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Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Why the Goons Stick Together

Has anyone reading this ever heard of the Hadza? For those that haven't, the Hadza are one of the last true hunter-gatherer societies in the world. They live in Tanzania. They are a fascinating people whose society hasn't really change since the neolithic.

One thing that scientists are very curious about is whether "modern" human behaviors exist in Hadza society.[1] They want to understand if we act as we do because of modern living or if the behaviors are older than civilization. It has long been assumed that humans began large scale cooperation at the dawn of cities, roughly when agriculture began. The assumption goes that cooperation arose because combining everyone's harvest and then doling it out during the winter months gave everyone a better chance at surviving. This eventually allowed positions within the society to arise that did not contribute directly to survival - e.g. politicians and salesmen. However, not all agree with this vision of prehistory. Some maintain it is human nature to cooperate. Science needs to test the cooperation hypothesis and Hadza society is an excellent test subject.

The study took the form of giving each Hadza a valuable resource - honey. Honey is prized among the Hadza as it is in many so called primitive cultures. First, the study participants were asked to pick three people they'd like to be with in their next band from all the Hadza. Next, each person in the study was given three small tubes of honey. They were asked who they'd most like to share their honey with. This mapped their social structure - their Friends List as it were.

After this was done, each was given four more tubules of honey. They were then told they could keep the honey or contribute it anonymously to a communal stock pile. For every tubule in the common pile, the researchers would add two more - tripling the amount - and redistribute the stockpile equally to all. The researches designed this test to see who were the freeloaders. If a Hadza kept their four tubules and still participated in the redistribution to come they were deemed freeloaders and not cooperators. What did the Hadza do?

You can find out by reading this article: Tanzania's Hadza group sheds light on ancient social networks. See, I don't make this stuff up! Here is an NIH article as well and you can read about the actual study here.

So what does this have to do with Eve? Well, we all act this way. It is part of the human condition. Most of us cooperate and the rest are freeloaders. Now, I am not saying that all Goons are freeloaders and all carebears are cooperators. That would be as wrong as thinking all Hadza within a band were one way or the  other. They aren't. There is a valid comparison though.

To make the comparison you need to know this: honey isn't the coveted resource in Eve culture (duh.) Fun is. That is what we all value. It is what we want above all else when we log in. We may call it relaxation or some other euphemism but it is all for fun. To this end, the Goons have publicly stated their idea of fun is to "ruin your game." This crass pleasure at other's expense is just like the Hadza who kept their honey and got the redistribution as well. The Goons are the Eve freeloaders, having fun by taking it from all the others.

On the other hand, this carebear's idea of fun is creating something I know will be used by others within Eve.[2] I add to the common stockpile because I believe the reward will be greater than the sum of all the contributions. That is why this blog exists. It's part of my contribution. At it's root, I believe this is the carebear way of thinking. Within our Eve community, this is the manifestation of the cooperator.

But as interesting as all this is, what really made me say, "ah ha!" was the fact that each Hadza sought out and associated with like minded individuals - even the freeloaders. The researchers don't quite understand this dynamic but evidently freeloaders find solace with other freeloaders. That realization was my final puzzle-piece to understanding why the Goons exist.

If, as many carebears see Goons, they are anarchists bent on destroying Eve society, the Goons should have fail-cascaded long ago. They couldn't have remained organized against the pressure of their own internal motivations. But as it seems they are freeloaders, taking fun but not contributing it, they remain - sticking together like honey.[3] And society allows freeloaders. Though they do not contribute, they also seem to do no lasting harm. That's how humans work. And though it seems counter intuitive, scientist suspect there is an as yet undiscovered alternative survival strategy behind it.

Lastly, the final make-me-raise-my-eyebrow observation that came from the Hadza study concerned the ratio of freeloaders to cooperators. It is surmised the ratio is much the same in modern society (where it is hard to quantify) as it is in Hadza society. Care to have a guess at what that ratio seems to be?

Fly careful.

[1] So, to make sure everyone understands, I am not a psychologist nor do I have a degree in sociology. These observations are only my opinion. YMMV.
[2] And curiously, perhaps antagonizing the Goons and giving them someone to war-dec is also a contribution.
[3] I just couldn't resist that metaphorical pun!


