The Evolution of Trust

Trust has always been a fickle concept to nail down correctly, and we see conflicts of trust all the time in media, but when exactly did we become so distrustful of others in our society? Why are we more likely to be weary rather than open in our modern age?

The Evolution of Trust, created by Niki Case, is a browser game created to not only explore those questions, but to show how our perceptions could improve to become more trusting without being walked all over.

Evolution of Trust - Start.png
I highly recommend playing the game before continuing on. It’s a pretty quick play and it’s better to experience it before being spoiled.

We start out by reading a brief story on British and German soldiers becoming friends during World War I, and being asked the questions “Why, even in peacetime, do friends become enemies? And why, even in wartime, do enemies become friends?” Case proposes that this can be answered better by using game theory and invites us to play a game of trust.

The game is set up using a modified coin based version of the Prisoner’s Dilemma; if we both cooperate then we’re rewarded with +2 coins, if we both cheat then we gain/lose nothing, but if one of us cheats then the cheater gets +3 and the backstabbed sap ends up with -1. In addition to our game, we’re initially put up against a cast of characters that we know nothing about which helps to simulate our own philosophies on trust as we play through the first part of the game. This helps to make it an accurate scenario that forces the player to examine how they respond to trust/distrust in their daily lives.

Evolution of Trust - Trusting.png
Even if I could always successfully cheat another character, I personally couldn’t do it if I knew they would cooperate.

The Evolution of Trust then goes into a tournament style version of the coin game, and this is where the meat of the content is as it visually shows us both how the fighting soldiers were able to find peace and how changing the game in modern times has led to an extreme amount of distrust among us all. Case argues that this can boil down into two particular ideas that come from game theory; a zero-sum game and a non-zero-sum game. In order to “win” a zero-sum game, a person must gain something by making another lose something. In a non-zero-sum game, both people change the situation to try and obtain a good outcome for everyone. So if the non-zero-sum game is the best version of trust we can have, why don’t we apply it to our own lives?

Evolution of Trust - Miscommunication.png
Because we’re human.

We slip up, life gets in the way, we did something with good intentions that had bad consequences; humans miscommunicate a lot, even more with how communication itself has changed with technology, and lately it seems that because of this, we’ve started to not communicate well at all. Case reasons that this is why distrust is so widespread in our society, because increased communication has led to increased miscommunication between us all.

This is a point that can be further illustrated by the concept of symbolic interaction. In the simplest terms, symbolic interaction is about an individual’s relationship with society; how we find meaning in things such as language, symbols, interpersonal interaction to make sense of our own worlds. We all have our own diverse backgrounds and life experiences that we draw on which can make us respond in different ways which we organize into things called schemas. For instance, Appalachians have a tendency to curse frequently, and it’s not that we’re cursing at someone when we do it, our culture is just more prone to saying those words. Very frequently I’ve met people who aren’t from this area that are shocked and confused by the coarse language, and it causes friction between the two groups. Each one is reacting with their own schemas, and because they aren’t stopping to understand why the other is reacting the way they do, both groups become victims of miscommunication and tensions grow. Appalachians feel othered and retreat back into their own beliefs with strong distrust of outsiders, and those not from the area don’t get a chance to understand an Appalachia outside of stereotypes; it’s exactly the zero-sum game that we don’t want to play.

Evolution of Trust - Ending.png
We have to be conscious of our own realities.

Case leaves us with the thought that the game dictates the players, but the players will eventually control the game as we dictate the environment, change the rules, and create our own separate realities that interact with each other. The Evolution of Trust is meant to make us more conscious of our own realities so we can try to create an environment conducive to trust, and get past these barriers that inhibit our abilities to get past miscommunication and find peace.

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