Download Altruism (PC, requires the XNA 3.0 Redistributable)

Altruism is an experimental game prototype that plays with intrinsic and extrinsic rewards.

I was inspired by games like FreeRice, which donate money to charity as people play. The idea was to sell the game for, say, $5 and promise to donate a dollar to charity for each of the five levels that the player completes. It’s pretty much like giving the money to charity, as long as you complete the game.

The first level is a simple action game composed of racing around an arena and collecting tokens within a time limit. The controls are tight, the physics are fun, the challenge is just right. But each level after that deteriorates a little bit; the controls become looser, the graphics more boxy and monochrome, the goals less challenging. By the last level, it’s nothing but a chore. Would people keep playing, I wondered? At what point is the money for charity just not worth the trouble? To what extent were they playing for charity or for their own fun?

I had the opportunity to show the prototype to Professor Tracy Fullerton of USC, who pointed out that the experiment is corrupted if the player is putting up the initial money and I’m just holding it hostage. To make this work, I’d have to put up the cash myself, like FreeRice does. There are other conceptual problems as well, which I would need to deal with before returning to this project; I had originally hoped to confront people with a contradiction between their stated and actual motivations, but I don’t think the game accomplishes that in its current form.