"Encouraging civility in online behaviour" might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a blockbuster video game franchise that's best known to the general for introducing multiple generations of children to soliciting and then brutally murdering prostitutes. But leave it up to the Grand Theft Auto masterminds at Rockstar Games to come up with an intriguing way to promote random acts of kindness in a world known for anything but that.
The company just released a new update for GTA Online, the multiplayer component of last year's GTA V, that contains a surprising new feature. Alongside the new "High Life" mode that lets players drive fancier cars and buy bigger mansions, GTA Online is introducing a type of behaviour tracking in the form of a "Mental State stat." Here's how Rockstar describes it:
With the new Mental State stat, we are keeping track of your behaviour. If you seem to enjoy attacking pedestrians and terrorizing other players, then your blip will start to turn red on other players' maps. The redder the blip, the more psychotic the player; the whiter the blip, the friendlier they are.
The actions you take will have varying effects on your Mental State. For example, killing another player will turn your blip red faster than blowing up a car or taking out a random pedestrian. Killing a player with a white blip will push your Mental State into the red faster than killing more psycho players, while taking out full-on psycho players won't cause your own Mental State stat to increase at all.
Mental state also factors into matchmaking - you'll automatically join Freemode sessions containing people more 'compatible' with your play style, and if a red-blipped lunatic does enter your session, you at least have fair warning!
Rockstar didn't necessarily design the new mental state statistic to influence player behaviour — at least in the way I suggest. But just tracking something some transparently and making it visible to other players necessarily alters people's perceptions of one another in any online space — be it GTA Online or Twitter.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out once the GTA Online community gets its hands on it and puts the new idea to the test. Given how the rest of that world functions, my guess is that things won't go exactly according to plan.