Oct 212014

warhammer-40000--art---858846I. PvE vs PvP

Ever since it’s advent in Doom, PvP (Player vs Player) has been an integral part of almost every major video game. This is annoying to PvE (Player vs Environment) fans like myself, especially when PvE mechanics are altered (read: simplified and degraded) for the purpose of accommodating the PvP game play. Even in games which are ostensibly about the story & world, rather than direct player-on-player competition.

The reason for this comes down to simple math. PvE content is expensive to make. An hour of game play can take many dozens, or nowadays even hundreds, of man-hours of labor to produce. And once you’ve completed a PvE game, you’re done with it. There’s nothing else, you’ve reached “The End”, congrats. You can replay it a few times if you really loved it, like re-reading a book, but the content is the same. MMORGs recycle content by forcing you to grind bosses many times before you can move on to the next one, but that’s as fun as the word “grind” makes it sound. At that point people are there more for the social aspect and the occasional high than the core gameplay itself.

PvP “content”, OTOH, generates itself. Other humans keep learning and getting better and improvising new tactics. Every encounter has the potential to be new and exciting, and they always come with the rush of triumphing over another person (or the crush of losing to the same).

But much more to the point – In PvE potentially everyone can make it into the halls of “Finished The Game;” and if everyone is special, no one is. PvP has a very small elite – there can only be one #1 player, and people are always scrabbling for that position, or defending it. PvP harnesses our status-seeking instinct to get us to provide challenges for each other rather than forcing the game developers to develop new challenges for us. It’s far more cost effective, and a single man-hour of labor can produce hundreds or thousands of hours of game play. StarCraft  continued to be played at a massive level for 12 years after its release, until it was replaced with StarCraft II.

So if you want to keep people occupied for a looooong time without running out of game-world, focus on PvP

II. Science as PvE

In the distant past (in internet time) I commented at LessWrong that discovering new aspects of reality was exciting and filled me with awe and wonder and the normal “Science is Awesome” applause lights (and yes, I still feel that way). And I sneered at the status-grubbing of politicians and administrators and basically everyone that we in nerd culture disliked in high school. How temporary and near-sighted! How zero-sum (and often negative-sum!), draining resources we could use for actual positive-sum efforts like exploration and research! A pox on their houses!

Someone replied, asking why anyone should care about the minutia of lifeless, non-agenty forces? How could anyone expend so much of their mental efforts on such trivia when there are these complex, elaborate status games one can play instead? Feints and countermoves and gambits and evasions, with hidden score-keeping and persistent reputation effects… and that’s just the first layer! The subtle ballet of interaction is difficult even to watch, and when you get billions of dancers interacting it can be the most exhilarating experience of all.

This was the first time I’d ever been confronted with status-behavior as anything other than wasteful. Of course I rejected it at first, because no one is allowed to win arguments in real time. But it stuck with me. I now see the game play, and it is intricate. It puts Playing At The Next Level in a whole new perspective. It is the constant refinement and challenge and lack of a final completion-condition that is the heart of PvP. Human status games are the PvP of real life.

Which, by extension of the metaphor, makes Scientific Progress the PvE of real life. Which makes sense. It is us versus the environment in the most literal sense. It is content that was provided to us, rather than what we make ourselves. And it is limited – in theory we could some day learn everything that there is to learn.

III. The Best of All Possible Worlds

I’ve mentioned a few times I have difficulty accepting reality as real. Say you were trying to keep a limitless number of humans happy and occupied for an unbounded amount of time. You provide them PvE content to get them started. But you don’t want the PvE content to be their primary focus, both because they’ll eventually run out of it, and also because once they’ve completely cracked it there’s a good chance they’ll realize they’re in a simulation. You know that PvP is a good substitute for PvE for most people, often a superior one, and that PvP can get recursively more complex and intricate without limit and keep the humans endlessly occupied and happy, as long as their neuro-architecture is right. It’d be really great if they happened to evolve in a way that made status-seeking extremely pleasurable for the majority of the species, even if that did mean that the ones losing badly were constantly miserable regardless of their objective well-being. This would mean far, far more lives could be lived and enjoyed without running out of content than would otherwise be possible.

IV. Implications for CEV

It’s said that the Coherent Extrapolated Volition is “our wish if we knew more, thought faster, were more the people we wished to be, hard grown up farther together.” This implies a resolution to many conflicts. No more endless bickering about whether the Red Tribe is racist or the Blue Tribe is arrogant pricks. A more unified way of looking at the world that breaks down those conceptual conflicts. But if PvP play really is an integral part of the human experience, a true CEV would notice that, and would preserve these differences instead. To ensure that we always had rival factions sniping at each other over irreconcilable, fundamental disagreements in how reality should be approached and how problems should be solved. To forever keep partisan politics as part of the human condition, so we have this dance to enjoy. Stripping it out would be akin to removing humanity’s love of music, because dancing inefficiently consumes great amounts of energy just so we can end up where we started.

Carl von Clausewitz famously said “War is the continuation of politics by other means.”  The correlate of “Politics is the continuation of war by other means” has already been proposed. It is not unreasonable to speculate that in the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war continued by other means. Which, all things considered, is greatly preferable to actual war. As long as people like Scott are around to try to keep things somewhat civil and preventing an escalation into violence, this may not be terrible.

  11 Responses to “In the grim darkness of the far future there is only war continued by other means”

  1. As always, this is quite interesting. I’m not sure why I never thought in these terms before; they seem obvious in retrospect (like so many other true or useful things, hence reading philosophy backwards).

