Game the system

Exploiting a game's design flaws.

The original post is here:

There must be a better phrase for this, “gaming the system” sounds really lame. Actually, just the word game makes me feel a bit icky–and that’s multiplied by ten when used as a verb. But lately I’ve been seeing just how much we game the system, any system, all systems, all the time.

To game the system, as I understand it, is to ignore the interface that the system has given you, to ignore the “best” choice (where best is defined by core values and pure motives–before you game it), and to instead try to fight against an outcome that you foresee happening before it has actually happened. You are second-guessing an undesirable outcome (perhaps one where you think you would lose if you were to play completely along the implicit rules of the system) and trying to outsmart it, even as your opponent (maybe this is how it’s game-like) tries to second-guess and outsmart you.

Who are you endorsing for the primaries? How much game is involved? How do you reconcile the difference between who you feel the “best” candidate is versus the one who you think has the “best” chance of winning? It is a double game because in this game called the election the “best” chance is the one that everyone votes for after they’ve decided who the best chance is. It’s a self-fulfilling game where you have to take into account how everyone else is going to game the system and try to game it even more. The only problem that really bothers me is that we’re always trying to second guess Middle America–you know, where the dumb people live. Certainly they won’t choose the best candidate in your mind, and so you have to choose someone else because you’re pretty sure there are more dumb people than smart, and it’s better to vote slightly dumber if it means you win than to vote smart if it means you’ll lose. By trying to outsmart the dumb people you’ll end up downgrading the intelligence of your own decision by even more than necessary because we always overestimate just how dumb other people are. They’re second-guessing you too… and have more power because they don’t feel like they have to compromise their vote to game you. They just play dumb. And that’s just what the smart people want you to do. They want you to act dumb. Because then you are. That’s the game. I’m starting to like the word game.

Work is a system that we game. How many people would go to work if they didn’t get paid? These people are gaming the system–acting in ways that they do not consider to be the best ways in order to get a result that the system is willing to give them if they pretend (very loosely) that they really would go to work even if they didn’t get paid. The best game players are those that can convince even themselves. I’ve pretty much convinced myself that I enjoy my job, and yet I still wish I would’ve had the day off. Who’s gaming who?

Non-zero sum systems are games. I pay you more than something is worth in order to get something that is cheaper than I would’ve had to get it elsewhere. Both parties win, the sum is greater than its previous values. Out of 3 dollars and 37 cents comes the enjoyment of making $3 profit off of the cost of a mocha and the enjoyment of a sugar and caffeine high at a highly stylized coffee house. It’s gaming the system because both parties feel that they’re getting the better deal, and giving something to the other person that they don’t value as highly as the other. I’m pretty sure this is crossing the line between gaming the system and is now entirely in the territory of something completely different. I suppose it’s not gaming unless you’re being a little sneaky about it. But most of the time people know when other people are gaming you… they just decide to let it slide so they can be sneaky back. A mutual contract to be sneaky in order to make everyone happy. Come to think of it, this is an essential component to doing things that you wouldn’t normally do (because you’d feel guilty). If both people are being sneaky, and you know that for this reason the other person won’t expose your sneaky behavior, it’s like it doesn’t exist. Except to G-O-D. Shh!

Calling in sick when you aren’t really sick because you have a pre-allotted number of paid sick days. Jaywalking. Speeding. Wearing the same shirt two days in a row because you’ll be seeing different people and don’t feel like doing the wash.

The thing about gaming the system is that it is so effective. It is powerful simply because of its effectiveness–it’s more effective than appropriate behavior would have been. You think, at least. That is why we decide to game in the first place.

We ask people what they think it means when they rate an item on Amazon. There is what they think it should mean, and then there’s what they think Amazon does with the rating. In the end, they’ll end up rating things that they don’t know anything about even though they know they shouldn’t if they were taking the action on a completely semantic level. But because it’s a part of a system, and that system takes their input in a way that has some side effects, they can second-guess those side effects and actually produce them intentionally when desired.

Your grandma asks you how you liked that sweater. You say one thing. Your friends ask the same, a little later. You say another thing. Is this still gaming the system? Being nice when you aren’t feeling nice. Sharing when you don’t want to share. Lying to save feelings. Entertaining when you don’t feel like entertaining. Complying with all the pressures of society so that you don’t stand out too much (some slips by).

This is a theme lately. Might as well stomp it to death.

· In these piles: game-theory · Original post