Personal Development Politics/Government

Independence Means Having Real Choices and the Opportunity to Make Them

In game design, balance is important. If you create a variety of options for the player to choose from, but one is superior to the rest, then the rest might as well not be in the game because the player will always choose the the best item.

Dominant strategies are often an accident. Whether it is a lack of play-testing or an oversight, designers don’t usually put them in on purpose.

But it is easy to see how the existence of a dominant strategy ruins things. Instead of having a lot of choices as the designer intended, the player effectively has none.

Technically you could argue that the player still has choices, and if he/she wanted to play with an extra challenge, it’s possible. People try to finish the original Legend of Zelda while collecting the minimum of upgrades, for instance:

But in most cases, the player is trying to optimize their play, and the existence of an always-optimal choice means the player is always going to make that choice.

There are also choices that are always terrible. They also might as well not exist because the player will never choose it over a superior option.

In real life, balance is not guaranteed. People make all sorts of choices in all sorts of circumstances.

For many people, these choices aren’t real choices at all.

For instance, who to vote for. While we seem to be gaining a U.S. presidential candidate every other week, eventually it will get pared down, with our two-party system causing many people feel like they only have two choices: bad, and worse.

Technically, they have two other choices: not voting, or voting third party. But many feel that these aren’t real choices. One abdicates responsibility, and the other feels like you barely doing any better since the majority of people think they only have two real choices and so your third party vote ends up having a negligible effect. You feel like you’re railing against the wind because not enough people joined you.

In other cases, the choices might be there; you just can’t take advantage of them.

In some countries in the world, practicing your faith is deadly. Talking about the problems of the government is deadly. Protesting is deadly. You could say that the citizens still have a choice, that they are independent, but it would take unusual courage and strength for them to stand against their oppressors. It’s heart-breaking. The door to the cage might be open, but those armed guards don’t look like they’ll let you walk through them unscathed.

In countries like Greece, bad policies have resulted in the majority of the population paying for the sins of a few major players. The people can’t leave the situation easily, and it is frustrating because the way out of the situation isn’t obvious.

It’s easy to take our independence for granted. People have fought for our rights for centuries, whether it was winning our independence from foreign enemies or our livelihoods and dignity from domestic ones.

People can complain about the President’s policies or the way Congress can’t seem to cooperate to put together meaningful legislation, and they don’t generally need to worry about retaliation from the government.

You can leave a job with terrible conditions and find another, or start your own business, or go on strike and demand better conditions. Yes, some choices here are more painful or terrifying, but not overly so. We as a nation frown upon monopolies specifically because the lack of real choice is seen as harmful. We get concerned when one company seems to be able to set their own terms independent of competition or the health of their workers.

You can change your religion, and aside from sharing in awkward family meals or attempts to make you feel guilty, the consequences don’t tend to result in a shortened life expectancy.

Sometimes the guards to the cage door are only ourselves. Maybe we’re blinded to the opportunities, or we don’t have all of the information to make an informed choice, or it takes more effort than we realize, or our circumstances make it difficult, or maybe we aren’t bothering to participate.

But we can fix or change any of those circumstances. We can learn more about the situation. We can make plans. We can get help.

Don’t waste your opportunities. Don’t take the easy route. Don’t go with the weaker strategy in life just because everyone else around you is using it.

Take advantage of your independence. You have choices, and even if it is hard to do so, you can make them.