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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