Another example of the Law of Unintended Consequences.
It probably seemed like a harmless bit of fun at the time.
In the latest update to the hit game Minecraft, developers introduced a string of colourful parrots who pop up in the low poly landscape.
And they give players the ability to feed the virtual parrots some virtual chocolate cookies.
Cute huh? Well, don’t be so sure.
A few days later, a fan of the game flagged up a concern to the /r/minecraft forum on Reddit: chocolate is actually deadly to parrots in the real world.
“You can’t tell me some 6 year old is going to play Minecraft and then [not] try to feed their Mom’s 45 year old Macaw chocolate chips or a chocolate chip cookies” the user, 1jl, warned, in a missive predictably full of typos.
Pedantic? Perhaps. But more than 121m copies of Minecraft have been sold and statistically there’s a big enough chance that at least one young user might have access to a real life parrot.
The post has been upvoted 37,000 times and sparked off a discussion with, at the time of writing, more than 1500 comments.
The game’s developer, Mojang, has been quick to reply, promising to change the chocolate cookies for something else in the next update.
“If Minecraft has any effect on children’s behavior, we want it to be a positive one, so we’ll change the item used to breed parrots before the 1.12 update is released” the company told Motherboard.
Parrots of the world, breathe easy.
But it’s yet another example of when a group (A flock? A pandemonium?) of software developers has made a decision without considering its real world consequences.
Last summer Pokémon Go was released into the wild and within days became a global sensation.
But what seemed to be a great idea in the safe confines of a software office caused chaos in the real world.
The software automatically placed Pokémon in a host of inappropriate places, including the Auschwitz concentration camp and the Hiroshima Museum, not to mention dangerous locations such as railway tracks.
Scores of injuries and even deaths have been reported as a result of the game.
The Law of Unintended Consequences has been in effect since the earliest days of the internet.
In 1996, coders at AOL thought it would be a good idea to introduce a profanity filter to the site. Unintentionally this blocked people living in Scunthorpe from opening email accounts because – well…you can figure out why.
It became known as The Scunthorpe Problem – and now we can add The Parrot Problem to the list.
There’s no evidence that any birds were harmed because of Minecraft’s cookie gimmick, but it’s a timely reminder.
As the lines between technology and reality become more blurred, tech companies have a responsibility to check themselves before they wreck a real person’s life.
Broadcasters and film studios have been bound by strict rules to make sure they cannot use the power of their media to negatively impact their audiences – isn’t it time tech companies are held to the same standard?
Adam Westbrook is Associate Editor of The Memo’s Creative section. He’s an independent video artist, filmmaker, and occasional lecturer in journalism and production.