Gaming the System

 

Any given system has a purpose; the vet is there to help your pets get better. The Post Office exists to deliver the mail. The line in front of the concessions stand at the ball game is there to get us all our hot dogs with a minimum of fuss and inconvenience. Any given system may also be gamed. When people game the system the inevitable result is that the system degrades. The weakened ability to address that fundamental mission makes things harder for everybody.

Let’s look at the vet as an example. As part of the mission to heal pets, the vet may prescribe medicine.  Someone realizes they can game the system. They deliberately injure their dog, bring it in, and ask for pain meds. They get puppy pain pills which are stepped-down human opiates, then they drive to the next vet. If we’re lucky they’re playing this game to feed their own addiction, not just looking for profit out of being the most awful human being in the area.

Now the system has to evolve. Either nothing happens and the mission degrades (“helping animals” now includes some amount of needless dog suffering), or a response is generated. As it happens, this involves a certain amount of bureaucracy added to the pain pill distribution so that the kind of human waste who’s trying to scam pain pills can’t do so. Checking prescriptions against those given by other vets, and I don’t know what all else with respect to pain med regulations. Assuming those are all good and useful rules to solve this problem, it’s still a bundle more rules and paperwork the vets have to go through. And so the mission degrades this way too.

This illustrates your first possible response; upgrade your system so that the exploitative behavior you’ve gotten so far is no longer possible. Trouble is, even if you’ve solved that problem you’ve got another. Your newly upgraded system is a system and can be gamed. Be prepared to keep upgrading your system.

@TheRightNurse wrote a little while ago about things she wished her patients understood. Let me pull a particular example of system gaming out of the mix:

We have neurologically intact patients who game the system to get attention.  One such trick is tapping on their telemetry leads.  Tapping it over and over and over looks like a lethal cardiac rhythm and will usually get the monitor to alarm over time, if not someone to tell the nurse to check on the patient.  I have had patients do this in the past.  When asked, they said they wanted something and knew that they would get attention faster if they faked an emergency.  Unprofessional, unhelpful, and rude.

This is a classic boy crying wolf scenario. How quickly do you think The Right Nurse is going to respond to that guy’s next cardiac alarm? Just as quickly, actually. She’s smart and dedicated and knows that heart monitor is put on there for a reason. No matter how many times this jerk freaks out the monitor to get attention, perhaps this next time it’s a legitimate alarm, and she knows that even jerks deserve to live. However.

However smart and dedicated does not mean omni-capable. You needlessly spike her adrenaline into crisis mode, and now she’s coming down. Let’s face it, that last cup of coffee didn’t have the jolt it really needed, and this is her third day on shift, and… And what? Maybe she misses a step. Big picture, making life harder for the person who’s working to keep you alive is just stupid.

This example illustrates the second possible response to people gaming the system. Just ignore it. Sometimes that’s the best response. Sometimes ignoring things allows them time to go away on their own. Mostly though you’re stuck with this option because your other options are worse.

The third response is exemplified by the ubiquitous Hollywood Award ceremonies. In theory, the Oscars are supposed to be an information aggregation scheme. These are the best movies voted on by people who ought to know. I, a chump on the streets, might be trying to decide what movie to watch and see “this one won three Oscars!” as something to tip my decision. But the system is gamed at this point to where that signal is overtaken by the noise. A couple of years back on GLoP I recall them talking about whether the travails-of-a-gay-black-kid drama was going to beat Hollywood-celebrating-being-Hollywood. The question wasn’t whether either of those was a good movie, it was whether the Hollywood woke culture was going to overtake Hollywood vanity. Either way that question resolved, I don’t care; neither of those bits of information has anything to do with whether I’d like to see the movie in question. The Oscars no longer aggregate any information I find useful.

Perhaps they never did; I’m not a big pop culture kind of guy.

To put it simply, option three is to burn it all down. If you’re the guy in authority you can admit that you’re wrong and close it neatly. If (as is much more likely) you’re nothing of the sort, then you can take the option of ignoring the thing entirely. That can be kinda hard to do even when it is a thing that can be abandoned.

None of those three options are what I’d call a good choice. That’s because whenever you game the system like that you accrue a short-term advantage to yourself and impose a long-term cost on everyone else. Every time you game a system you leave that system weaker. This is what drives the tragedy of the commons and the downfall of communism. When Jesus spoke against Pharisees loudly counting their donations he was speaking out against gaming that system. You can read the Mosaic law and find provisions in there to mitigate against people gaming that system.

