Tag Archives: thoughts

The Skill Paradox

A little while ago I came across a comment on a blog which claimed that “as we know, most MMO players are bad”. I did – and do – find it curious, because this indeed does get passed around as a universal truth: most people we meet online are terrible players. Naturally and curiously except for those we’re having these discussions with, we’re all just fine. This, to hit where it hurts right from the start, is basically the same reasoning that constitutes racism: “all black people are savages, except for Joe, who’s a member in my Country Club”. We can even admit the popular argument that the blogging community in a way self-selects the better, because obviously more invested, players – and who doesn’t like to attribute themselves to a self-proclaimed elite; us bloggers, we’re awesome, aren’t we – and it still plays on the same lawn as racism, after all, the Country Club is also obviously a selective environment, but those other black people, the ones outside, they’re obviously savages. It is the hypocrisy that makes every representative of a group one knows by name and face an exception, while at the same time maintaining blanket judgements about the large anonymous group as a whole. That’s not what this post is about though. Instead, I’d like to consider how we arrive at the perception.

First of all, the claim itself that “most players are terrible” is inevitably wrong. As I casually remarked recently, we all live in the Gaussian Curve, and what it really means is that most players are average, as this is how most natural averages form, with only few cases when the data points are crowded near the extremes and the average is a mostly virtual value. An example of the latter could be the life expectation during the European Middle Ages, which was mathematically around 35, but if you look at the numbers closer, you realise that it doesn’t mean that “most people died around age 35”, but that the horrifyingly high infant mortality skewed the statistic and what it rather means is “if you survived past the age of 1, you were probably going to run for the 70”. But this is unnatural, an anomaly. Usually distributions follow the Gaussian Curve, which is why it’s called the Normal Distribution.

There are of course special situations, like, say, Wrath of the Lich King creating a particular expectation about content difficulty and the subsequent Cataclysm taking things in a somewhat different direction. But the aforementioned sentiments gets stated sweepingly, not in some differentiated “in early 2011, large parts of the WoW player base were not prepared for the content difficulty presented to them”, and gets accepted sweepingly. In fact, I can be reasonably sure that someone will actually comment on this very post that “no-no, really, everyone is terrible”. Well, maybe not after I wrote this, kind of falsifying the experiment. Or maybe not, because there are, like, 5 people commenting on my posts, so this isn’t exactly a relevant sample size of anything.

Still, the whole WotLK/Cata thing also highlights that, of course, skill is not an abstract concept, it is relative to difficulty of the task in question. So, yes, if we’re talking about reciting randomly selected works of Shakespeare while running a marathon in Antarctica, most people would be pretty terrible at it. Shopping for groceries on the other hand is something most would find pretty easy, catering to the casuals, almost. Here’s the thing though: in the context of a game, i.e. voluntary entertainment activity, people gravitate towards and away from activities such that in the long term, you are left with your normal distribution again – those for whom it’s too hard or too easy mostly leave. Even now, I think the Cata-difficulty issue is pretty much settling itself (Nils has some great recent posts on why having just one difficulty for everyone is bad design), because the averages are adjusting themselves, people are settling in their new relative positions and the content is self-nerfing.

Then there is always the possible explanation that there are, at any time, many new and inexperienced players. But frankly, this is not what the statement quoted at the outset states. “Most players are new” is not the same as “most players are bad”, even though it’s similarly unlikely. More importantly, catering to new players is by far not the same as catering to bad players. In fact, catering to new players is very important, as the expectation we have is that new players are going to learn, while bad players are not. Conversely, if you don’t let your players learn (cater to new players), you raise incompetent players (well hello, trivialised levelling game).

Last and least, because it’s mostly an exercise in being a smartass, the statement doesn’t even make sense on a logical-linguistic level. If “most players are terrible”, then terrible is the average, thus most players are average. If you’re the brilliant exception, then it’s you who is in the wrong place and probably should go back to the South Pole Stadium-slash-Theatre.