  1. Goons, and other herd alliances like TEST, are a bunch of wanna-be's that lack any definition of themselves, so hook up with herd mentalities and adopt that definition because the "work" has already been done. Lacking any real talents that might set them apart in real life, which they apparently strongly desire, they wander around with their herds, causing shit (because causing shit gets more notice, faster than being nice) and thinking/believing that the notoriety makes them cool.

    "Are you a goon??"

    This, of course is the dreamed-of conversation by herd members who think notoriety is the same as popularity. It is also the kind of conversation started by an individual with an equally under developed maturity level and sense of self. That same immaturity and selfishness is what makes them think of little but them self and what they want, and what long term effects their efforts will have on everything around them, including themselves. In a gaming environment, with no accountability, they make the game environment toxic for others' fun, eventually their own as well, and then they move on. Society developed rules to deal with assholes for the betterment of all.

    People like talk about chaos and anarchy, but those two concepts do not exist when there is more than one person involved. As soon as two people are working together, anarchy and chaos are gone and they have created their own rules of co-operation. "Anarchists" is just another term the herdlets like to apply to themselves thinking it makes them sound cool.

    1. "Society developed rules to deal with assholes for the betterment of all."

      That's true, the highly competent assholes become CEO's and generals, and the incompetent ones find appropriate jobs to channel their whims or go to jail. In order, groups 1,2,3.

      ""Anarchists" is just another term the herdlets like to apply to themselves thinking it makes them sound cool."

      The goons are highly organized, they are made of up groups 1 & 2; you are accusing them of being group 3, which is incoherent as they are obviously organized and successful. Judging them by their forum posting is like judging the military strength of nations by analyzing the graffiti in their urban areas, utterly ridiculous. Spend a few minutes thinking of more relevant ways to observe them, worthwhile thought based on imperfect observation is very difficult.

  2. "Though they do not contribute, they also seem to do no lasting harm. That's how humans work. And though it seems counter intuitive, scientist suspect there is an as yet undiscovered alternative survival strategy behind it."

    They do not contribute, but do no lasting harm? Hm, have you heard of a game called EVE? In this game, there's an alliance that champions noncooperation, and this alliance is winning. I.e., EVE functions as a laboratory to discern in what environment the noncooperators are most valuable to a social group--an environment where war and backstabbing espionage are the dominant selectors. I.e., anyone who plays EVE has now discovered what the alternative survival strategy behind societies fostering freeloaders--societies do not exist in a vacuum and must compete with other societies--cooperators are valuable to keep the society self-sufficient, but a society of 100% cooperators would be helpless as lambs against another society of mixed cooperators/jackals. I mean, it's pretty obvious anyway and it's a bit ridiculous that the article doesn't mention it, but anyone who plays EVE has it absolutely shoved in their face daily.

  3. Intriguing subject, Mabrick. Of course cooperators seek out other cooperators, but from a game-theoretic perspective, freeloaders should seek out cooperators too. Freeloaders need someone to freeload from, after all. Maybe freeloaders view their strategy as ideologically sound, not just pragmatically better. Maybe they think that people with a freeloader mentality will be less dependent, therefore better associates. Or perhaps it's a strategy to avoid social pressures to conform.

    Also, it may be that some ventures (e.g. manufacture of trade goods, hunting large game) are well suited to a cooperative context, and others (gathering scarce resources, small game hunting) are suited to a group of freeloaders. I wonder if the "freeloader" Hadza camps had different activity profiles than the "cooperator" camps.

    Also, cooperators and freeloaders eventually have to make contact. Someone has to build all those Drakes and buy all that moon goo. There seems to be a whole lot of money to be made in arbitrage between the two groups.

    I looked through the three links, but wasn't able to find the ratio of freeloaders to cooperators in the Hadza study. Mind helping me out with that, cooperator? :)

    1. It's true that freeloaders need someone to freeload from, but perhaps you are misreading the study. It's not saying that freeloaders don't associate with cooperators at all, but that freeloaders and cooperators tend to be acquaintances, while bonds of close friendship are more often found between like and like. This is completely intuitive, yes?

