The Worst Ideas. Updates every Monday!

Your weekly source for terrible ideas.

Solve your getting-research-participants problem in one easy step with the medium of VIDEO GAMES. Possibly even ethical, who can really say!

The issue:

Gathering data for scientific studies can be difficult. So why not tap into the world of VIDEO GAMES to conduct experiments on willing participants for no additional monetary cost!

Normal scenario:

  • Researcher: “I wonder what factors lead to a person trusting Person A instead of Person B?”

or:

  • Researcher: “I suspect that—all else being equal—ugly defendants in murder trials are convicted twice as often as attractive defendants”

Then, a ton of work has to be done to design a study and recruit participants for it.

Plus, people are always going to nit-pick your conclusions, for example: “what if ugly criminals are also just worse at committing crimes than attractive criminals? Then you’d expect them to be convicted more often, too, thus invalidating your results!”

But, maybe we can short circuit this process AND get scientifically-valid conclusions!

Proposal:

Instead of making researchers talk to a bunch of undergraduates and/or figure out how to get a sufficient number of participants over the Internet, we can perform research via video games.

A researcher would come up with a scenario that they’d like to test, for example:

  • “People with annoying voices are less likely to be helped by a random passerby.”

Then, they’d set up a scenario like:

  • Record both annoying and not-annoying voices for a character in a game.
  • Later, see if the player is motivated to save the character from falling into a volcano / being eaten by a carnivorous plant / falling behind on their car payments, etc.

This could be done for a variety of scenarios, as shown in Figures 1 through 3.

suspects

Fig. 1: We can randomly generate a huge variety of different faces to test how players’ behavior is determined by appearance. For example, upon finding out that the middle guy here is a murderer, does the player let it slide (“well, he had it coming”) or turn him into the police? Maybe we’ll find that EVERY triangle-headed individual is let off the hook, which would raise interesting sociological questions.

 

final_candidates

Fig. 2: Here is a feature that can be added to any game where the player accumulates money: one of the characters above steals money from the player, but there is evidence implicating all three characters, so it’s difficult to determine the actual perpetrator. The culprit is randomly chosen for each player, and is equally likely to be the colonel, the horse or an octopus. However, players are FIVE TIMES more likely to accuse the octopus, as seen in this fabricated figure!

Fig. 3: For a Cold War spy thriller game, any one of these three characters might be a spy. Despite the fact that all three characters have essentially equivalent behaviors (randomly chosen) and backgrounds, we might find that the horse is usually executed when he is discovered to be a Soviet agent, while players allow the toaster to escape back across the Iron Curtain—thus revealing a widespread callous disregard toward the welfare of horses.

PROS: Probably could be a useful research tool!

CONS: Expensive! Requires very specific programming and art expertise.

Stop missing out on life because you’re wearing headphones and playing music, and your comrades have all gone off to experience something truly incredible, but you are abandoned because you didn’t hear them leave!

The issue:

If you’re wearing headphones, it can be difficult to hear when someone is trying to get your attention.

(Similarly, it can be heard to get the attention of someone wearing headphones without startling them.)

Proposal:

Headphones could have a small microphone on them with a processing unit that could listen for certain words.

When the headphones detect a specific trigger word (for example, the user’s name, or important phrases like “free food in the break room” or “someone’s breaking into your car”), the headphones would temporarily reduce playback volume.

headphone

Fig. 1: These headphones have a microphone that listens for certain user-specified key phrases that will cause playback to be temporarily muted.

The user would need to specifically configure a set of phrases of interest. For example, a user would most likely want their own name to mute the headphones, but probably they wouldn’t want their a co-worker’s name to also have this effect.

 

 

 

mute-action

Fig. 2: Here is an example for a headphone-wearer named Joe. The headphones would most likely incorrectly reduce the volume in situations F and G, unless sophisticated linguistic processing was performed to determine that they do not actually refer to the user “Joe.”

Conclusion:

This seems like a product that could actually exist. It might be annoying to configure the headphones for your specific name, however.

PROS: All of them!

CONS: If you have a name that shares syllables with common words, this set of headphones might not work too well. It is recommended that you change your name in such a situation.

Never be unfashionable again, with these five amazing 3d-modeled clothing tips! You’ll never believe tip number three!

Background, part 1:

Clothing catalogues occasionally provide a summary of the clothes that a model in an advertisement is wearing; usually this will be a piece of text that looks something like Get this Look: Jeans $100, Shirt $40, Weird Socks $10.”

This is a good system: the company can sell you more clothing this way, and the purchaser gets a pre-vetted complete outfit that (presumably) looks good.

Background, part 2:

“Open world” games often allow the player to customize the look and clothing / armor / random accessories of their character.

One example of this is Grand Theft Auto, where a player can buy hundreds of distinct clothing items for their player character.