So far, we have a brief outline of why “most players are terrible” should be considered to be wrong. Yet there are lots of people who will tell you that and be genuinely surprised that anyone should think otherwise (remember the bit with the potential comment on this post? Wait for it, still may happen!). Why is this? After thinking about it for a bit, I realised that the solution is The Blub Paradox. It’s a fairly long and technical essay, rich on self-praise, but well worth reading if one is interested in the matter. I will proceed to adopt the part relevant to describe The Skill Paradox.

Imagine the Skill Continuum. No, it’s not the point in space-time a gamer occupies at 13:37. It’s the line on which all skill levels are laid out in increasing order, from a hopeless failure to the greatest winner. Now imagine a player A, whose skill places somewhere on the continuum, a safe distance from both extremes. As long as A is looking down the skill continuum, he recognises that he’s looking down. He can see all the things these players are doing wrong, all the mistakes they’re making, all the potentials for optimisation. If he’s looking up, however, he doesn’t realise that he’s looking up. All he can see are players who are basically just as good as him, only some of them tend to do things in weirdly esoteric ways. A may even consider some of them his inferiors, because, seriously, what sensible person would ever do those esoteric things. This is the Skill Paradox, meaning that we possess very pronounced abilities in recognising all the ways in which other players are worse than us, but are comparatively bad in perceiving the ways in which other players are better than us. The direct consequence is that we tend to think of ourselves as “very close to the top” regardless of where we actually place in the skill continuum, which in turn, especially if you’re not necessarily the self-scrutinising type, lends itself to the “most people are terrible” fallacy.

At this point I originally intended to write down personally experienced cases of when despite the apparently obvious presence of empirical evidence I wasn’t as good as I thought I were, and only got better after embracing details I previously had dismissed as irrelevant, ranging from my most newbish online gaming beginnings in the year 2000 to more recent experiences. In fact I even wrote down those examples, read through them, and they felt so full of unintended self-adulation that they made me sick. And, you know, as much as there is to say about how awesome I am (for example: how awesome I am), I ultimately decided that it would rather distract from than support the point.

The point being: as soon as you acquire even marginal competence in a field (note how we gently drifted away from being gaming-specific), you will find it easy to recognise the shortcomings of those below your level of competence – that’s why you’re better than them, you moved past making their mistakes. Your observations will objectively suggest that you’re “one of the best”, because everyone else you observe is “bad”, with the exception of those whose superiority you cannot fully comprehend as such, for the very same reason they are superior – they realised potentials you have yet to discover.

Shall you live in eternal self-doubt? No, not at all. If you feel you’re good, you probably are. No one is born a master. Just know there’s always a “better” as much as there’s a “worse”. This is also why I don’t like evaluating my own performance based on doing something others (supposedly) can’t do – it’s much more intriguing to consider what can be done than what can’t. Otherwise you’re going for that old trap where “anyone who has accomplished more than you has no life, and anyone who has accomplished less is a noob“.

There is another consequence to all of this, one that won’t sound particularly surprising: your ability to look up the Skill Continuum and realise that you are looking up is directly related to your ability to become better yourself. This is what teachers, trainers and guides do, they explain to their students how those esoteric things can make them better. The good ones do, the bad ones simply state what to do – and sadly there’s a huge demand just for that, seen in the MMORPG world where a lot more people blindly follow the cookie-cutter spec and rotation than actually understand why and under which conditions it is superior. Whenever you convince yourself that “this is as good as it gets”, you stop improving. A truism, really.

And just as I was about to finally post this (it’s the third rework or so), xkcd came out almost on cue: Our brains have just one scale, and we resize our experiences to fit.

It’s not the boars, it’s the bores

From a recent discussion about MMO-design:

I’m tired that being a hero means killing 10 boars.

The boars are not the problem, nor is killing them (except when they parry). The problem is the lack of a credible context.