    2. I think we're interpreting the study the same way. "Cooperator or freeloader" isn't the whole story, only one variable in how people choose their associates. ("Joe never buys a round, but he tells the best jokes.")

      The behaviors of freeloaders and cooperators match some of my intuitions, but that isn't the same as an explanation of the behaviors. By analogy, intuition tells me that I'll get sick if I don't eat, but that doesn't explain my metabolism, or why I'll also get sick if I live on preserved meat and grains.

      The original study offers two hypotheses:

      "One is that cooperators tend to form ties preferentially with other cooperators, leaving defectors no choice but to form ties to the remaining noncooperators. Another is that people may influence the cooperative behaviour of their networks, as demonstrated in experimental studies."

      So what I'm speculating about is, if a "defector" wanted to join a cooperative social group, what stops him from just cooperating? And if the cooperative behavior of an area of the network is affected by the people in it, what is it about those people that affects their network?

  4. Hm. As much as I dislike the goons, I think you can't easily make the analogy of resource freeloaders.

    1. You assume that they take from a limited stockpile of "fun" in a selfish way. That is not entirely correct. By taking it away, they are adding it to their own stockpile and propagate the goon-way of life. Sure you could argue that freeloaders stick together - but I think its a stretch. Goons help other goons to be goons - that's not freeloading, that is building a society. You may not like a society that takes resources from you but that is the fundamental of conflict - and conflict is what makes EVE tick.

    2. The goons fill a substantial role in bringing new players into the game and training them up. Sure, this is self-serving but I bet 1 ISK that the goons bring in more new people / day into the game than all carebears combined. And not all stay with goons. I run recruitment for a WH corp and we are inundated with nullsec recruits who simply got bored with the goon (and their imitator's) way of life. So, in this, the goons bring in trained players to an area of New Eden that values them.

    In short, I think you stretched the argument of freeloaders a little bit. I too don't like the goons and what they stand for but I also value that they created likely the most tight-knit and functional community in the game and that their shenanigans fuel the general gaming press and make EVE less of an obscurity than it should be with barely 400k accounts.

  5. There are a lot of interesting points raised in the article about human nature. However, in relationship to Eve it seems as if the entire idea could be flipped around as well.

    To use large, sweeping strokes, if one considered goonswarm to be freeloaders and high sec to be cooperator, can not it be switched around to say that high sec are freeloaders and goonswarm cooperator if one looks at the larger picture of the two 'sides' being painted?

  6. One thing you are ignoring in your analysis is the genesis of the Goonswarm. They _were_ a comunity before they came to EVE. They still are. That puts them into a position where they actually do not have to cooperate at all, and that shows.

    The way you approach the subject is as if you wanted to explain the role of a migratory swarm of locusts by looking at the way how insect life in the area they move to usually organizes itself.

    The Goons are not a phenomenon of EVE, they are a phenomenon of online culture in general.

  7. The described experiment sounds like the classic version of the Dictator laboratory game: Player A is given an amount of money (or, as in this case, honey) and has the option to either keep it for himself or split it in some fashion with Player B. Under this model, as you correctly noted, the majority of Players A act as "cooperators".

    However, as John A. List demonstrated, it takes just one tiny change to turn this proof of universal altruism upside down. If Player A is given the option to take some amount of money (honey/fun) from Player B, then the number of "cooperators" drops below 10%. The majority of Players A took something from Players B instead, and about 40% took everything from them.

    I don't know how Hadza would react to a modified Dictator game, but I have a suspicion that they would follow that pattern, as well. Especially if Player B was a non-Hadza outsider ("pubbie").

    And that is why Goons exist, survive and thrive. Yes, given the choice between being a cooperator and a freeloader, most people will choose to cooperate. But give them the third option - the ability to be a predator - and blood will flow.

    1. "But give them the third option - the ability to be a predator", I think this needs a big star next to it saying: if they think they can get away with it. In the end both experiments are far too controlled to provide a basis on which you can describe human behaviour.


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