Proposal:

Strangely, no games have yet implemented the (seemingly obvious) step of adding an in-game “Get this Look” button that would:

  1. Confirm the player’s clothing measurements
  2. Generate an order online for correctly-sized versions of the clothes that the player’s character is wearing at the moment.
  3. Mail those clothes to the player’s home address.

This could be made even easier if players could set their clothing sizes in a common interface (Figure 1), which would be shared between games.

get_this_look

Fig. 1: “Clothing Size” (bottom left, highlighted in blue) could be another system setting for a user, next to “WiFI settings” and “Sound.”

Conclusion:

This seems like it’s almost an inevitable feature of games in the future. People will probably wonder why it took so long!

Since it’s already profitable to sell virtual cosmetic items in online game, the sale of actual clothing (which can be printed / ordered on-demand) for human beings should be a simple extension of that idea.

 

Fig. 2: When selecting a shirt for one’s avatar in a game, a “BUY IT NOW FOR YOURSELF” button will appear next to it.

 

dark-souls

Fig. 3: Some games—particularly ones in futuristic or medieval settings—would be more difficult for designers to adapt as modern clothing.

 

duck-head

Fig. 4: Strange novelty outfits are a staple of character customization. Now it’s easier than ever to bring those options into the real world.

PROS: Adds new and amazing fashion options, just a click away!

CONS: All your old clothes will seem TOO UNFASHIONABLE now. May not work for 2D games.

Do you know of a company that offers rebates by check and is also unethical and hates its customers? Here’s one weird tip for that company that is ACTUALLY USED IN REALITY and is incredibly annoying!

Background:

When a company offers a rebate (“buy this widget, get $50 back”), only a fraction of customers will actually deposit the rebate check.

If customers don’t deposit their rebates, then the company can keep the money.

So it would be useful if there was some sort of dirty trick to reduce rebate deposit rates. Read on for details!

(Note: this is not a novel idea—it was inspired by an intentionally bizarre rebate check I received that could not be deposited online by at least two different banks.)

Proposal:

Normally, when a customer receives a rebate, it’s standard-format check (Figure 1). The customer’s banking app certainly knows how to read this format, so it is deposited with no problems.

good-check

Fig. 1: The BankApp online deposit system has no problem reading this straightforward check.

The rebate-issuing company may really want the check to fail the depositing process (Figure 2), which adds hassle and inconvenience for the check-depositing customer.

rejected

Fig. 2: If the customer’s banking app can’t read the check, then the check is much less likely to be deposited: now the company will never have to pay out the rebate! (Unless the customer actually goes to an ATM or bank branch.)

So the solution is simple—tweak the format of the checks a bit (whatever is still allowable within the law and/or banking agreements) and try to make a new check that is:

  1. Legal!
    • This is the most important aspect—the company’s checks definitely need to be 100% legal, so the company can later blame the customer instead of taking responsibility.
  2. Acceptable to the banks and/or conforms to whatever check-format specifications exist
  3. Difficult for a computer to read (so it can’t be deposited online)
  4. Superficially OK looking to a human, so it isn’t obvious that the check wasn’t intentionally made to be difficult to deposit
    • Also, this gives plausibly deniability to the whole business: if the company is called out on its actions, a PR person can go online and post “Oh, we didn’t realize that our rebates couldn’t be deposited online. What an unintentional—yet profitable—oversight!”

Popular ways of doing this may include:

  • Weird check sizes
  • Strange watermarks leading to odd contrast
  • Superfluous extra characters in the deposit-amount field (like “AMT: ****123.45 $” instead of just “$123.45”)
  • Irregular size (some checks are more square-shaped than “check” shaped)
  • Odd or elaborate font choices

Conclusion:

Although the specific checks depicted below (Figs. 3 & 4) probably violate the “check” specifications somehow, they may be useful for inspiration.

weird-check-purple

Fig. 3: This check looks vaguely legitimate to a human, but an online deposit app is unlikely to be able to read it.

weird-check-orange

Fig. 4: Can a check be a weird futuristic hexagon? Probably not! Customers will definitely know they’re being scammed if they receive weird checks like this one.

PROS: Saves money on rebate checks! Rebates can be made more generous, since it’s now extra-difficult for anyone to redeem them.

CONS: Customers might find out about it and get slightly annoyed and call the company’s customer service line to complain. If each rebate-receiving individual wastes 20 minutes of customer service time complaining, this check technique might no longer be profitable.

With these five amazing steps, you can stop stumbling about in a mad and fumbling rage while you try to determine which light switch controls each light in your house!

The issue:

In many houses, certain rooms—especially kitchens and living rooms—have a half dozen or more light switches that control a wide array of lights and other accessories.

Often, even after many years, the house’s occupant never learns which switch is which.

Proposal:

Instead of just randomly picking a switch to toggle until the correct light is activated, light switches should be labeled. Easy!

Ideally, this should be done when the house is built, so that the labels can be laser-cut and/or printed onto the switch panels in a way that matches the overall interior design.

But in a pinch, you can just use a piece of white paper and double-sided tape.