Why do we kill boars? Because an NPC asked us to. It is not our goal, it is not something that we, by looking at the world in its whole and parts, decide that needs to be done, it does not even remotely contribute or assist any of our goals or things we think need to be done. We have no desire to kill the boar. It is only the NPC’s desire or goal, and they reward us for advancing their agenda by handing us XP, coin and loot, all of which only serves to help us get to the next NPC, who will then recruit us for their goals.

I had this thing in LotRO that my character particularly despised orcs (no, they didn’t kill his parents). He’d be vanquishing them wherever he encountered them due to personal motivation. It worked quite well, but was of course just a little personal gimmick, not a feature of the game itself.

WoW has a very interesting example in Sholozar Basin, where Frenzyheart and Oracles are basically acting as boars and farmers, each asking you to kill and/or annoy the respective other on a repeated daily basis. As a player, you could not care less. Your character could not care less. You just pick the faction with the cuter pet – or ignore them altogether.


There is none. And I’m not even talking about having an impact on the world, real or faked through phasing. There is no effect on the player. Because the slaying of the boars was not motivated by my own reasoning or desire, their death means ultimately nothing (harsh). Whether they respawn, or whether we are moved into a phase where all boars are dead after we killed our precisely measured amount of 10 (and where we cannot adventure with those of our friends who have not yet slain 10 boars), doesn’t make a difference. It could be either way, and it will have no impact, not on the world, but on us, because we’ll move on anyway and whether the boars are there or not will be entirely irrelevant to our future doings.

As long as we are doing what NPCs ask us to do and for no other reason than the reward the NPCs hand us for complying to their will, rather than making decisions based on our own observations and motivations and taking actions according to those decisions, everything we’ll do will carry an inevitable shade of blandness.

Thought for the day: Inconvenience

In every in-game activity, be it an immediate or an overarching one, the inconveniences between the starting point and the goal, beginning with the very fundamental inconvenience of not having arrived at the goal yet, are what constitutes gameplay. Where the process of overcoming those inconveniences places on the scale from annoying to enjoyable determines how much fun the activity is. The desire to remove all inconveniences is a fallacy. Inconveniences have side effects. So does removing them.

RealQ: a Real Question

My real name was first published in gaming-related print and online media in the summer of 2000, when the team I was on finished second in the tournament organised by a gaming magazine. It was published after an explicit request for my consent and my written expression of that consent. And it was, in fact, still way ahead of the timeline.

You see, gaming-wise, I come from a slightly different background than most of you, my valued readers. From 2000 to 2007 I have been a highly competitive and quite successful FPS gamer. Why does it matter? Well, we’ve come to see our gaming slightly differently – more as a sport and a competition. To be recognised as sport and competition, an activity needs a certain level of acceptance, an external appearance. Some time in the second quarter of the decade the communities at large began to realise that we’re never going to be seen as anything other than “killer-game players” by the wider audience if we continue to appear with names like “xKilleRx” (no, not an alias of mine or anyone I knew, just an example). And thus, slowly, gradually, a trend towards revealing the person behind the nickname began to grow.

We put our real names on team websites and league profiles. We uploaded pictures of our faces to be seen next to it – which is, you know, already kind of better than having your real name next to the image of an elf with a sword (sensational revelation: I am not actually an elf with a sword!). We added our age (often 20+ at that point) and profession/occupation, which also looked better than “level 80 Assassination Rogue”. Leagues required to add a UID to your profile that uniquely identified your copy of the game and could be queried in-game to make sure that player and account actually match. Later, the ESL (Electronic Sports League) introduced Trust Levels – essentially you could fill out some paperwork and send in a copy of your ID (which after the process was completed would be burnt and the ashes scattered over the Gulf of Mexico to control oil spills) and thereby verify that the person behind the account is, in fact, who you claim you are. And when you intended to attend LAN Parties, you’d register with your real name anyway, because LAN Parties take place in the real world, where you have to show your real ID (no pun intended) to prove that you are really over 18 years old and are really the one who paid the entry fee to be let in. When you go to a festival you can’t register as “SuperGothChick” either, regardless of whether you like your potential employer ever finding out about your music taste or not.

