Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

Inertia scaling in Democracy 4 (new feature)

I recently added some code to Democracy 4 which introduces a new configurable option for people who are really into the game. This is not ‘live’ yet but will be in the next update. I have not totally settled on a name for it yet, but I think I’ll call it something like ‘opinion inertia boost’, because that ties in with other uses of the term throughout the game. So what is it?

Inertia already exists in the game. Every effect that a policy, an event, a dilemma choice or anything else may have on anything can have some inertia applied to it. This means that instead of X affecting Y, and it being a simple equation, in fact its an equation that takes the average value of X over a certain number of turns, which is an integer called ‘inertia’. You can see the value of inertia at the far right of any of the indicators in the game that show an effect:

The inertia is a value set by me, or by a modder, and its fixed. Its basically part of the equation, and set in stone. There has not yet been any way to change this by the player or during the game.

Inertia plays a vital role in making the game both realistic and fun. In practice, if you introduce grants for business startups, it does not convert 500,000 citizens to become capitalists the next day. The impact is going to take years. people need to hear about the grants, apply for them, see their business do well, tell their friends, people have to read newspaper stories about this happening… and perhaps even more relevantly, people who were once socialists but get ‘converted’ to capitalism have to slowly get out of the habits of their previous views, and adopt new ones, even in opposition to their friends/family and peers.

I see this sort of thing happen quite a lot, and have witnessed it with both friends and relatives. When peoples circumstances change, they tend to continue to cling to their existing core beliefs and principles, but over a period of time, opinions will change. With weakly held opinions, its quick to change, but with deeply ingrained beliefs, especially those that come from family, change can take a very long time.

I’m an example of this myself. I grew up in a very working class circumstance. My mother was a trade union representative at work, where she worked as a filing clerk for a trade union HQ (different union!) so she was Trade Unionist to the power of two! My father was also a union rep. We went on exciting day trips to the labour party conference. I read the communist manifesto, and Das Kapital as a teenager.

Fast forward thirty five years and I am a director of two companies, who trades on the stock market, and has employed people and run a multinational company (albeit v small). I’ve even worked on stock market trading floors. I own a single book by Ayn Rand (which I thought was interesting, albeit pretty ranty and very repetitive). My views have definitely changed over time, and with changes in circumstances.

The point is… change of core beliefs takes time. We all think we would keep the same principles until death, but thats unlikely. Societal change is very real. You might think your views regarding being liberal/conservative or left/right are very deeply held sensible views you independently arrived at, but this is very unlikely. I thought I was right as a teenage communist.

So the big question is… how long does it take for politics and society to convert someone from being hard right to hard left, or liberal to conservative? I have no definitive answer, but its a long time. Democracy 4 limits all inertia to a maximum value of 32, for technical reasons, which is 8 years. probably not long enough…

Like all games, Democracy 4 has to balance fun with realism. Not many games have a core mechanic of it taking 32 turns for you to see the impact of your choices, especially not if you can lose the game in an election in maybe 16 turns. Thats pretty brutal. Not only does this make the game hard, it also makes it frustrating. If inertia is too high, many players will just think ‘the game is random’ and complain about the RNG. Ironically there are very very few random numbers in the game…

Plus many players will not bother reading the tutorial or looking at the tooltips. I bet a good 30% of the people who play the game don’t even know inertia is a thing, or where to find it. Most players don’t really know what they are doing, because people have 1,000 games and no time to devote to learning the intricacies. If I modelled inertia realistically, a lot of frustrated players would have no fun.

…and yet…

There are definitely players who feel that they would prefer realism over ‘simple fun’. These players are frustrated that real societal change feels so easy in the game. If they want to convert France to a Capitalist state, they WANT to have to really struggle to take its left leaning population slowly along for the ride. They WANT change to be slow, and take longer, which is why I am adding this cool little slider to the games option screen:

This slider defaults to zero, where it has no impact, and goes as high as to add a 3x modifier. At the far right it will triple the inertia values for all inputs to socialism and liberalism. This will make all policies and events and dilemma choices act more slowly on the membership of these voter groups. (One value affects membership for both socialism and capitalism, on a spectrum and the same for liberal/conservative).

I’ve written all the code, and tested it works on both new games and save games. Everything seems fine but I will do a bunch of playthroughs before I do a new update that includes this slider. I’m pretty sure that 95% of players will never experiment with it at all, but I have enough players that I think its worth adding it all the same. It definitely gives me an easy answer to anybody who comments at me telling me that this part of the game is unrealistic!

Note that this difficulty in changing the country’s views is very much a real world modern problem. Even if Joe Biden was a communist, there is no way he can convert the majority of the US electorate over to his views in a single term. Arguably all Obama managed to do, in his entire tenure, is to get the affordable health care act in place, and it comes nowhere close to being a state health service like the NHS in the UK. Even a popular US president, with control of the house & senate, has to move extremely slowly in changing what the acceptable size of the state is, or changing social policy.

Trump found it almost impossible to actually build a wall, Obama found it impossible to close Guantanamo. Blair did very little in terms of raising taxes, Thatcher did very little in lowering them. Change takes real time.

One final thing: This slider only affects liberal/conservative and socialist/capitalist. I am unsure whether it should also affect membership of the religious group. Opinions very much welcome. I don’t think it should affect most groups, as peoples membership of these is a lot more fickle and easily swayed.

2 thoughts on Inertia scaling in Democracy 4 (new feature)

  1. I have worked on government as an advisor (building a direct-democracy website) and I have watched inertia from the inside.

    It’s a bit demoralizing when you see your own leaders fail to fulfill their promises because of it. On the other hand I find a bit of solace on it when a party whose ideology goes counter to mine gains power. It might feel like they have won, but it just takes a little bit of luck and incompetence for them to accomplish none of their goals.

  2. Inertia can be quite a confusing concept.

    There’s an entire section in the excellent ‘The Logic of Failure’ covering an experiment that hinged on grasping the delay between action and effect. All the participants had to do was set an unmarked thermostat on a fridge to hit a target temperature. Some of them got it, some got it after a while, but some of them literally never got the hang of it, developing all kinds of theories and superstitions as their fridges salmonellacally yo-yo’d between hot and frozen.

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