Excerpt from a longer email, since removed, but preserved for posterity:
There is a certain “survival of the fittest”, followed by “and the rules change on who is the fittest” undertone to this entire situation.
As for me, I’m exercising my imagination a lot more than anything else. Maybe not the most productive use of my time, but who cares about efficiency when there is plenty of time?
I have been exploring these issues for the little universe I had to create for my game. There are characters on the ship who seemingly have one job. They only have to do this job every few years, and everyone asks “WTF do we need them around for?” All that the mundane observer sees are weirdos with strange hobbies. They don’t realize that those strange “hobbies” are how they stay in practice for that one special job.
There are also strange design decisions for the ship itself that, on the surface, make no sense. The ship is built like a giant office building, and has about 100 decks. And while some elevators do exist, they only carry people, only 10 floors or so, and are always next to a staircase. Cargo moves in electric vehicles that utilize glorified parking garage ramps. This infrastructure consumes a lot more volume than an elevator. It requires extra staff to run. And it is as sure as hell a lot slower. A fleet of vehicles requires more upkeep than a few elevator cars. (Parts, batteries, tires) But… if truck breaks down you can tow it out of the way and still use the ramp. If an elevator breaks… dude you are screwed. And over the design life of the ship (100+ years), things breaking down is a statistical certainty.
I guess some of the “withholding” in my game isn’t all people who are overtly omitting data. It is people who look at the world in a different way. How can you explain “Oh, my job it to talk to aliens” when it’s not clear if the ship will ever, in fact, run into aliens. Now imagine the other side of that conversation is a disgruntled teamster. Disgruntled because he wonders why the ship’s designers couldn’t just install a damn elevator. Instead he has to drive his damn bus through dark and creepy tunnels, up and down ramps, day after day after day after day. Or maybe just have a robot drive the truck instead? Probes can travel to remote star systems. Why can’t they go down the damn street?
To which another seemingly useless person (a computer programmer) has to explain that piloting a drone around space is WAY different than safely operating a manned vehicle in the confines of an occupied structure…
Ok, well enough of that.
The most useful part of the game design exercise is decomposing human conflict into the causes. Things that seem to make no sense become far, far clearer when you analyze the rules by which each of the participants operate, and what information each party has to work with.
The transit worker may seem to be a selfish, somewhat lazy, prick. Until you realize that his job is to efficiently, and safely, deliver passengers and cargo. His brain is wired to find the shortest path to things. He is not an academic genius like our xeno-linguist, or technical genius like our programmer. But he is a genius at route planning, logistics staging, and solving problems in real-time. To him, the world is a series of problems to be solved, because more problems are coming later. And if you fall behind, the later problems stack up. The seeming idleness of the xeno-linguist are resources that could help him (and the ship) get ahead. The constant shooting down of his ideas by the computer programmer are seemingly needless obstacles.
All of the character's concerns are real. In a perfect world, they would find a way to explain their viewpoints to everyone else. And, maybe, the xenolinguist picks up a little side work to help out for the cause (if it doesn’t distract too much from his studies.) And maybe while robo-brains driving cars is a bad idea, perhaps the computer programmer could work on something that could reduce the toil of the “working stiffs” on board.