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Nicky Case's New Game Examines Why We Should all Stop Being Such Bastards

It's time for some (real) game theory.

by Kate Gray
Aug 2 2017, 4:00pm

All images captured by editor, courtesy Nicky Case

You might not be a huge fan of Christianity, but you can't deny that Jesus was a damn good teacher. Rather than merely preaching at his followers, the equivalent of a boring lecture or a talk with no slides, he used parables—relatable story chunks that relayed the message he wanted to teach. Humans are bad at learning new things, sometimes. Our brains slide off difficult messages and lessons like water off an oiled-up wrestler's chest.

Which is one of the reasons Nicky Case's games—or as Case calls them —"explorables"—are so fantastic. Not the oily wrestler thing, the Jesus thing. Case has important things to say, but rather than using the format of a GDC talk or a 10,000-word Medium blog, they use code as their canvas.

Case's games have much in common: they are often done with simple art, to help convey their point more immediately; they are all focused on one message at a time, but with well-researched points and plenty of examples; and they are all as fun to play with as they are edifying. Case's style has become as instantly recognisable as it is valuable, to the point where I wish that some of their games were required reading (playing?) in certain circles.

The latest game is just as good as its predecessors, Parable of the Polygons (which teaches a valuable lesson about racism and segregation) and We Become What We Behold (about how the influence of biased media can affect how we feel about issues). It's called The Evolution of Trust, and just like with the former two games, it touches on an incredibly topical issue—the social systems behind co-operating with, or distrusting, the people around us.

Through multiple levels and sandbox play with the systems Case has built, The Evolution of Trust teaches its players about communication, co-operation and the value of repeat interactions in building trust.

There is an underlying theme to all of Case's games, and that is kindness. But not kindness as an altruistic ideal, nor as a sickly-sweet alternative to protests and being vocal about injustice—the flower in the gun barrel, the band-aid on the open wound—but about kindness as a provably smart move. Case backs up their hypothesis with simulations, experimentation and simple step-by-step explanations of even the more complex ideas.

It may seem problematic to attempt to simulate complex human choice through computer programs, but Case isn't trying to predict the future with 100% accuracy—just to point out that things like systematic racism, microaggressions and tit-for-tat retaliation exist and take place more than you might think (if you don't already experience them on the regular), and hypothesize reasons why.

But most importantly, Case's games—especially The Evolution of Trust—teach us a really valuable lesson: that the way we want to react, that gut instinct urge to shield our pride and our privilege, requires introspection, intelligence and desegregation. Games are more than just entertainment; they can help us live through experiences that are not our own and come out having learned something vital to the betterment of society.

You can play the game for free here.

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