Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Worker placement ideas based on a probably unpopular opinion

John Oliver recently did a segment for Mother's day pointing out that the US and Papua, New Guinea are the only two countries in the world that do not provide any paid time off for new parents. In his usual fashion, Oliver makes fun of this and asks, if we really love mothers so much, why doesn't our country back legislation that makes life easier for them...

After reading a couple of Facebook comments about this in my feed, some of which arguing for federal regulations providing paid time off (citing that it works for every other country in the world), and some of which arguing "if we want the government to support new parents financially, why not do it directly by just giving them a stack of cash, rather than regulating businesses to do it - that way it'll be more fair, and not just for employed women who have kids."

I REALLY dislike talking about this kind of thing, because pretty much no matter which side of the issue you're on, you're going to sound like an incredible jackass. So I guess here's my chance to sound like an incredible jackass... and then I'll tell you how that relates to a potentially interesting worker placement mechanism.

First of all, the jackassrey: Why is it that people (not just women, but couples) get to treat the ability to have children as some sort of unalienable right, no matter what? And by "no matter what" I mean "no matter what their situation." Why can't people be expected to be responsible about reproducing? Isn't a child important enough that a couple should ensure they're able to support it before having one?

What do I mean by that? Well, if you're in a situation where you will not be given paid leave, and you can't afford to take the time that you need, then might it be irresponsible to have a child under those circumstances? Never mind that if you're any good at your job, and work for a reasonable person, you shouldn't have to worry about job security - they should look forward to your return, even if they can't afford to pay you for the leave.

I'm sure it's an unpopular opinion to say that some people (based on their situation) shouldn't be having a child, though I'm not sure why that should be so unpopular.

Now, to lighten the mood, a little absurdity. Let's take my statement above to an extreme conclusion... I feel like this would make a really good book, movie, or Netflix miniseries:

Let's say that for some reason everybody decided (maybe by government mandate, or maybe by some sudden enlightening or some such) that they'd be more responsible, and not have children unless they could afford to support them properly. The extreme then is that poor people don't have children, and rich people do. Over time, the poor people get old and close to dying out, while the rich people continue to procreate and live their lives as usual. In a way, maybe this paves the way for some utopian society... as the poor people get old and die off, nobody complains about the distribution of wealth anymore, as pretty much everyone is wealthy. I could see it portrayed in a movie like something out of Demolition Man or the capital city in Hunger Games perhaps.

Then maybe there's the twist, the liberal message hidden in the fiction... the rich people, in an effort to stay wealthy, expect their kids to grow up into high paying jobs, there's nobody around willing to take $20k a year to be a teacher, and nobody's willing to pick up trash.

I dunno, I feel like there could be a good story in there, and I'm not sure what the moral would be. But enough absurdity, I promised game design!

In thinking about this, I considered putting it into game design terms. The argument I read about "why doesn't the government just give women $20k when they have a baby" has some obvious issues... if there's a reward for something like having a baby, then there will be people who will try to game the system, people who have a baby to get that reward, without any regard to what happens to the baby afterwards. In fact, I think this already happens to an extent. In any case, this is obviously bad, as it leaves a real, live person out in the cold.

But in a board game, that's not so terrible. In most worker placement games, it's key to get more workers as quickly as possible. Many games attempt to make this less trivial by assessing some kind of fee for workers - for example in Agricola you need to feed each worker during the Harvest phase, and there's a steep penalty if you are unable to do so. Similarly, Stone Age requires the feeding of workers - though in that game starvation could be a viable strategy. Even with these requirements, it's generally considered best to get more workers.

So what if there was a board game where getting a new worker was something of a chore... many games make you wait at least until the next round to use your new worker, and many require a big investment to get the new worker in the first place. Imagine a game where getting a new worker didn't cost anything up front, but instead came with a stipend. Then, before you can use that worker, it has to go through a "training" process which has some resource cost each step of the way. The stipend should cover the cost of those resources (at average price anyway), and failing to pay the required resources would come with a steep penalty, akin to the Begging card in Agricola.

So, a player who has a store of resources could comfortably afford to get a new worker, spending their accrued resources as necessary on the "training" process. This player could then afford to spend their stipend on whatever they wanted. Meanwhile, a player without a store of resources could still get a new worker, using the stipend to purchase the required resources for training. Finally, a player without a sore of resources could get a new worker just for the stipend, deciding to deal with the resource requirements later - perhaps via an engine that required that stipend to get running.

And of course, a player who just wanted the stipend could get it by recruiting a new worker, and then ignore that worker and take the penalties related to not paying the training resources. This would probably not be a winning strategy in the game, but it's a possibility, and maybe it illustrates the whole idea above of  offering a reward of some kind for having children, and the consequences of doing so.

Ok, I feel like I've thought about this more than enough for today.


Peter Schott said...

Wasn't there something a little like this in Ground Floor where getting new workers resulted in them needing to be trained before they could be used? The idea is an interesting one. Even in real life getting a new worker often has some sort of ramp-up time unless you're doing the easiest of tasks that just doesn't require any training. Speaking as a parent with a toddler, training for even the easiest of tasks can be an exercise in frustration. Comical to those listening, perhaps, but still a bit frustrating at times. :)

I definitely wouldn't dwell on the whole money/baby thing too much. There are all sorts of huge ideological discussions that could go on there and I don't want to see a thread devolve that way. I will say that there's the flip side in that not every couple _can_ have a baby, whether or not they're ready/responsible enough for one. (I'd also argue that you're never really _ready_ to have a baby, but that's another discussion, too. :) )

Scurra said...

Of course, there's also the automation argument to be factored in, which is that, unlike in most previous industrial revolutions, there don't appear to be new jobs being invented to take up the slack from the ones being removed.
So it's entirely possible that your theoretical "rich people world" would actually function perfectly well since most of the lower-paid jobs wouldn't exist any more any way so no-one would be missed for not doing them.
[I won't enter the other arguments because it's far too dangerous a minefield. Suffice it to say that I don't wholly agree with you...]
The mechanic sounds as though it might have some potential, but I suspect it would end up becoming far too complex to administer?

scott slomiany said...

Ian said...

A bit late, but along with your earlier comments this plays towards a game idea I have been mulling on for a while....
I was looking to create a worker placement game based on surviving in a slum in the 2/3 world.
Such a mechanic could 'explain' why poor families have large numbers of children, partly because they can be sent out to work very young, and partly because if they do survive to adulthood they then provide security of sorts. It could also explain why education, or even medical care, is not automatically chosen. Educating a child has a present cost in actual resources and also in the opportunity cost of work not done, though pays off in the future.

If done well the game would educate people of the dilemmas face by the world's poor as much as entertain.