The solution is to not game systems. No, that’s a bit too simplistic. The solution is to recognize systems and to recognize the damage your little scheme to get ahead causes. If it’s an evil system that ought to be destroyed, then go ahead and gleefully game it; you’re making a small contribution to bringing about its end. If it’s a good system, then you better have an overriding need to game it. Otherwise, you’ve got to consider whether the benefit you want now is worth damaging a system that you want in place, which means sometimes you’ve just got to take the pain and live with it.

Being an adult sucks.

Published in Religion & Philosophy
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  1. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    This is undoubtedly a great post of some mysterious, intriguing kind that deserves a lot of thought, but the first time I put on the Neuron Headset to read it, the ideas in it were so large, they tossed me across the room, unconscious. A Rhody post is like the fastest, tallest roller coaster in the park. I’ll come back to it in the morning.

    • #1
  2. HankRhody Freelance Philosopher Contributor
    HankRhody Freelance Philosopher
    @HankRhody

    Gary McVey (View Comment):
    I’ll come back to it in the morning.

    Careful; I wouldn’t advise trying it too sober.

    • #2
  3. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    HankRhody Freelance Philosopher:  even jerks deserve to live.

    That’s taking a lot for granted.

    • #3
  4. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    It’s more or less a manifestation of “The rules don’t apply to me.”

    • #4
  5. HankRhody Freelance Philosopher Contributor
    HankRhody Freelance Philosopher
    @HankRhody

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    HankRhody Freelance Philosopher: even jerks deserve to live.

    That’s taking a lot for granted.

    Yes, well, one tries to leave oneself an escape route.

    • #5
  6. Guruforhire Member
    Guruforhire
    @Guruforhire

    I dunno.

    I think stuff like that is the RESULT of an underprovisioned or underperforming service, and the system gaming makes the systemic underperformance worse.

    • #6
  7. Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw Member
    Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw
    @MattBalzer

    HankRhody Freelance Philosopher:

    Let’s look at the vet as an example. As part of the mission to heal pets the vet may prescribe medicine.  Someone realizes they can game the system. They deliberately injure their dog, bring it in, and ask for pain meds. They get puppy pain pills which are stepped down human opiates, then they drive to the next vet. If we’re lucky they’re playing this game to feed their own addiction, not just looking for profit out of being the most awful human being in the area.

    Now the system has to evolve. Either nothing happens and the mission degrades (“helping animals” now includes some amount of needless dog suffering), or a response is generated. As it happens, this involves a certain amount of bureaucracy added to the pain pill distribution so that the kind of human waste who’s trying to scam pain pills can’t do so. Checking prescriptions against those given by other vets, and I don’t know what all else with respect to pain med regulations. Assuming those are all good and useful rules to solve this problem, it’s still a bundle more rules and paperwork the vets have to go through. And so the mission degrades this way too.

    Apparently “vet opening a side business and cutting out the middleman” didn’t register.

    Also reminded me of this.

     

    • #7
  8. Misthiocracy got drunk and Member
    Misthiocracy got drunk and
    @Misthiocracy

    HankRhody Freelance Philosopher: Any given system has a purpose; the vet is there to help your pets get better. The Post Office exists to deliver the mail. The line in front of the concessions stand at the ball game is there to get us all our hot dogs with a minimum of fuss and inconvenience.

    Disagree. The stated purpose of any system is at best its secondary purpose.  The primary purpose of any system is the perpetuation of that system.

    • #8
  9. TheRightNurse Member
    TheRightNurse
    @TheRightNurse

    HankRhody Freelance Philosopher: This is a classic boy crying wolf scenario. How quickly do you think The Right Nurse is going to respond to that guy’s next cardiac alarm? Just as quickly, actually. She’s smart and dedicated and knows that heart monitor is put on there for a reason.

    Ackshully….

    It’s more that the alarms put in place that page us do not discern between artifact (from movement) and real rhythms.  That is why we have people that also watch the monitors.  However, due to various regulations, they now still have to call and report things that they *know* are artifact.  Talk about gaming the system.  This means that the more calls we get, the more irritated we are, the less we want to hear from the techs, the less we care when we get their calls.

    There’s a whole lot to it, but based off of a random page of “Vtach!”, we’ve gotten to the point where we will pull up the strip on the page, rather than start running.  If it is still alarming as we’re pulling up the cardiac strip…that’s when we start briskly walking…jogging…until we have a strip to look at a determine if it’s just the patient moving or an actual event.