So, in essence the notion of revealing my real name on the internet doesn’t send me into immediate panic attacks and visions of doom. So, am I pro RealID and the jaw-dropping changes announced yesterday? No. Not at all. Why not? Because of a key difference.

There is this one big difference. When we were fighting back anonymity in the FPS community, it was us, the players (leagues and tournaments were effectively player-run as well), making decisions in what we perceived to be our own interest. Very important. Our decisions. Our interests. We had this visions of Electronic Sports, of social acceptance, of transparent and fair competition, and we did what we thought would help us get there. We did. And those who were not interested? They just didn’t need to. They didn’t need to opt out, or even actively decide against opting in. They just did nothing and were not in any way bothered. Yes, they may be denied entry to high-ranked tournaments, particularly with actual prizes, but that’s kind of fair game – without the push for a more competitive and representative environment those tournaments (and especially the prizes) would not have been there in the first place. You can’t have your cake and eat it too – but you can have the choice between having and eating your cake, and it should be your decision, not the baker’s. Bakers get to set the prices, they don’t get to regulate how much of which cake people have to buy.

Again, because it’s crucial – we were doing what we were doing in what we perceived as our interest. Blizzard’s new forced-RealID plans are in no way in the interest of players. I don’t even need to explain why it won’t have any of the proposed positive effects, as the blogosphere has already taken care of detailing why it’s outlandish, counter-productive, completely wrong and even outright dangerous (late addition: misleading in the very intent). I’m only adding my voice to the storm.

It is not the trolls who will be scared away, but those who do not want to be trolled under/for their real name and identity. The sky is not falling, but activity on the forums will feel much more uncomfortable exactly for the paced, measured, reasonable individuals. There is a natural barrier everyone has inside against being involved into a forum discussion – into any public discussion. Having to put up your real name there in the open adds to the barrier, most effectively holding away, again, the paced, measured, reasonable individuals. Comparisons to the real world fail as well. When you enter a bar your full name doesn’t pop up over your head. When you try to chat up that cute girl your personal details are not revealed to her even before she gets to tell you to get lost.

The official forums may not actually become a more hostile place, but they will feel more like “dangerous ground”, which will, once again, first and foremost, keep away those with mild personalities and a thing for politeness over shouting. By keeping those people out, the forums will become useless to anyone but trolls. We have been so far relatively successfully recruiting via the official forums. That will most certainly end with the introduction of the new forum system. The risk of exposing our real identities (and yes, there is always a risk, even though maybe not as overwhelmingly huge as some may believe) will not be justified by the realistic outlook of actually finding someone who is not a dick, because the forums will be officially Dickland. The alternative of community forums (e.g. MMO-Champion) is there, but inferior in that it simply is not a “central and natural” starting point for the vast majority of players. Recruitment will be handicapped. And this is just one pragmatic example – one that is relevant to us and our guild – of how this development is not only not in, but actually counter to player interest. Important.

Now, let’s concede that Blizzard is and always was a for-profit organization, and even all the “from players, for players” thing really is just a beautiful slogan. They have to act in their interest, not mine. But this is where the curious customer-business relationship comes into play. You see, I’m under no illusion that just because I pay them 10 Euro or so a month they are suddenly slaves bound to my will. That’s not how that relationship works. Here is how it works: a customer gives a business money when the way the business pursues its interest benefits the customer’s interest. In other words, like so many others, I pay to play World of Warcraft, an MMORPG. I registered an account with the company running said MMORPG, and as any serious person being asked by a serious company, I filled in my real details. At that point it was confidential information between me, the customer, and Blizzard, the business. Now Blizzard decided that they will use that information as they see fit.

