Incentivizing Prosocial Behavior
I’ve done it again, and this time after a serious attempt not to. I’ve read something somewhere that worked as a jumping off point for a post, but now I can’t find it. I checked the blogroll from Pink Pigtail Inn, I checked MMO Melting Pot, and I checked all my other regulars, but I just don’t know where I got this topic. If it seems like something you read recently and you can track it down, I’d be much appreciated so I could duly link it here. If not, I’ll just have to hope I haven’t completely reproduced what I saw elsewhere (I don’t think I have).
Edit: Got it, thanks to Chad. I had looked at this on my phone as a referrer, which is why I couldn’t find it on my computer! Thanks, Chad, and for everyone else, here’s the link: http://hypercriticism.net/2012/gw2-the-automatization-of-the-social/. Milady wrote a much more thorough examination of the issue than I’ve provided here that I urge all of you to check out.
What I read was in response to providing rewards for good behavior in games. If you help someone out, PC or NPC theoretically, you are provided a reward for your behavior. The blogger was worried about this approach, worried that it might change people from doing good things on their own to only doing good things for rewards, and I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. I’ve advocated incentivizing prosocial behavior in the past, but this blogger was suggesting that doing so would actually lower prosocial behavior as a whole, or, perhaps more accurately, would change it from being prosocial to being self serving.
I’m torn on this topic. Part of me feels that good behavior in an online world, regardless of its motivation, would improve the online world. This same part thinks that if we can train people to do good things, it’s more likely that those good things would spread, and the environment as a whole would improve.
The other part of me, though, was thinking about the meaning of consistency and motivation. Classical conditioning – an admittedly limited system – showed that consistency in rewards actually was less effective than a variable reward system in training behaviors. If you knew you were getting a food pellet for pressing a button, then you only pressed the button when you wanted a food pellet. If you didn’t know if you were going to get anything or not, it increased the button pressing. Similarly, if you get a reward for helping a newbie every time you help a newbie, it’s entirely possible that as soon as you “cap” whatever the reward is, whether it be having enough money, a high enough social score, or some social currency, then the behavior will vanish.
On top of that lies the issue of motivation. If you change prosocial behavior into an incentivized self-serving behavior, then you’re also changing the motivation from internal to external. You’re no longer being nice just to be nice; now, you’re being nice to get a reward.
Still, all these issues considered… you’re still being nice.
What do you think, dear reader? Do the ends justify the means when the ends are prosocial behaviors that improve the social environment from a game? The saying goes that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions,” and I can see some bad outcomes from this: factionalization of “care bears” and people who refuse to use the prosocial system (kodiak bears?). I am, for once, very unsure where I stand on this issue.
Stubborn (and unusually divided)