If you read the news from time to time, you might have heard that China has begun implementation of a nation-wide social scoring system. The social scoring system was first announced back in 2014, but has just recently started being deployed in specific test areas. The idea is that each individual receives points for being a good citizen and loses points for doing things generally seen as unfavorable by the government à la Black Mirror’s Nosedive.
Why do these “points” matter? The government has already integrated many businesses and institutions with its scoring system allowing people with high scores to get certain benefits or perks. An article by the Independent lists some examples of this as including the following: discounted utility prices, better interest rates at banks, and being able to rent things without paying a deposit. This social scoring system is even connected with one of the China’s largest dating apps, Baihe, boosting the profiles of “good citizens” to the top of the charts.
On the other hand, being a “bad citizen” will make your life significantly harder. Tried to get out of the mandatory military service? You’ll find yourself having difficulties booking international flights or even finding rooms at a hotel. Been found to be a hardcore internet troll? Get your internet speed throttled. People with poor scores will even find themselves having a harder time getting into good universities.
When westerners hear of a system like this, they cringe. The very thought of a social scoring system sounds extremely creepy or pure, unadulterated madness. They come to view the Chinese government as an insane totalitarian government trying to control every facet of their citizens’ lives. And maybe they’re right about all of this. In the end, I have to admit, I don’t really care who’s right or wrong though. I’m more interested in knowing whether or not the government’s solution solves its problems to an acceptable degree.
The very end of the Independent’s article notes:
A 32-year-old entrepreneur, who only gave his name as Chen, told Foreign Policy: “I feel like in the past six months, people’s behaviour has gotten better and better.
“For example, when we drive, now we always stop in front of crosswalks. If you don’t stop, you will lose your points.
“At first, we just worried about losing points, but now we got used to it.”
As an American who has spent more than 10 years in Asia and has travelled pretty extensively throughout China, I doubt many readers truly grasp what Chen is describing. In short, China is a mess. Westerners don’t understand what having a population of 1 billion people means in terms of how difficult it is to maintain order. Go to many cities in China and you’ll find drivers completely disregarding traffic laws, people nonstop spitting everywhere they go, and even babies defecating in the middle of a subway train. The problem has already grown to such a large scale that there probably isn’t a simple solution. When a person gets cancer, you don’t simple give him a band-aid and expect him to get better. You start by surgically removing tumors and possibly even start putting him/her through chemotherapy. Given the problem, I don’t see China’s social scoring solution to be that much different from blasting a cancer patient’s body with radiation – it sounds crazy but it might just be your only option.
Now I’m not a psychologist, but I don’t think the quote by Chen where he describes himself “getting used to” doing the right thing is limited to him only. In the case of China, which of these is the lesser of two evils: letting people run traffic lights/hitting pedestrians/defecating in public places or socially conditioning people to do the right thing? Personally, I’d go with the latter.
So how does this relate to gaming? I’d say social interactions on the internet have become a lot like the mess China has been dealing with for centuries now. Too many people doing whatever they want because there’s no system to keep order. We’ve come to the point where online trolling has actually been shown to have an impact on suicide rates. According to a study, online trolls bullying their peers doubles the chance for suicide or self-harm among young people.
Yeah… I’d say that we’ve reached a dangerous place with regards to how unpoliced bad behavior online is having serious negative effects in real life. And let’s be realistic, no western government is going to set aside time and personnel to deal with this problem. They’re too busy dealing with a host of other seemingly more “immediate” issues. In this regard, I agree a lot with Alice Korngold’s belief that it’s big business that will solve some of the world’s biggest problems – not governments.
Every triumph starts somewhere and in the war against online toxicity, maybe the first battle to be fought should be in online gaming. Given the mass amounts of toxicity and trolling that has essentially become the expected norm with online gaming, I have high hopes in the new joint alliance between Blizzard, Riot, Twitch, and Epic Games to combat toxic behavior. As crazy as it sounds, maybe the Fair Play Alliance needs to come up with a social scoring system that transcends one company/game/platform and is instead implemented across all of these major companies.
Let’s be honest, are the punishments any of these companies throw out individually having any real effect on curbing toxicity? I doubt many people would be able to say yes. Much like the China situation, I think the problem has come to a point where only a radical and far-reaching plan has any chance of being successful.
Imagine if players that have displayed a history of bad behavior such as AFKing during games, intentionally feeding, or verbal harassment were recognized and therefore penalized across more than one game. AFK enough times during your League of Legends games? Get thrown into some sort of AFK jail where all of the other players are also frequent offenders across all the games you play. Verbally harass players one too many times? Get your accounts banned for all of your games and Twitch for a period of time.
On the other hand, get rewarded for good behavior across all platforms. Get in-game skins, faster queue times, and a ton of other perks for being the type of player that people actually want to game with.
There’s been numerous reports on the increasing amounts of time people are spending playing video games and on the increasing growth of the industry. I personally only see this trend continuing to grow as we look towards the future. If we start by conditioning gamers to be better players now, maybe in time many of them will find themselves ending up as being better people.
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