Reprinted without permission from The Journal of Experimental Psychology,
Induced Dysfunction Through Simulated Gaming
Andreas Schneider, MD
Kit Woolsey, MD
Marius Loner, PhD
Over a three year period, a team of researchers has investigated the use of
applied frustration as a means of inducing various levels of dysfunction.
An experiment on several thousand test subjects has yielded a wide range of
observed results, including paranoia, schizophrenia, senile dementia, acute
sociopathy, clinical depression, generalized rage, and a variety of
psychosomatic manifestations including boils, hair loss and impotence.
The effectiveness of the experimental design greatly exceeded the
expectations of the research team. And as a side effect, this experiment
has generated a significant supply of long-term clinical subjects for
further study, both in institutional settings and through covert
Note: This experiment has been conducted on subjects unaware of their
participation, either as "targets" or controls. The ethical issues involved
were deemed insignificant compared to the expected utility of the findings.
Legal issues have been addressed by locating the experiment in "cyberspace"
- a virtual location of questionable existence and much jurisdictional
confusion, as well as through the use of corporate shell structures in
several accommodating nations. However, neither the research team nor its
funding sponsors, whose identity must remain anonymous, are insensitive to
the impact the experiment has had on many of its subjects. Arrangements for
long-term care have been made for those subjects too severely damaged to
care for themselves, and who are not already incarcerated.
The primary tool used by the research team involved a game known as
"backgammon" which consists of a simple set of rules governing the movement
of two opposing sets of checkers around a game board. The game is primarily
a game of luck, and it is this characteristic which established its
suitability for experimental use - it was noted that, in an effort to
rationalize, on a personal level, the workings of chance, players typically
subscribed to an increasingly complicated, arcane, and at times incoherent,
series of strategic analyses. Thus, it can be seen that backgammon appeals
primarily to dysfunctional personality types, and a large population of
adequate test subjects was assured.
Both for the legal reasons mentioned above, and to overcome the physical
difficulties of getting enough test subjects together to play backgammon on
a regular basis, a "virtual game room" (FIBS) was established on the
InterNet, and several host programs were developed: FIBS Host, which
provided the basic game environment; FIBS X, which provided either
pre-determined or directed dice rolls to experimental "targets"; FIBS
Observer, which monitored, logged, and evaluated behavior of experimental
"targets"; And FIBS Director, which provided researchers with the ability
to intervene covertly into on-going games, as well as to choose and
designate targets. In order to attract subjects to the experiment, several
outstanding programmers were contracted to develop front-end graphical user
interfaces for a variety of platforms.
In addition to the playing of the game itself, subject interaction was
encouraged through the provision of secondary communication channels, such
as the ability to "shout", "tell" and "kibitz", as well as to view other
players' matches. This capability provided researchers with excellent means
of both observation and intervention.
A reward stimulus was provided through the award of points for successful
performance in matches. The award formula was designed to be both confusing
and controversial to most players, and, as expected, a structure of social
status soon emerged based on the player's ability to gather points and
establish a "rating". This structure was a point of heavy intervention by
the research team.
Additionally, a UseNet newsgroup, rec.games.backgammon, was utilized by
researchers, both as a means of direct intervention and as a source of much
Players were assigned either to a control group or designated as "targets".
This was usually done on a random basis when a player registered to use the
server, but on occasion, a player's status would be modified, usually to
"target", particularly when social behavior such as "shouting" or the
selection of an unusual username suggested potential dysfunction. For the
purpose of this experiment, a control group size of 25% of the total
population was deemed sufficient.
The control group was allowed to play the normal game of backgammon,
subject only to the general stimuli provided by the research team through
the FIBS environment. This was not, however, inconsequential - the ambient
frustration level, as a result of both natural factors and those induced by
researchers, but not related to the game itself, probably accounted for
some significant dysfunction among the control group population. However,
we have previously noted that backgammon players as a group tend toward the
The "target" group were subjected to a variety of stimuli, all designed to
maximize frustration. These were applied on an individual basis wherever
possible, an approach made possible only by the significant level of
funding provided by our sponsor, which ensured adequate staffing of the
Stimuli available to researchers included the following:
Pre-programmed long sequences - designed to provide a variety of
experiences affecting "ratings", such as the long-term slump, the seemingly
undeserved high rating, and major swings both upward and downward. Applied
randomly or assigned.