Have they really? No, they have not. But with the announcements of the forced-real-forum-names all bets are off and no theory can be dismissed as ridiculous anymore. When RealID was announced, we were told it would be optional. In the corner of our mind we all asked ourselves then already whether it would slowly slide to mandatory. You know, like when a piece of software you are using brings out a new version with a totally revamped interface and a “legacy” setting to get the old look-and-feel; you better get used to the new interface, because the next version will not have a legacy setting. Then RealID arrived, we looked at it and realised with a slight unease that there is no way to disable it – the way to “opt out” is not to accept any friend-requests, and that’s it. It’s like saying “okay, from now on Skype will be permanently running on your PC, just don’t take any calls if you don’t like, we’re fine with that”. But my name, my email, my details are in there, in the game, and I have not been given any (official) means to remove them. That can’t possibly lead to problems, right?

Most of all, ideologically, it means that Blizzard is now doing with my personal information whatever they damn please, without giving me an actual say in the matter. We all know that Blizzard signed a contract, some sort of contract, with Facebook. We don’t know the content (at least I don’t), but at this point, today, after that announcement, after that treatment and that approach, can you really stand up and say without a doubt that your Battle.net account will not be forcibly merged or transformed into a Facebook account .. next month? Next Year? Because everyone, including myself, who has ever used the phrase “Blizzard would never do that” in any context looks pretty sheepish right now.

Which leads us to the question. What product is the company Blizzard selling at this point in time, and what product does it intend to sell in the future? Does it still intend to earn its money through making exciting and involving games (or at least the exciting and involving game called “World of Warcraft”), or has its vision changed to viral marketing and dealing with personal information? This is not about my name being on the internet – it already is. This is about the game I’m playing. This is about the game I love. Will the creator of that game try to earn money by catering to my love, or by exploiting it?

A little more than one year ago we abandoned Lord of the Rings Online, the game we previously played and loved. We abandoned it because it changed from creating entertainment to creating time sinks. We were searching for a new game to play together, to call our hobby. The choice basically came down to Age of Conan and World of Warcraft. More than anything, we choose WoW because we believed and trusted in Blizzard’s vision and commitment to the game and the service. Because of what we perceived as professionalism. We wanted to pay professionals money and to receive a professional service in return. Another strong reason was WoW’s developed and strong community and reliable long-term outlook.

The most recent developments undermine the vision, the community and the long-term outlook, furthermore they abuse the trust and the rights of the customers in a borderline unprofessional way. So, Blizzard, here, for you, is the RealQ, the Real Question: have we made the wrong decision? Should we have chosen against you? Is your business plan and strategy still that of making a fantastic game and creating a place for gamers to want to stay in? Are you intending to deliver us the product we want to pay for, or are you going to be the baker who tries to dictate us what cake we’re supposed to eat?

This is not a threat of “do what I want or I will unsubscribe”. No, this is a very realistic proposition: I decided to pay for your product for specific reasons. If you cancel out those reasons, or no longer offer the product, do not rely on me continuing to pay for what you’ll try to sell me instead. It’s realistic because I did it before. I won’t “leave the game because Blizzard is evil”. In all honesty, I don’t care whether Blizzard is evil. But I will leave the game if the changes Blizzard does to the game make it unenjoyable for me. And I won’t be the only one.

You are on notice, Blizzard. And you should ask yourself some very Real Questions.

On flies and windows

Last night, when I went to bed, I realised there’s a fly in my bedroom. I intended to read a bit, so I turned on the bedside lamp, which, of course, awoke the fly. It was big and noisy, and immediately started flying around and getting on my nerves. I contemplated trying to chase it out. An activity not without a risk. I’d have to open a window, with light on (otherwise I wouldn’t see the fly), which means potentially attracting more insects rather than getting rid of the one, as it may take an indefinitely long time to convince the fly to leave, which, in fact, may not succeed at all.

After some contemplation I decided not to bother. I wanted to read a little and then sleep, not spend half a night chasing insects around my bedroom. I’d just ignore it, it’d settle down, and next day I wouldn’t even remember. But it kept occasionally flying loops through the room and buzzing like a vuvuzela. And it was huge. So, I got up, opened a window, walked up to where the fly was sat and waved at it with my book. The fly lazily buzzed across the room to the open window and landed on the outer side of its frame. I walked back and closed the window, locking the fly out.

