At Ludium I, five teams competed to develop scholarly research questions that could be tested in a synthetic world. The Koithuo team proposed to test some implications from Francis Steen's theories of the evolutionary origins of play. Andrew Tepper, who was on that team as well, has now implemented the tests in A Tale in the Desert III, which goes live today.
The photo shows Thom Gillespie, Francis Steen, Randy Farmer, Andy Tepper, and Ian Pottmeyer. Also on Koithuo were Bill Sams and a student whose name escapes me.
While Koithuo did not win the Ludium, they clearly had the most controversial set of proposals. Here's why. Develop in your mind an evolutionary theory of human gender differences. Examine it; note that it explains why we have many ugly behavior patterns and outcomes that we really wish we did not have. Now because you developed your ideas using evolutionary psychology, you've endowed them with an uncomfortable robustness. We can't just pass a law and make them go away; they are the result of aeons of development.
Continue examing your theory but apply it now to games. Note how easily it explains why more guys play the current crop of MMORPG games. Here comes the hard part: use the theory to redesign games so that they appeal to your evolutionarily-designed model of females. It's not hard to do, just uncomfortable to think about. We're fine with the idea that boys and young men like to fight each other in a game environment. "It's a guy thing," we say. But this implies something queasy: maybe there are "girl things." To some, the very idea is revolting. And when Koithuo presented some theoretically-derived notions of what evolutionary psychology predicts "girl things" would be in games, they were criticized.
Steen's theories propose some very controversial girl game modes. Those modes are based on a prediction that women will be interested in a) games about rating men's prowess ("The Yenta Game"), choosing men to connect with ("The Marriage Game"), and getting men to stay committed to them ("The Newlywed Game").
These kinds of hypotheses are such that even stating them ends all rational discussion. Some even argued that such things should not be said as research hypotheses, just because of their political implications. The ideas themselves got everyone into a major tizzy. So I'll stop talking now and leave the heavy lifting to Teppy. Here's how he described the implementation of these games in ATITD 3, in an email earlier this month:
** BEGIN QUOTE **
"The Marriage Game" is now known as The Test of Marriage. One change from the way it was presented at Ludium I is that your score is the sum of your progress and your mate's progress *or* the number of marriages that you ("Casanova") have been in. This made it a lot more palatable to our players, without changing the optimal play strategy. It will be interesting to see the distribution of "Casanovas" vs. "good spouses", and to see if there is some correlation with player gender.
"The Yenta Game" is now known as The Test of the Prophet. Each week, you'll have a chance to pick another player that you believe will go on to have much future success. It is open to both men and women, though each must prophecy about a member of the other gender. Though the Test is now open to both genders, it is unchanged from the way it was presented at Ludium I. Again, I look forward to seeing whether women or men are better at this, and more importantly, if women rate this Test as particularly fun. (Which was Koithuo's hypothesis.)
"The Newlywed Game" is now known as The Test of Souls. Each week,
forecast a marriage that will survive a long time. "Survive" means that no
divorce has taken place, and that both accounts remain active. Scoring is
paramutual style. It is essentially unchanged from the presentation.
Although we didn't explicitly give a hypothesis for this one, I'll propose
one now: heavily wagered marriages' players' accounts will have higher
retention rates than unwagered ones.
** END QUOTE **
These game modes implement the theory in a gender-neutral way. We will see whether there are any differences between the way men and women approach them.
I think this is really cool. Regardless of whether you agree with Steen's theories or not, the exciting thing here is that we get to see them tested, at the level of an entire society. It's not just a theoretical/political debate any more. We're getting some information. And that was the essence of the mission of Ludium I.
I can't wait to see what happens.