We patch games to balance the environment and prevent cheaters from exploiting the system. Why do some people seem so resistant to patching our real-world systems?

Entering the cave

Destiny’s “Loot Cave” was the equivalent of a smoke-filled casino, hordes of addicts pouring bullets into the slot hoping for rewards. Instead of engaging in quests or organizing raid parties to slay evil, Guardians stood in the middle of a wasteland, shooting at minor creatures endlessly pouring out of a cave a few hundred feet away. Gray, green, and occasionally blue or purple polyhedrons bounced up after the monsters died, the “loot” part of the loot cave. When the Guardians ran out of ammo, they’d run to the cave and gather their loot, then go to the Tower to get it inspected. After breaking down unwanted gear and inspecting new pieces to keep, they’d go back to the cave and do it all over again.

Why would someone ignore the rest of the game to shoot menial creatures in a cave? At the game’s launch, task difficulty/time to completion didn’t correlate to reward quality. Players could spend 45 minutes clearing a mission on a strenuous difficulty and literally receive nothing but experience. Killing anything seemed to deliver an equal chance of gear, whether a boss or a grunt. This meant players went to spaces where they could kill as many enemies as fast as possible. Combine that with a glitch that kept enemies respawning infinitely from a certain cave so long as players stayed far away…well, the rest is history.

Bungie patched the Loot Cave days after its discovery, but it became a hot topic of debate in the meantime. Was grinding items from the cave “cheating?” What about the spirit of the game? How large a fix would Bungie need to implement? One thing was for sure: they needed to do something to save this new IP they’d invested millions of dollars in creating. That, or they could watch it crumble.


A system exploited

The white supremacist march in Charlottesville, VA a few weeks back made me think about the Loot Cave. It made me wonder what Destiny would have been like if they’d never patched the game. When new content came out, would players have tried to complete the story, take down bosses? Would they have just searched for new Loot Caves in new regions: enemy spawn points just far enough from a clear line of site? Maybe they would have just left, moved on to another, more satisfying game…or gone to a real casino.

In the US, our political system has a bug. Regardless of the original intent, we have “players” exploiting the system, using “free speech” as an excuse to perpetuate hateful, violent ideologies. These predominantly target minorities, and the public resurgence of the presence of groups like the Nazis and the KKK shows that their tactics work. People marching at the rally in Charlottesville chanted slogans like “Jews will not replace us,” and did so with no masks or sheets to hide their identities. They felt safe expressing these beliefs, and protected by the law in doing so. This is the kind of rhetoric that fueled a terrorist attack on a black church in Charlotte, NC. It fueled another attack on a mosque in Quebec City, Canada. And it spawned the vehicular assault that killed 1 and injured another 19 in Charlottesville.

Regardless of people’s thoughts on “free speech” or the US Constitution, it’s hard to look at a system of government that protects or perpetuates these attitudes as anything other than “broken.” So, now the question is: what do we do about it?


The benefits of patching

Bungie DID patch Destiny, attempting to solve not just the surface issue, but the root problem. They started by closing the exploit that kept monsters spawning endlessly from the cave, but the cave was a symptom of a larger problem: players didn’t feel rewarded for tackling in-game content. Bungie changed the loot tables, made it more likely to get quality gear from defeating bosses and completing missions with friends. This not only increased player satisfaction, but also incentivized players continuing to play the game and explore as new content debuted. Over the last three years, the Destiny team examined player feedback and consistently iterated, adding story, new game mechanics, and more. On Wednesday, Destiny 2 dropped and is likely a better game than Destiny’s “original intent” could have dreamed.

Of course, patching a game is simpler than patching a democracy. US Government shares some parallels with game development: “patches” (AKA laws) aren’t created directly by the people, they’re implemented by caretakers of the system. Dev teams are like game politicians, acting as experts to suss out issues, research best resolutions, and choose what fixes to implement. Games and countries hold at least one critical difference: where players can leave one game and jump into another at will, citizens can’t leave countries that easily.

Finances, political turmoil, marginalization, familial obligations…the list of reasons why “love it or leave it” doesn’t work is practically endless. Politicians take oaths to protect their citizens because the job comes with responsibilities detached from the “free market.” There are folks who don’t have the tools to do everything for themselves, and government is meant to provide assistance.

This isn’t to say that coming up with the “best solution” for our real-world problems will be easy. But our current system’s being exploited, and the damage is evident. And let’s be clear: white supremacy may primarily target racial and sexual minorities, but as the stabbings in Portland and Heather Heyer’s murder in Charlottesville prove, anyone can become a target of this kind of hate.

The “game” is broken. Stopping the discussion with “But free speech” says the system is working as intended and shouldn’t change. We either patch the system, or continue to allow bad actors to damage it, potentially ruining it entirely.