As I was lying down again the thought crossed my mind how quickly and easily the issue got resolved and how it turned out that less than 30 seconds of simplest action saved me from lots of worry and annoyance.

I don’t do this sort of thing often, as usually what I write is meant in a very literal way, but this is one of those allegorically metaphorical posts “based on a true story”. Sometimes you don’t want to build an Incredible Machine, and a complex execution instruction, pondering about side effects and implications. Sometimes, you just want to open your window and wave at the fly with your book. Sometimes, the simple strategy actually works.

Wrong sport, lads and lasses

The recent Ensidiagate prompted me into posting on a subject that’s been on my mind for a while now: the morality of competitiveness. Maybe I should have used that as the title of the entry, but, honestly, my titles sound preachy enough as it is. So, what is this all about, anyway? Competition.

Competition is an interesting thing. A two-edged blade. Competition means motivation, determination. It is a reason to try to be better. Competition is the antidote to complacency, and thus a catalyst of progress. Us not living in caves is a direct result of competition.

Curiously, having come so far since the time we left the caves means that competition has changed as well. In fact, outright competing with the next person is societally frowned upon, and usually manifests itself in the less productive forms of constant 1-up’ing and raging envy. Also, mobbing and other sorts of ugliness.

The medium through which we experience modern competition in what is considered a “pure” form is almost exclusively sports. It is easy to argue that sports, as such, arose from the demise of competition as it was known in former ages of mankind, as a mimicry of activities that once constituted the competition for survival (and procreation): hunt, war, elopement, gathering, perseverance. Not that war could be attributed solely to “former ages of mankind”, but at least we don’t want it to be an open competition anymore.

So, sports. The pitfall here is what kind of sports we grow up with, what sports get the most spotlight and gain the highest prominence. Football/soccer and basketball matches are frequently decided by coaxing the referee into a wrong decision in your favour. Fall down without having been shoved, talk trash to disturb concentration and hope for a rebuttal that may be punished as an additional bonus. Yell at the referee and argue every decision. No-no, my foot wasn’t behind the line. Inconceivable.

Then there’s athletics, cycling and similar disciplines, which seem to have long evolved into a race of “who can shove more stuff into their body without being caught overstepping an official rule”. The phrase “usage of illegal doping” alone is amusing already, when you think about it – it means there is legal doping, so, the question isn’t really “if”, but only “by how much”. The answer may arrive in the form of a life-ending heart attack at age 40.

Speaking of racing – Formula 1, anyone? Turned into a competition for finding the most improbable loophole in the technical regulations. Funnily, the stricter and more complicated the rules get, the more severe those loopholes are. Back when the limits were more relaxed and everyone was shooting for the sky, the differences were more, you know, tangible. Back then, A had a better engine, B had a better chassis and then we watched it unfold. Now it’s all “so, turning this screw 57° to the right can be justified with the following paragraphs as not contradicting to those other paragraphs, and it also gives us half a second per lap”.

Major sports these days are a cutthroat business where the limits of the “humanly possible” were reached decades ago, and now everything that gives you any sort of advantage that is not in clear and unmistakable contradiction with the rules is considered “fair game”. And then you venture into regions that are in contradiction with the rules and simply hope not to get caught. You are supposed to take everything you can get, try to grab some more and then act as you deserve even more yet.

Having grown up with this image of sports and thus competition, we arrive in a place where everything can be justified by pointing out that X is going up against Y. A “competitive situation” is suddenly a sufficient reason to abandon all honour, humanity, grace and dignity. You are supposed to bite and claw, to kick and punch, to blow low and exploit, exploit, exploit. All is fair in love and competition.

