even when the CBT [closed beta test] ends. While we did find that some players resorted to anti-social behavior, such as murder, aggregate sentiment through chats shows pro-social trends. When we focus on individual users' behavioral changes, we find significant differences between churners who voluntarily left the game before the end and players who stayed until the end. In particular, we found that churners were more likely to exhibit anti-social behavior. …

Also, we have provided additional empirical evidence in favor of the emergence of pro-social behavior. Our findings that the sentiment of social grouping specific chat channels trend towards "happier" as the end times approach is a first indication of this pro-social behavior: existing social relationships are likely being strengthened. Further, we saw that players that stayed until the end of the world exhibited peaks in the number of small temporary groupings: new social relationships are being formed. …

We also found that contrary to the reassuring adage that "Even if I knew the world would go to pieces tomorrow, I would still plant my apple tree," players abandoned character progression, showing a drastic decrease in quest completion, leveling, and ability changes at the end of the beta test.

Only 334 out of the 80,000 or so players committed murder during the last two weeks of play. Instead most players stopped striving and started socializing as the end approached. What to do at the end of the world: Party on!

*Early political correctness note: When we War Games Club members asked student council for some funding out of our mandatory student fees (basically to buy beer), they turned us down. The next semester we changed the club's name to the Historical Simulation Society. We got the funding and drank the beer.

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  1. Fuckin time preference, how does it work?

  2. Fuckin time preference, how does it work?

  3. I guess you’d better pray that enough people believe in an afterlife to not do things while they still can.

    1. Yep, because belief in an afterlife has historically been an ironclad bulwark against people committing violence.

  4. I don’t know. Probably best not to think about it. Seems very unlikely that I will see the world come to an end in any case.

    1. Probably best not to think about it.

      If the end of the world suddenly starts modeling Archemage in beta, I’ll probably turn to murder.

  5. People say that I am nicer since I was diagnosed with cancer. In general I don’t see it but I am calmer now and find that I don’t get worked up about things like I used to. Personally I’d much rather be my old bitchy self.

    1. I haven’t had to come to terms with anything quite that heavy for me personally. But I do find that I do often feel quite calm after getting some bad news that I can’t do anything about. Or even things that I would have thought would have made me more agitated like spinning around and crashing into a snowbank in my car.

  6. [zone chat] Ska says: WTS ERP

  7. Having beta tested games before, it’s not really an accurate sim of what would happen IRL.

    Since beta is coming to an end, there’s no real reason to do anything further. But since there is an “afterlife” (in the form of the game going live), there is an incentive to make friends with people who will be playing the game when it goes live. Whether it’s forming guilds or having someone to compare notes with, connections are a good thing.

  8. We also found that contrary to the reassuring adage that “Even if I knew the world would go to pieces tomorrow, I would still plant my apple tree,” players abandoned character progression…

    Comet to Strike Earth, Arbor Day Hardest Hit

  9. Instead most players stopped striving and started socializing as the end approached.

    Just like when IMDB announced it was closing its message boards. The trolls suddenly stopped trolling and everyone got together as a community behind just how bad Suicide Squad was.

  10. I’m guessing there wasn’t a “rape everyone” option in the game.

    1. At least now we know Tony’s deepest desire.

      1. Projection is Tony’s “thing”. I’m sure his desires are a surprise to no one.

  11. What if being nice to other people hastened the Apocalypse?

    I don’t remember the name of the RPG, an old one, where you have to assemble a team of intrepid warriors to restore the sundered crystal and fight the prince of bad mood lighting to save the universe (or whatever) and at the end after you defeat the big boss and hand the crystal over to the wise old mentor who’s obi-wanned you through the game, he reveals himself to be the actual bad guy and that’s the good guy you just killed, you’ve been fighting for the wrong side the whole game. I thought it was a pretty neat twist, making you think about how you just accept the world of the game – what makes you believe you’re the brave and noble hero of the story instead of the evil villain?

    1. I like to play that game with Christians and the Bible. What if you’re following the evil one? I mean, the “god” of the Bible instructs people to do some really heinous shit and also tells you that critical thinking and questioning authority are not acceptable and caused the “fall” of man. They usually just laugh it off like I’m being silly, but if Pascal’s Wager can make them believe one thing, why not another?

      1. If their not actually doing heinous shit and the god their following is the evil one, then hasn’t that god lost? So, I’m not sure you’ve really made a deep point.

  12. I don’t know, the world of the leftists ended in the early morning hours of November 9, and they haven’t exactly been acting nicely as a result.

    On the contrary, their behavior has gotten more psychotic and unhinged than it has been in a few decades.

    1. I think the proper description is “bat-sh*t crazy”.

  13. *Early political correctness note

    Triggered. Vapors induced. Commence with the smelling salts.

  14. Well Hell. Skwerlz or censorship comment moderation?

  15. If there is no tomorrow, then there are no consequences. I’d settle a score of two…

    1. Me too, but first I’d rob a pharmacy and a liquor store, though if everyone knew the world was going to end, everything would already be gone before I got there. I’d probably have to settle for a barbecue using all the best stuff I have in my freezer. And finish off any liquor that I had on hand.

  16. Anyone else like “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World”? Unfortunately I don’t think that even the end of the world is going to get Keira Knightley crawling in to my house.

  17. I can agree from personal experience that when you’re playing Diplomacy, the game plays vastly differently when you know when the game is ending. In Europe they tend to have a fixed end time, in America we tend to have open-ended games. And go figure, Europeans have an easier time adjusting to how we play than we do to how they play, as evidenced by a number of Europeans winning world championships held in America while Americans winning world championships held in Europe is fairly rare.

    As for the broader psychology lessons to be learned…Diplomacy is a game that can encourage what might be considered sociopathic behavior if it weren’t in the context of a game. 🙂

    1. “And go figure, Europeans have an easier time adjusting to how we play than we do to how they play, as evidenced by a number of Europeans winning world championships held in America while Americans winning world championships held in Europe is fairly rare.”

      Yeah, I don’t really think that’s true. Diplomacy is an older game with a niche crowd. There aren’t really any world championships for most board games. Usually the world championships for most games is a just a local event billed as the world championship. Americans dominate in American and Europeans dominate in Europe, because in both cases, they make up 90% of the competitors in their local tournaments. There are world board gaming events, such as Origins, GenCon, Essen Game Fair, etc, but don’t really have world championships for most games.

  18. Hookers and Blow!

    1. Good luck finding them. Money in any form would be worthless.

  19. Most of the people here would spend their last hours attempting to deport Messicans and Mooslems.

  20. CBT [closed beta test]

    Yeah….. that wasn’t what came up for CBT when I put it in the google search box.

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