The Naughty Neural Net

by Julius Tarng profile

Science Fiction
2018

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A sci-fi take on Santa gift-giving, August 19, 2022

It is the near future. Earth’s population is nearly 10 billion and the old days of flying in gifts via reindeer have become obsolete. Instead, Santa has installed 3D printers in every household. At precisely Christmas Day the printers print gifts appropriate of each child's behavior with machine-learning software that determines if they were naughty or nice. But when the Neural Network malfunctions, Santa may have to reevaluate the way gift-giving is managed.

Gameplay
In this game, the traditional take on Santa Claus has turned cyberpunk. Instead of snowmen and polar bears the North Pole is now biometric scanners, DNA analyzers, and computer labs. And of course, the Neural Network. These themes are heavily portrayed the game. One of my favorite moments is (Spoiler - click to show) trying to bypass a door’s verification steps to enter the Ratings Department:

> PLEASE COMPLETE THIS CAPTCHA

"What. Ugh. Of all the times."

The display shows a grid of 4 kids in naughty or nice acts.

> SELECT THE NICE KIDS

(What follows is then a list of kids doing nice or naughty behavior)


You play as Santa watching as the first presents are being printed on Christmas Day. Unfortunately, the nice kids are receiving coal while the naughty kids are getting the good presents. You soon realize that the Ratings Department has a faulty “Naughty or Nice Rater,” causing kids for getting the wrong presents. Fixing the faulty Network is only one step. You must figure out who is responsible for the error.

Story
Previously, elves would train the Neural Network by taking logged examples of kids’ behavior and assigning a rating, giving the Network an understanding of how a rating coincides with a behavior. But it is (Spoiler - click to show) soon revealed that raters were training the Network with intentionally false ratings to give it a skewed perspective. Few elves who trained the Network remain employed at the North Pole. One elf, Popeep O. Werbles, is summoned into your office for questioning.

Popeep explains that these raters were protesting the loss of elf worker jobs due to the installment of the Neural Network. Once it was trained and implemented, millions of elves were laid off.
The player can then decide on how to (Spoiler - click to show) punish (if at all) the raters responsible for sabotaging the system. My only criticism is that the game (Spoiler - click to show) ends abruptly. Once Popeep leaves after your decision, that is it. It feels like there should be some implementation of your final choice or something other than just sitting in your office staring at screens.

Final thoughts
Nonetheless, this is a humorous and festive Ink game with a unique twist on the holiday season. It is about ten minutes long and is worth playing if you are looking for a Christmas game or a game that uses the concept of machine-learning in a creative way.