Bitter Reward Systems

Back in 2008, Horton Hears a Who came out and it made medium waves in the movie universe. Which is weird, because all it did was star Jim Carrey and Steve Carell. Just for those two alone, it should have been a life changing movie for almost everyone. However, for most people, it went in one ear and out the other. It was a medium burger with fries and a Coke for most people. For me, most of the movie was that way, until the end, which had a life changing message that most people didn’t catch. I’m here to catch what most people miss.

At the end, they show the entire world of Whoville fitting on a tiny speck of a flower, and then they zoom out to show Horton on the earth and then zoom out even more, to show just how tiny of a speck he was on this planet and then how tiny of a speck this planet was on the universe.

You’re just a little speck.

There are two ways to look at these things. You can have an existential crisis and think that nothing you do matters at all (which is true for most of you). Or you be like me and look at it as even that tiniest speck of the tiniest speck has enough impact to change the universe. If you think about it as just The Vastness, you will just want to curl up in a blanket and die. But if you think about the Tiniest Speck method, you will keep trying and doing.

Think about it this way. Your brain is only about 3 lbs. of your entire body. But that 3 lbs. controls everything you do. Your legs, arms, neck, and butt doe everyting your brain tells it to do. You would just be a limp biscuit without the brain. Your brain has so many folds, cells, and information that it could change the universe with all its knowledge. Yet, mine right now, is telling me to do the least helpful thing in the world right now, writing a post about bitterness.

This thing controls everything you do.

I was listening to a podcast that was talking two different parts of the brain. You have your lower brain that controls your safety and efficiency. It deals with your dopamine and remembers when and where you get it and asks it for the dopamine when your normally get it. For instance, it recognizes when you eat, and encourages you to eat so you will stay alive. But it doesn’t control long term goals. It just wants to keep you alive and it wants its dopamine.

In other words, your lower brain works on a reward system. It will keep you alive in exchange for some dopamine. Give me food and I won’t bug you for it anymore. Your lower brain is pretty dumb though. It just deals with patterns and needs. We all deal with reward systems on a daily basis, and we are like the lower brain. We do a lot of dumb things to get a little dopamine or for our real-world dopamine, money.

Let’s use Mario as an example. He’s got this overarching goal of saving his royal girlfriend, but right now he’s stuck in this mushroom kingdom far from the princess.

He sees a little question mark on a block, so of course, he’s a little curious. He decides to smash his head into the old question mark. A little coin comes up, and he’s like, “Nice! I lika-me some coins!”, so anytime he sees a question mark, he’s like, “More coins!” He smashes another question mark and out pops a mushroom that makes him grow instantly. He goes from 5’1 to 7’2 and all of a sudden, he’s the center on Super Mario Hoops. Life is good. He’s getting rewards all over the place.

Coins everywhere!

He uses his taller body to leap over some pipes, and realizes that he can go down the pipes. More coins! He’s like, this is great! Coins everywhere I go! He sucks his way up the pipes and finds a hidden block and there is a star. He’s invincible! And another question mark pops up and he gets fireballs? Amazing! Superpowers, money, height? What more could a plumber ask for? He reaches down to pet one of the little mushrooms with feet and he immediately loses his height, and his fireballs and he’s down to his old 5 foot 1.

This isn’t good. All of a sudden, the mushroom is his same height, and he has to try to jump over him and it’s not near as easy, so he lands on him awkwardly and he’s sent back to the beginning. He knows where all the rewards are, but this time he doesn’t get as much from them. And he realizes that in order to get them, he has to smash his head on question marks, and dive into dirty pipes. He lost all his coins, so if he wants them, he has to work harder to stay alive and make it to the flag after jumping off a huge stack of bricks just to keep them.

Along the way, coins are harder and harder to get, and there are more challenges to get them. He traverses four difficult levels to finally rescue his princess girlfriend. She is trapped in a dungeon full of fire-bars (big swinging things make of fireballs). He avoids Bowser the monster turtle dragon, and drowns him in a lake of lava, but it is all worth it, because he rescues the girl. But then, he realizes that his girl isn’t there. He’s starting to think that coins aren’t worth near as much when he keeps getting fooled by all the monsters that want to kill him.

You would think that after playing Mario, that I would never be suckered into a reward system like that. But you would be wrong. I do the same exact thing, except for the smashing things to get coins, the jumping into pipes and traversing dungeon things. When I was Baby Mario, money was easy to get. My parents just gave it to me. All I had to do was smash my head and climb through a few pipe slides and I got to buy all the toys I wanted. But then I got older, and it became much harder to get.

Bowser’s coming after your coins.

I found out that way more people besides toy stores wanted my money. A lot of them didn’t let me choose to give it to them. My house wants a lot of coins, the Bowsers in White Houses want my coins, and my Princess and our Teenage Mario’s take whatever coins I have left. So, I work really hard to get all these coins, just so I can give them all away. If I ever want a coin or two for myself, I have to work even harder or longer, or swim through pipes to get enough for me.

I’m not a fan of my current reward system. I’d like one where you put in 5 coins and they call my name to tell me that I won the unlimited jackpot of coins. I’ve learned that you never get as many rewards as you deserve. This is why I’m making a game in which the player earns his rewards based on the amount of work he does and if someone else wants the same amount of stuff, they will have to do work to get it.

And if they don’t like it, they can go jump in a lava lake.


Bitter Reward System Ben


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