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Month: March, 2016

One weird application of the “invisible fence” dog collar that’s setting the world of Internet comments on fire! And possibly also setting people on fire, depending on the amperage involved.


The staggering degree of stupidity and general mean-spiritedness of Internet comments is a well known and undeniable phenomenon. But what can be done to prevent the anonymity of the Internet from causing people to write inhumanly monstrous things in Internet comment sections?


Fig 1: Even if your web site is about historical Danish model trains, your comment section will quickly fill up with arguments about subterranean trilateral commission lizard people. But perhaps there is some way to dissuade the stupidest comments?


The solution is simple: if a user wants to comment on a web site, they first have to put on and plug in a USB shock collar. Then, while the collar is on, they are free to comment to their heart’s content.

However, for a certain amount of time after the user has commented (say, 15 minutes), the shock collar will remain active, and a small “lightning bolt” icon will appear next to the user’s comment. Anyone who thinks the comment is stupid (or perhaps this is a privilege reserved for the site moderators) can click the button and administer a presumably-non-fatal electric shock to the commenter.


Fig 2: This USB device consists of a shock collar which you 1) put on yourself and 2) plug into the USB port of the computer that you will be writing Internet comments from.

To discourage the commenter from attempting to game the system by unplugging the USB cable early (before the comment-vetting period has expired), the collar could be set up to automatically administer additional painful shocks if the cord is disconnected prematurely.


PROS: Reduces the frequency of stupid  Internet comments without sacrificing the (occasionally very valuable) anonymous nature of the Internet.

CONS: May result in electrocution. This peripheral could draw unfavorable comparisons to the Milgram experiment (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment).


The three weird buttons that will stop procrastination forever! You will shriek and wail when you think of all the procrastination you did before you had these!

The issue:

Sometimes, it’s difficult to avoid being distracted by the wide variety of enticing modern entertainment options. It’s always possible to physically unplug your Internet router and turn off your phone, but most people aren’t going to do that on a regular basis.


An individual could purchase a set of wireless buttons that would have various effects, for example:

  • Turn off the Internet for a set period of time, forcing the button-owner to actually work / read a book / interact with other people (Fig 1).

  • Turn off the lights until the next morning, preventing the button-owner from staying up incredibly late (Fig 3).

  • Lock the fridge and kitchen cabinets for a certain period of time, preventing casual snacking.

Here are three buttons that may be of general interest:


Fig 1: This is basically a “NO INTERNET” button—it’s time to do work with no interruptions! When you press this button, your phone locks you out entirely, your TV refuses to turn on, and your router blocks most Internet traffic (i.e., video sites, social media traffic, instant messaging) and temporarily stops fetching incoming emails.

This one also doubles as a “read a book” or “actually interact with other humans” button!


Fig 2: Work is over! Time to relax. Your work email won’t be checked until the next morning and any work-related phone apps are paused. If you have any work-only contacts, their calls to you go straight to voicemail. I hope you have a 9-to-5 job and aren’t on-call, or else you will definitely get fired if you push this button!


Fig 3: This button returns your house to caveman times, because it’s time to actually go to sleep! Your computer and phone now refuse to let you log in until the next sunrise, your TV and stereo refuse to turn on, and your house’s lights are limited to 10% of their normal brightness.

PROS: Allows you to behave as if you  have self-control!

CONS: Requires installation of phone and computer applications. You might become so dependent on these buttons that you forget how to survive without them!

In a follow-up to last week’s game design idea, use this one weird tip to add realism and teach players about the legal system at the same time!




We previously focused on adding a sense of danger to a computer game by adding new consequence for failure. (Specifically, adding an increasingly-onerous delay to the player respawn timer.)

In this follow-up idea, we suggest two motivating premises:

  1.  If a player has no consequences for failure, then they will not as keenly feel the thrill of success.
  2. An analogue of the real-world legal system can also punish the player for in-game failure.

The issue:

In a game like the modern incarnations of Grand Theft Auto, there is usually very little at stake with regards to success or failure of a mission. Missions have ample checkpoints, so failure leads to a 60-second setback at most. (Older versions of these games did not have checkpoints, so a 20-minute mission could become increasingly tense toward the end.)

If a character reaches a failure mode in the open-world section of the game (e.g., is arrested, hit with a rocket, or falls off a cliff), the player is just charged an inconsequential fee in the in-game currency.


We propose that a character who is arrested (or otherwise incapacitated by law enforcement) will have to appear at an in-game trial and face the legally-determined in-game consequences of their actions. This can be a complex process—see figure 1 for details!


Fig 1: Upon failing a hypothetical “Casino Heist” mission, the player is faced with many legal woes. Should they pay for an expensive legal team? Take a plea bargain? Roll the dice on a jury trial? Note the un-subtle endorsement of paying tons of money for lawyers in this diagram! Clearly this game was sponsored by a high-profile legal team, and definitely not Nolo.com .

Each of these options will lead to a different in-game punishment (or perhaps the character will get off scot-free). Note that there is the possibility of fractal complexity here; maybe in the “take it to a jury trial” segment, the player must also be involved in attempting to suppress inculpatory evidence, impeach the credibility of opposing witnesses, call their own character witnesses, establish a (false) alibi, etc…

PROS: Adds a dire consequence for failure, making victory sweeter. May provide useful instruction regarding the legal system.

CONS: Requires additional time and money to develop a feature that few players will actually appreciate.

If you are a game designer, use this one weird tip to annoy your players—it’s for their own good.


Modern video games are, with a few notable exceptions, generally designed to minimize the amount of irritation and aggravation that the player experiences.

The issue:

However, one flip side to the general “smooth sailing” experience of gameplay is the lack of any “stake” of the user in the gameworld, which reduces the tension and (frequently) enjoyment as well.

Generally, any setback is extremely minor. Careless play leads to your character impacting the ground at 100 m/s? No problem—instantly respawn nearby, or load the previous save. Thus, there is no sense of danger associated with this form of escapist entertainment.


We can add back the sense of danger (and investment in the well-being of one’s video game avatar) by making the consequences of failure more dire. However, this is often difficult to reconcile with game design. For example, if a player walks onto a land mine after exploring a huge ruin, it seems excessive to make them re-explore the entire ruin. But with this proposal, the player can still be punished, yet without making them repeat content that they have already experienced.

Specifically, every time the player encounters a significant setback (i.e., crashes a racecar, gets exploded in a war game, fails to clear the viruses from the Dr. Mario bottle), they are faced with a timer that must count  down to 0 before the game can be restarted. Perhaps this would increase; the first failure within an hour would result in a 30 second penalty, then the second one would result in a 2-minute penalty, until finally perhaps the player has to wait a full hour to resume the game.


Fig 1: The respawn timer increases as the player continues to meet their demise in a short period of time. This would probably work especially well for an open-world game like Fallout (or any other game that allows quick-saves), which otherwise have few feasible ways of punishing the player for setbacks.

PROS: Adds danger and excitement even to the most generic open-world game and/or game with generous save slots.

CONS: Probably would result in lots of whining on message boards.