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Reprinted without permission from The Journal of Experimental Psychology,

November, 1995


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 observation.

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.

Experimental Design:

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


Additionally, a UseNet newsgroup,, was utilized by

researchers, both as a means of direct intervention and as a source of much

useful observation.

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


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 dysfunctional anyhow.

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 research team.

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 effective.

*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 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.

Preliminary Results:

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.

Further Research:

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 of results.

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 published periodically.


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