wow, our inevitable doom explained in thirty minutes

the evolution of trust is a little web game that’s gone viral. i’m staying hands off but the dev is established already and has done other semi-viral things. i don’t know if they’re in the same style. of all things it’s a game-lecture, though these kinds of succulent rants go viral any day of the week. whatever sort of sweeping generalization, like the ones about how millennials don’t have respect or whatever. what we have here is a more exact, concrete version, of the ever marketable, endlessly viral, declaration that people these days suck.

which they do. though i cannot say the scope of that, i can only notice a shift among english speaking people, especially in america. it is important to emphasize that american culture problems cannot be translated to problems every culture has. america’s problems socializing aren’t humanity’s problems.

the evolution of trust claims through its systems and objectivity that it’s about inevitable human nature relating to how collectives function. however overwhelmingly this game is presenting extremely american values and american-founded information. but of course given that the author is a fellow american and cites paragraphs of american academic literature, we graze on this result.  is it that we assume an american perspective is neutral one? so it seems unnecessary to disclose, or to clarify that angle?

the ice is broken with a framing device, that of the 1914 christmas truce in the western front of world war 1. the concept of “live and let live” manifested during the senseless violence. soldiers would, verbally or nonverbally, agree to stop firing at each other. truces were commonplace, during christmas yes, and in general. the evolution of trust snowballs this concept into something that will always happen given such circumstances, without clarifying what exactly those circumstances are.

note if the implication of this framing device is that it would be unbelievable for a truce like that to occur nowdays, what is the reasoning? for a game so gleeful to teach about how things work, there’s no interest in what and why things happened. the genius bomb is that because people in trenches were the same people day-in and day-out they were able to build a rapport of trust. but there’s no discussion of why or how the trust was even possible or encouraged. of course trust is something that’s built over time, but why are people disposed to trust? i could conclude that it was the crushing pointlessness of the war that inspired the truce. or that in a european versus european war, truces like these occur out of respect of institutional whiteness and proximity culture. i cannot see it as an unblinking inevitability; what is history without context?

the framing device is obviously weak though. not even gunna venture a guess that it’s not the author’s strong point. i think it’s indicative of american fascination. that of war and old time nostalgia. thinking in some way that those times were better. this symbol tokenized, a bargaining chip of what we’ve lost. whatever is lost is left unstated though, too vague to make out. its power is supposed to speak for itself.

i will admit that max tried to explain game theory to me once (before and after the evolution of trust came into my life) and i had a very difficult time understanding it. american economic theories nearly always tire me out with their kind of clinical tone of observing something that is considered to be the natural order of things. markets are the result of a collective and most importantly decisions made by the most privileged. treating them as things that function a certain way demonstrates no imagination beyond capitalism. it’s a different mode of inquiry though and works when modeling zero-sum games.

here we go though, a digestible model of trust. there’s a machine. a coin put in on one side, puts out two coins on the other. isn’t trust commonly described as an equal exchange? my skepticism for this basis strips the majority of power from the evolution of trust, because it doesn’t describe a model of trust that applies in day to day life. before it’s poised, i understand it would be exceedingly difficult to model trust in a systemic and human way, so it could be argued that trust is turned into something else out of a broad convenience. but i do not think a binary, unadaptive conception of trust is either healthy or tenable, so i do not feel this framework can explain what happened to such a difficult and modular thing in our lives. still, i will continue as if trust is a zero-sum game with clear and dramatic winner and losers, unless brokered into a non-zero sum game.

to model the world in a zero-sum game people are turned into behavioural pastiches. there are different “types” of people. a copycat who copies the last move, bowler hat wearing fellow who always cheats, a high femme person who wants to cooperate and get along, whatever, etc. god the stereotypes the game leans on are embarrassing.

the evolution of trust puts no work into demonstrating that it’s statistically true people end up in these classes of cooperation. i don’t know who or what these people are supposed to be in a model that represents society’s trust. like other unsubstantiated parts of this lecture i have to accept that these arbitrary classes of people are how the world works. it doesn’t matter, i guess, because the point is that someone who mimes will win out because they equalize betrayal done to them. if there’s not enough time or circumstance for mimetic trust to be built, then exploiters win out.

