Players Were Meant to Make 'Cruel World' Unplayable, Now They're Saving It

Most video games hope to last forever. Cruel World, however, does not. Dubbed "a persistent world that can only get worse," the cynical expectation of its designer was that Cruel World, a platformer as much as a social experiment, might not last more than 24 hours before the inherent selfishness of its players made it unplayable for anyone who later tried the game.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Can’t believe Gamers are good now.

Seriously though, this was a neat read and a very cool concept for a game.

It’s so weird to me though that a game that expects/encourages selfish behavior ends up seeing the opposite happen. Especially when contrasted to something like a Souls game where players take the messaging system which is (I’m assuming) designed for players to help one another, but use it to leave a lot of purposefully deceptive/troll-y messages. Or even in a purely cooperative game like Monster Hunter World, where players would join a quest to help the host kill the target monster, but then try to stop them from carving so they couldn’t get the rewards.

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I think this is more nuanced, though: as far as I can tell from the article, the majority of Cruel World players do follow the optimal paths suggested by its rules incentives. It’s only on a meta level that they’re also saving it [by continuing to play it, despite the setting enforcing cruelty and a zero-sum-at-best model of reality].

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I’m really fascinated by the way this game is replicating the same kind of environmental feedback loop that worsens something like climate change, e.g. sea ice that would reflect sunlight back into space melts, exposing a darker surface with a lower albedo that absorb more light and thus, in the end, take in more heat. And how people are managing that but are unable to reverse it.

It’s also terrifying, mainly because of this line —

People can get used to—and even find joy, beauty, and solace—in just about anything. On one hand, this is admirable and quite beautiful. But maybe it means as the end of the world draws nearer, instead of fighting to stop it, maybe everyone will just endure it."

There’s a lot of (justified) apocalypticism in the way people discuss the climate crisis, but this has always been my sneaking suspicion — that we have enough ability to endure and adapt to a changed habitat (it is, after all, what allowed our runaway growth as a species to happen in the first place), that apocalypse may not be the right lens through which to view all of this. The dystopias that could result is almost more terrifying a prospect to me.

Edit: also feels worth pointing out that thread in apocalyptic media that shows everyone turning on each other in disaster, when actual sociological research has showed it’s the reverse. People are social animals, and we tend to come together in times of crisis. This game seems like a neat object in that overall discourse.


Yeah, I thought this article was going to be about a pact between all the players not to use the checkpoints or whatever, but then that guy showed up who sat for 15 minutes hacking a checkpoint. It’s really interesting that the developer would actually put the game back on sale not because players either fixed the game world or prevented it from “breaking” but because some of them found something worthwhile in the “broken” world state itself.

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