Pre-programmed short sequences - designed to maximize short-term
frustration of "targets" by provision of poor rolls by "target" or
excellent rolls by opponent in particular matches. The most effective of
these sequences is the rolling of doubles, particularly 6-6, when the
player is "on the bar", or a series of doubles rolled by the opponent in
critical situations. Applied when deemed useful.
Direct intervention - used by researchers when observing particular
"targets", particularly those about to crack, similar in nature to the
short sequences above.
Induced lag - operates in either a programmed mode, as either a generalized
means of increasing ambient frustration or whenever a significant number of
matches are coming to simultaneous conclusions, or through direct
intervention, at critical moments in a "target" match.
Induced connection loss - the involuntary severing of a player's
connection, usually in circumstances similar to the induced lag above. It
has been used effectively in certain cases to operate on a "target" only
when he is losing a match, thus making him appear to cheat.
"Server crashes" - similar to induced connection loss, this stimulus has
the ability to erase recently played matches, and can thus be a substantial
source of frustration, particularly when cleverly combined with previous
direct intervention leading to a miraculous match win.
Noise* - use of the shout function, often by researchers (all of whom
fulfill a role as registered players), to sow discontent, create
controversy, or display generally annoying behavior. Recent improvements
in this area include the playing of a variety of verbal games, such as
trivia and oodles.
Harassment* - use of the shout, tell, and kibitz functions, often by
researchers, to direct specific abusive stimuli at "targets". Very
*The research team has found that it needs very little active intervention
in these two areas - the test subjects have proven very adequate and
inventive in providing such stimuli on their own.
Confusion - a variety of stimuli, including the frequent posting to
rec.games.backgammon of complicated game position and strategy discussions,
utilizing obscure and often irrational arguments designed to bewilder those
seeking to understand their FIBS experience. Additionally, researchers
frequently plant suggestions that the FIBS experience is "unfair' for a
variety of reasons, and follow-up with vigorous argument on both sides of
each issue, thus enhancing general paranoia and discontent.
While this experiment remains on-going (indeed, the clinical consequences
will employ an army of psychiatrists, therapists, and mental health workers
for decades), preliminary results have been tabulated, as follows:
"Target" Group - 87% of the 2134 "target" group subjects, some 1857
individuals, manifested dysfunctional behavior that can be directly related
to the FIBS experience. Of this group, 65%, or 1207 individuals, were
categorized as severely affected. While only 14%, or 260, have been
institutionalized to date, that figure can only grow with time. Of more
clinical concern are those individuals who, while severely affected, have
developed coping mechanisms which assist them in avoiding
institutionalization, but who remain menaces to society - ticking bombs, as
it were. Follow-up covert on-site observation is indicated in almost all
"target" group subjects, both for research and public safety reasons.
Control Group - 79% of the control group, or 551 individuals, manifested
FIBS-related dysfunction. Interestingly, 88% were categorized as severe, a
much higher percentage than the "target" group. The researchers are
re-examining their experimental design, and are concentrating initial
efforts on the abnormal psychology of the average backgammon player.
This experiment has generated a plethora of opportunities for further
research, including a substantial number of clinical case studies (see "The
Strange Case of R., Journal of Clinical Psychology, August, 1995),
application of findings to other gaming and non-gaming environments,
refinement of covert observation methodologies, and others too numerous to
mention in this abstract, but covered fully in the complete publication.
Funding interest for additional research from various governments and
private concerns is expected to be substantial following full publication
Unfortunately, full publication is expected to reveal the nature of this
experiment to both the public, and of more concern, its subjects.
Consequently, for the safety of the research team, this phase of the
experiment will have to be concluded, and the apparatus, including the FIBS
server, shut down. The research team will assume new identities and
relocate, in order to continue its long-term, in-depth covert observation
of the entire 2845 participants in this study. Follow-up results will be
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