    I miss having our techs right next to the station.  They could read the live rhythm and shout it to you as you ran down the hall…

    • #9
  10. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    This is undoubtedly a great post of some mysterious, intriguing kind that deserves a lot of thought, but the first time I put on the Neuron Headset to read it, the ideas in it were so large, they tossed me across the room, unconscious. A Rhody post is like the fastest, tallest roller coaster in the park. I’ll come back to it in the morning.

    I skimmed it. I’m pretty sure he’s trying to tell us he has oxy to sell us.  

    • #10
  11. HankRhody Freelance Philosopher Contributor
    HankRhody Freelance Philosopher
    @HankRhody

    Misthiocracy got drunk and (View Comment):

    HankRhody Freelance Philosopher: Any given system has a purpose; the vet is there to help your pets get better. The Post Office exists to deliver the mail. The line in front of the concessions stand at the ball game is there to get us all our hot dogs with a minimum of fuss and inconvenience.

    Disagree. The stated purpose of any system is at best its secondary purpose. The primary purpose of any system is the perpetuation of that system.

    The line at the hotdog stand counts as a system. It gets gamed by people butting in line, or using their celebrity to just ignore the social conventions. I’m willing to say that at the end of the day the vet is looking to get paid and the postal worker is doing it for the government benefits. I find it harder to accept that the line at the hotdog stand exists because the people standing in line have a commitment to perpetuating that line. 

    You’re right for a large subset of systems but not all of them.

    • #11
  12. HankRhody Freelance Philosopher Contributor
    HankRhody Freelance Philosopher
    @HankRhody

    TheRightNurse (View Comment):
    That is why we have people that also watch the monitors.  However, due to various regulations, they now still have to call and report things that they *know* are artifact. 

    On the one hand that’s terrible. On the other hand, I can see that. Because what if they’re wrong? Never mind they’ve been staring at those bleeps for the past ten years and this one is clearly playing La Cucaracha, what if they’re wrong? It’s the same friggen problem, only ossified into legal requirement. Man.

    TheRightNurse (View Comment):
    Talk about gaming the system. 

    I do; at length.

    • #12
  13. HankRhody Freelance Philosopher Contributor
    HankRhody Freelance Philosopher
    @HankRhody

    Guruforhire (View Comment):

    I dunno.

    I think stuff like that is the RESULT of an underprovisioned or underperforming service, and the system gaming makes the systemic underperformance worse.

    Perhaps. Going back to the hotdog stand (What? I’m hungry.) the line must exist because not enough people are serving hot dogs. Add enough dogslingers so there won’t ever be a line and you’re not making enough money to justify the existence of the hotdog stand. An equilibrium state that makes it worthwhile to sling hotdogs will also necessitate the existence of the occasional line.

    And then there’s the Oscars. When “underperforming” means they gave the prize to that other jerk just because he happened to make the better movie then I don’t think people gaming that system is the fault of that system.

    • #13
  14. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    Your vet example reminds me of how we now have to sign when buying certain allergy meds because they can be used to manufacture meth . . .

    • #14
  15. Guruforhire Member
    Guruforhire
    @Guruforhire

    HankRhody Freelance Philosopher (View Comment):

    Guruforhire (View Comment):

    I dunno.

    I think stuff like that is the RESULT of an underprovisioned or underperforming service, and the system gaming makes the systemic underperformance worse.

    Perhaps. Going back to the hotdog stand (What? I’m hungry.) the line must exist because not enough people are serving hot dogs. Add enough dogslingers so there won’t ever be a line and you’re not making enough money to justify the existence of the hotdog stand. An equilibrium state that makes it worthwhile to sling hotdogs will also necessitate the existence of the occasional line.

    And then there’s the Oscars. When “underperforming” means they gave the prize to that other jerk just because he happened to make the better movie then I don’t think people gaming that system is the fault of that system.

    So your saying that market entry and exit isn’t instant and free?

    • #15
  16. HankRhody Freelance Philosopher Contributor
    HankRhody Freelance Philosopher
    @HankRhody

    Stad (View Comment):

    Your vet example reminds me of how we now have to sign when buying certain allergy meds because they can be used to manufacture meth . . .

    That’s a real shame because you know that every time the trailer park sneezes a trailer blows up.

    • #16