    Part IV paints an interesting view of potential futures too. However, it implies that the best way to capture the benefits of PvE is approximately the way that occurs naturally. This seems to me to be unlikely—there are certainly ways for humans to challenge each other which don’t involve some of the problems of Red Tribe/Blue Tribe, and although the ones I’ve thought of all have their drawbacks, I expect some situation could capture most of the benefit without the problems. For example, sports are a PvP situation where everybody wants Our Side to triumph over The Hated Enemy, but at the same time don’t leave The Hated Enemy quite so hated as to say they’re Worse Than [ISIS/Hitler/whatever].

    At least, not usually; of course, the original Blues and Greens were sports teams…

    • Walk into the wrong pub in Liverpool wearing a Man United shirt, and we’ll talk about who’s more hated.

      People can be remarkably short-sighted when it comes to picking their prejudices.

  2. LFM Cybernetic Augmentation, PST. No rouges, need healers, Glial Buildup drops reserved. Raid starts 8pm UTC.

  3. Just run your copies in pleasure loops.

    Or recycle the very best PvE content by deleting the spoilers from the minds (or resetting them to an earlier version).

    -> open-ended pleasure, non-zero-sum

    Also consider that the utility of PvE content scales with population. A digital work of art, transmitted by radiowaves, could be consumed by quadrillions of people living in different star systems.

    Of course, PvP will be a reality, but this will be a coordination failure, a sad tragedy of the commons. Not a desirable outcome.

    • > Or recycle the very best PvE content by deleting the spoilers from the minds (or resetting them to an earlier version).

      Oh god, that reminds me of Vinge’s “The Cookie Monster.” Make me wonder if this would be preferable to annihilation? :/

      • Your priorities are seriously screwed up.

        You think PvP – with all its inevitable torture and suffering involved – is superior to annihalation, but a simple efficiency technique like forgetting spoilers gets you to consider the nuclear option?

        Well, not that I expected better. Most people are shit, so why wouldn’t you be?

    • >You think PvP – with all its inevitable torture and suffering involved – is superior to annihalation

      I think there’s a miscommunication in what I mean by PvP. I’m talking about fundamental differences that result in partisan divides, and zero-sum status games. I expect these will cause a level of suffering, but not to the point of torture. It sounds like you think I’m talking about actual warfare. I realize the picture choice may be a bit misleading, but I liked the pun.

      > a simple efficiency technique like forgetting spoilers gets you to consider the nuclear option?

      I probably read a lot more into what you were saying than you meant as well, when you said “resetting them to an earlier version.” To me that sounds like wiping mental progress, so that from my PoV the actions may as well never have happened. And I end up just looping the same experiences over and over again. I consider that terrifying. Any existence where I can be replaced with a looping tape for all eternity fill me with existential horror and more than a fair bit of disgust. I dunno if you’ve ever read Greg Egan’s “Permutation City”, but when you suggest “resetting them to an earlier version” I immediately snap to the Eternal Suicide (near the end of Part 1… I don’t want to give any direct spoilers if you aren’t familiar with it). And the Eternal Suicide is worse than annihilation IMHO.

      • Yeah, I might have read too much actual “pro-warfare” into your position, sorry.

        Still, I think generally PvP is wasteful. Of course, wastefulness is not a dealbreaker if we could use the cosmic commons, but I am actually concerned that there will be more suffering than positive SWB, that is, more negative than positive mental states in the system.

        I see a consensus trend to treat inefficiency almost as a virtue, to keep system parts that cause suffering and nonconsensualism (which I think is a proxy for suffering) as though they carried intrinsic positive value, and a rejection of techniques like hedonic enhancement, wireheading, artificial utility monsters etc., as undesirable.

        At the bottom line I wonder how we are even going to “break even”, that is, create more positive than negative mental states, which is like the lowest benchmark for a future worth building, in my opinion.

        I did not read much of Greg Egan, and I understand the instinct that experiences running in a loop or being unauthentic would be undesirable. It is associated with stagnation, vulnerability, and epistemic loss. But of course, if you have a perfectly stable system and you can output paperclips, or mind states, or copies of yourself etc, you have to make a decision how to use those resources, and I’d prefer a consensus that creates positive experiences efficiently.

        Finally, I think warfare and torture are really going to happen on a large scale, and they’re not going to be pretty.

    • > a rejection of techniques like hedonic enhancement, wireheading, artificial utility monsters etc.

      I’m all for hedonic enhancement, but I’m confused on the other two. You see up-sides to wireheading and utility monsters?

      > I’d prefer a consensus that creates positive experiences efficiently.

      Aye, you have my full agreement.

      > I think warfare and torture are really going to happen on a large scale, and they’re not going to be pretty.

      I think they’re possible, but not unavoidable. I hope we find a way to avoid them in time. :/

  4. “You see up-sides to wireheading and utility monsters?”

    Yes, with the concept taken somewhat metaphorically. I think they are close to the ideal answer to the question, “What would an advanced civilization do if it had extra resources to spend and wanted to create positive experiences efficiently?”

    It would probably use some version of minds specifically designed to experience positive consciousness at low cost (utility monsters) and/or minds given artificial input or artificially controlled pleasure states (wireheads). The most efficient version would be hedonium, i.e. technology optimized to create only the parts of minds needed for very intense pleasure, and nothing else.

    I think hedonium will never be attractive to majorities, but most people are already (metaphorically) wireheading quite a lot.


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