Every game will have its cheaters, but according to Dan Ariely, professor of behavioral economics and psychology at Duke University, lying and cheating are hardwired into the continuum of morality, and it’s more malleable and nuanced than we often have time for.
I’ve been talking to big cheaters, including people who have been to prison, and I tell you, nobody I’ve talked to has ever thought about the long-term consequences of their actions. How many people who did insider trading thought about the probability of being caught and how much time they would get in prison? The number is incredibly close to zero, maybe exactly zero. What will happen if we increase the prison sentence? Basically nothing, because it’s not part of their mindset. What we need to understand is the process by which people become dishonest.
Now the reason this worries me is we’re moving to a cashless society; we’re soon going to have all kinds of electronic wallets. We have all kinds of esoteric financial instruments. We have lots of things that are multiple steps removed from money. We are moving to a situation which allows people to rationalize dishonesty to a much, much higher degree. And because of that whenever we have financial instruments that are further way from money, we just need to be more careful.
We talk about honesty, but the reality is we have lots of human values, and they are not all compatible. We don’t always tell the truth about everything, no matter what the consequences. If you have an internal truth of what you think and you have an external truth of what you say to society, in the social domain it’s called politeness, and it’s many cases it’s okay. The problem arises when this becomes commercial rather than personal. If you’re an accountant and you have an internal truth of what’s happening in your company and you have an external truth, you can see where this goes. Honesty is a complex and tricky thing, and we don’t want to be honest all the time.
Cheater’s prisons like in Max Payne 3 are an interesting solution—but how about a game where lying and cheating are as normal and predictably irrational as in life?