obviously this model barely broaches trust, but there’s something that yet gapes if it even did: there’s little acknowledgement of how much more one person’s trust can be weighted over another. in fact, if trust ever is depreciated in the model, it apparently depreciates for everyone. so it’s a given that every actor has the ability to do unto others as is done unto them, which is basically never true in real life. those with more privilege and power can easily, safely distrust those with less. while everyone in any economical system is heavily impacted by those with the power to govern and rule. and processes of fair governance also rely on trust.

if trust is to evolve there needs to be acknowledgment of how systems we’ve set up erode trust and decay relationships, running parallel to a firm belief that people don’t have to get up over each other for the rest of our lives. the evolution of trust does not acknowledge power dynamics. it’s a circumstance of trust devoid of context or reason.


this is the epitome of the entire chicken-or-egg emptiness that sinks this game. we have less friends across identity lines. matter-of-factly it’s stated that is just because we have less friends. so if people had more close friends, would that end racism? would class consciousness emerge? i would say: obviously not.

that’s not the point of this graf of course, i think the obvious point is just that americans have no close friends. but why the auxillary, why is identity broached out of the model’s depth? as if repeated interactions is the solution to crossing those lines? the amount of close friends a society can manage is indicative of its health, surely, but there’s no correlation that a “healthy” society (as defined by one where you can have relationships) is not racist, or is one that is not worried about status. (remember the world war 1 comparison? that shining example of trust? i seriously doubt there were friendships across racial lines then. you know, because they were racist.)


blah blah blah indeed! it is incredible that the evolution of trust adapted economic theories to explain societal behaviours without once mentioning economic realities. my brain is yelling, of course, that this is really all fucking capitalism. america is hyper-capitalist, late capitalist, consumer capitalist, pick your dang buzzword capitalism and it applies. the incentive to cheat and get ahead absolutely comes from economic realities.

my core issue with the evolution of trust is that it’s too cowardly to mean anything, to bring together any kind of cohesive statement or whole. i think its absence of having a nuanced or complicated model is an effort to apoliticize trust and the building of it as much as possible. it undeniably is preaching for, and leaning to, ethical capitalism (which is a contradiction in terms), in the sense that it says nothing but to try harder to be good to each other, leaving the status quo intact.

this bland the oatmeal-ass videogame, by virtue of having no gumption, no suggestion of any sort of way to incentivize cooperation, aligns with centrism, incrementalism, basically so-called “moderate” neoliberalism. the desire to be “apolitical” is, yes, political. numbers are thrown behind “the golden rule,” behind concepts that we’re taught since children, as if to demonstrate their absolute correctness. a trust system about cheating each other for coins presented as unavoidable, evolutionary behaviour, implicitly supports ethical capitalism and moderate centrism as things that can’t be negotiated.

since this trust game is a blank slate, the exchange is anything. max played this game and thought, “we need to abolish capitalism!” i felt reflexive, i felt the need to be better at something, but the game itself is a flat nothing. that’s its appeal. it’s so inoffensive and insufficient at modeling anything materially applicable to the world that a viewer-player-reader does all the theoretical labor and becomes renewed in what they already believe in.

the evolution of trust joins is in a class of internet sharables like pure aesthetic how-to videos, ted talks, motivational quotes, and life pro tips. it’s a lense on life that’s too simplified, unchallenging, uninspiring for anything real to spark. but is yet a perfect loop, a system that can be admired on some merit, applied somehow to your life. and the fact that it works as suggested, so efficiently, seems to justify its self-evident value. i get the temptation for easier answers when things are hard and horrible though. i really get that.

that being said this game is not really something that’s worth getting riled up and writing an exasperated four pages on. i was just tweaking out that there was basically no pushback to this asinine game. key to viral seduction in tech and games is a fetishistic appeal to life as being a system with consistent, understandable rules, with a fair and even playing field. we can do better than to uncritically promote the viewpoints of the privileged.


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