Label your switches 1

Fig. 1: An example of a standard confusingly-designed set of light switches. Each switch toggles a seemingly random set of lights. But now that they are labeled, it’s clear what each switch does.

Conclusion:

You should label your lights if your house has confusing wiring (which is probably the case).

Label your switches 2

Fig. 2: Some switches may have a non-light-based effect, such as starting a gas fireplace (far left) or performing a mystery function that only the original electrician understands (far right).

PROS: Probably a sensible suggestion!

CONS: Labels may negatively impact your home’s minimalist aesthetic.

Don’t let “BIG COFFEE” trick you into buying their overpriced coffeepots and carafes—use this one weird toothpaste tube trick to save time and promote a harmonious work environment and never unexpectedly run out of coffee again!

 

Background:

If you have a communal coffee carafe at work, you will undoubtedly have encountered the situation where someone poured the last cup of coffee and didn’t make a new pot.

With a standard coffeepot or carafe, there’s no possibility of getting “just one more cup” out of an empty container—it’s just empty.

But! There’s one thing that always seems like you can get one last use out of it, no matter what: a toothpaste tube.

Proposal:

The main issue: since it’s so easy to pour coffee out of the coffeepot, it’s easy to pour the last coffee and then walk away (Fig. 1).

regular

Fig. 1: A coffee carafe, like one you’d see in an office or at a hotel breakfast, can be operated by pressing the lever at (a), dispensing coffee out of the spout at (b).

To fix this, we simply need to make it more difficult to extract the last few cups of coffee. It if became progressively more difficult to get coffee from the communal container, then people could recognize that they were taking the very of it, and would (hopefully) be more likely to start a new pot of coffee.

The proposed container (Figure 2) is essentially a huge toothpaste tube in a support frame.

stand

Fig. 2: Instead of a traditional carafe or coffeepot, coffee can be placed into a squeezable toothpaste-tube-like bag that fits into a support frame. To dispense coffee, simply squeeze the bag!

Figure 3 shows the progression of the tube from a full state (left) to a nearly-empty state (right).

green3brown3

Fig. 3: Top row: illustration with a transparent liquid. Bottom row: extremely unappealing illustration with coffee. A full coffee container (leftmost column) would look similar to a 2-liter soda bottle. As coffee is squeezed out of the tube, the dispenser would gradually come to resemble the rightmost column.

Conclusion:

Don’t buy another regular coffee container for your workplace—this new dispenser is the way of the future.

PROS: Prevents you from being shocked and dismayed at your coworkers’ refusal to make more coffee.

CONS: The “squeeze to dispense” method will probably spray nearly-boiling coffee across the room on a regular basis.

sketch-carafe

Bonus Figure A: In the initial concept for this idea, the carafe lever would become more difficult to operate as the liquid level lowered, but the “toothpaste tube” idea was only metaphorical.

 

Teachers: help your shy and introverted students engage in discussion with the HELM OF UNRELENTING GAZE, the newest and most valuable teaching fad.

Background:

One problem that educators face is that, with so many students in a lecture hall / classroom, it can be difficult to easily interact with these students on a one-on-one basis.

Specifically:

  • Students are far away. Quieter students are difficult to hear.
  • It’s hard to single out a specific student to talk to.
  • Less assertive students will often never manage to ask their questions—more outgoing students will monopolize the discussion!

Proposal:

What is needed is a way for the lecturer to specifically single out a student in the audience in a way that is obvious to both the student and the rest of the student body.

Additionally, we need a way for the lecturer to easily be able to hear the student (who is most likely far away and not using a microphone).

The best solution, as shown in Figure 1, is a special piece of headwear for the lecturer that has:

  1. A directional microphone (for ease of hearing the student in the far away audience), and
  2. The ability to shine a directed beam of light onto the student, so the student feels like part of the discussion.

helm-1-ray

Fig. 1: This “Helm of Unrelenting Gaze” allows the lecturer (pictured) to easily engage with the students in the audience. It features directional microphones (located on the “ears” on the crown) and an aim-able beam of light that can be directed toward the student being interacted with.

helm-2

Fig. 2: Sometimes, we may want to acknowledge more than one individual in the audience: for example, when the teacher is talking to one student, but also wants to inform another student that they are “next in line” for the discussion. This Crown of Twin Accusatory Snake Heads can track both the current question-asker and the next-in-line individual.

helm-2-annotated

Fig. 3: The dual spotlights allow the current speaker to be interacted with in one color (yellow beam, part A), while also acknowledging the member of the audience who is next in line for the discussion (orange beam, part B).

Conclusion:

It was once believed that computers would totally change the way in-classroom education is done, but clearly that was mistaken—the actual technological advance that will revolutionize education is the HELM OF UNRELENTING GAZE.

PROS: Increases student interaction, makes it easier to allow shy / introverted students to contribute without being pushed out of the conversation by their more extroverted peers.

CONS: None!