This is a hard question to study in real life, but researchers have found a way to use a video game as a proxy for the apocalypse.
The game is called ArcheAge, and it is an open world, massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) where players can explore, quest, level up, and collect equipment.
The researchers used data from a beta test of the game, where players knew that after 11 weeks, the server would be deleted and all their progress and characters lost.
This created a situation where the consequences of their actions became meaningless, similar to how some people might feel if the real world was ending.
The researchers analyzed over 270 million records of player behaviors in the game, such as quest completion, leveling, ability changes, and player killing.
They wanted to see if the players changed their behavior as the end of the game approached, and if they showed any signs of moral decay or social breakdown.
The results were surprisingly peaceful, except for a few outliers who chose to kill other players more often.
“Our findings show that there are no apparent pandemic behavior changes, but some outliers were more likely to exhibit anti-social behavior (e.g., player killing),” the team wrote.
“We also found that contrary to the reassuring adage that ‘even if I knew the world would go to pieces tomorrow, I would still plant my apple tree,’ players abandoned character progression, showing a drastic decrease in quest completion, leveling, and ability changes at the end of the beta test.”
The researchers found that most players did not exhibit any drastic changes in their behavior, and that those who stayed until the end of the game tended to be more peaceful and loyal than those who left earlier.
The researchers also found that players abandoned character progression, showing a sharp decline in quest completion, leveling, and ability changes at the end of the game. This suggests that when the world is ending, people might not care much about self-improvement or personal goals.
The researchers concluded that their study provides a novel way to study human behavior during the end times, using a video game as a simulation.
They also noted that their findings might not generalize to other games or real-world scenarios, as different factors might influence how people behave when faced with an existential threat.
However, they hoped that their study would inspire more research on this topic, as well as more ethical game design that considers the impact of game endings on player psychology.
“Our findings that the sentiment of social grouping specific chat channels trend towards ‘happier’ as the end times approach is a first indication of this pro-social behavior: existing social relationships are likely being strengthened,” the team concluded.
“Further, we saw that players that stayed until the end of the world exhibited peaks in the number of small temporary groupings: new social relationships are being formed.”
The study is published in the Proceedings of the 26th International Conference on World Wide Web Companion, and a preprint version – which is not peer reviewed – can be accessed via arXiv.