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Update: Genetic Fitness
June 29, 2019


The survival of your offspring, and yourself, now matters.

Before, each life was lived in isolation from the rest of your play history, with no thread tying the lives that you lived together. This lack of over-arching meaning had a long list of consequences, contributing to long-standing problems like suicide, griefing, and general listlessness. Furthermore, it tended to undercut some potentially interesting family survival stories. Why would you go to great lengths to save one of your children if your child didn't really matter to you in the long run? But such "great lengths" make for great, dramatic stories.

The Precious Life update helped with this somewhat, because lives were no longer lived in complete isolation from each other---they were all part of a pool of limited lives that you were spending. While this helped to make each individual life you played a bit more tense and precious, it didn't do anything to increase the tension of family survival.

A great deal of discussion has focused on how much players in the game tend to care about the last viable female child born in the village. She is really treated like royalty, and there's no role-playing necessary. All the hard work of the living players depends on her survival. Without her, everything they built will be lost for future generations.

That's great, and it's also kinda magic, because it emerges naturally from other unrelated game mechanics. There aren't "last surviving girl survival points" that are motivating you to care about her. On the other hand, you don't care for her in a way that has anything to do with her specifically. She could be anyone's daughter. As long as some girl survives, that's all you need. Which is also not analogous to why you would care for a daughter in real life (be she the last surviving female or not). Thus, "our work won't be lost" is just as orthogonal a reason to care as points or any other unrelated reason. It's nice that it's an emergent reason in this case, though.

Why do we care so much about the survival of our family in real life? It's apparently due to some pretty abstract underlying genetic reasons, and our actual behavior often matches the underlying genetics to a spooky degree. We would, for example, save a sibling over a cousin, and a sister over a brother, and age would also be factored in (a younger sibling would be saved over an older one), with the results pretty closely approximating genetic relatedness and reproductive potential. But in real life, we just feel the feelings. We don't do this genetic math when we make these decisions.

And in the case of this game, those biological feelings will never come into play. This in-game daughter is not your real daughter, and she never will be. A longer game might allow for more bonding between players, but it would never be actual kinship bonding.

Games are not real.

Thus, as long as we motivate appropriate player behavior---behavior that is congruent with the thematics of the game, I don't think it matters too much how we motivate that behavior. Emergent motivations are nice, but when they aren't possible, abstract motivations are fine.

Genes are abstract and exert a weird influence on behavior in real life.

Genes can thus be represented abstractly and allowed to exert a weird influence in the game. They can be points. Why not?

And thus, why do you care about the survival of your daughter in the game, even if she's not the last girl in the village? Because of the genetic points that she represents.

And there's still some interesting emergence lurking. If you want a high genetic score, the survival of your offspring needs to get pushed to the limit. And what is the best strategy to achieve that? What will be the most successful parent and grandparent strategy in the game? I have no idea! When push comes to shove, the very best players will figure this out. And it's a good and thematically appropriate thing to figure out. They've never had a reason to figure it out, until now. Furthermore, for players who care about their genetic scores, there is never an unimportant moment. Even if they are born to a doomed village, standing there and waiting to die won't be a viable strategy. They will need to ensure their own and their offspring's survival at all costs, even in a doomed village.

That's the underlying design philosophy, but how does it work?

Everyone starts with a genetic score of 0. Every time you or your offspring live a life that is longer than your current genetic score, you score goes up. Every time you or your offspring live a shorter life, your score goes down.

Your score represents what we generally expect in terms of longevity for you and your offspring. If someone dies young, that means our expectation was too high, and vice versa if someone dies older than we expected.

This is somewhat similar to Elo ratings that are used in competitive games like Chess, albeit applied to each player in isolation. The actual formula is very simple, given an offspring or self that lived Y years: newScore = oldScore + (Y - oldScore) / 10

For women, offspring are any direct descendants that were born during your lifetime (generally children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren).

For men, offspring are nieces and nephews (and great, and great great variants) that are born during your lifetime. The so-called "gay uncle hypothesis" is alive and well.

And of course, your own lives count too. And note that baby suicides don't count to pull their mother's scores down, but do count as short lives for those who live them. Thus, for those who really care about their genetic score, survival in all situations is necessary.

Finally, is genetic score just a meaningless number? No, it has a small effect inside the game. Since it tracks family longevity, it gives you a distinct advantage in old age. The higher your genetic score, the fewer hunger bars you lose with aging. With a perfect genetic score of 60, you'll keep your full hunger bar all the way until your last breath.

So if you see a particularly strapping old person running around acting half their age, you'll know what's going on. They're genetically fit.

The leaderboard can be seen here:


Everyone is assigned a randomized name for tracking on the leaderboard. Your name can be seen on the GENES screen inside the game, along with a recent history showing changes to your genetic fitness over time.
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