I would like to introduce you to another sport – or, rather, remind you of its existence. One that is not as widely popular world wide, which doesn’t get much prime time spotlight. I’m talking about Snooker, a billiard variation with an emphasis on high precision and, most importantly, strategic thinking. Is Snooker competitive? Oh, boy, yes. Look at the faces of the players. They want it. They want it badly. So, what’s the difference?

The difference is that Snooker is a deeply aristocratic sport by its very nature and origin. You can’t play it in school yards, you can’t play it in pubs, half drunk. You have to overcome a high entry barrier to play it at all, and thus, it has traditionally been coined by the, dare I say, noble. Therefore, the standards the players are held up to are inherently higher. And I don’t mean merely things as the dress code. I mean moral standards. An example.

There is a rule that forbids you to, at any point, touch a ball, any ball, with any part of your body or clothing. This is something that can be very hard to keep track of, because it basically only becomes relevant in those cases where the intended shot is a highly tricky one, so the view will be obscured, and although the referee will try his best to have a line of sight, he’ll also do his best to accomplish this without distracting the player (ideally staying out of his field of view). You can’t exactly drive a camera in there either. Besides, in the vast majority of cases, the fleeting contact of, say, a sleeve with a ball wouldn’t do anything. So, what?

I’ll tell you what. It is considered and unexceptionally accepted the duty and obligation of a player to announce an illegal contact when he becomes aware of it. Immediately. Even if nothing has moved even by a dust particle’s margin. It’s a matter of honour, it’s a matter of morality, it’s a matter of what defines you as a Snooker player and earns you respect. Just as a pointer, respect is what earns you money through the discreet ad sticker you’re wearing on your breast pocket. It is not considered “okay” to run with it, just because no one noticed.

If you touch a ball, you admit it. If you are carefully swinging at the ball and your cue touches it before you execute the actual shot, you announce it. If you get a double contact (white jumps back from first contact with other ball and hits cue again before you pull it away), you say it. Even if no one noticed. Even if it costs you the frame, or the match. You don’t try and figure out how much you can get away with. You don’t care how much you can get away with. You care about fair and clean competition, and you are not interested in any unfair advantage.

If you get a fluke (i.e. a lucky shot with a much better outcome than initially planned), you apologise. You appreciate its results, of course, and the opponent accepts them gracefully, without any “lol ur lucky nuub” rage. Luck is part of competition, as it is of any process. But you apologise. When your opponent masters a particularly difficult situation successfully, or plans and executes a masterful shot, you congratulate. You don’t cry “hax” and rant about how his haircut is overpowered, but show respect for the skills of your opponent. It’s tradition. You just do it. Failure to comply with the moral standards of the game is as severe as a violation of its functional rules.

The bottom line is, competition does not have to be that dirty, grey-zone, cutthroat, no-respect-for-anyone dogfight we learned to accept it to be. You can compete, and compete on a very high level, without disregarding respect and morality. And next time you think about competition and what it allows and justifies, don’t think about what ESPN is showing right now. Think about Snooker. Otherwise you’re just tuning yourself to the wrong ideals.

Internet Drama And You

Came across this article recently, and .. I must say, that I disagree. Well, why link it then? For one, I don’t disagree with it entirely. The part about Passive Aggression is spot on, and has been painfully experienced by most of us, more than once. The Commiseration Spiral is, too, something to be careful about (although it’s not actually related to the section it’s listed in). For another, though, I strongly believe, that the misuse and bending of the Perspective approach is one other large reason for the emergence of internet drama, since it allows people to give themselves a pass on something they know they shouldn’t do, but do anyway, because, hey, no one can get hurt, like, for real, right? So, let’s have a look.

1. P1 and P3 are very much the same thing – perspective. They’re both saying the same: your problem is not a real problem because of the context. For P1 he plays the “pales in comparison” card, for P3 the context itself is declared inherently irrelevant. That’s one and the same thing, and doesn’t make for anything but padding the numbers. Yeah, I know, I’m trolling semantics here – it’ll get better, promised. It’s just not nice to be offered three drama-slayers and then find the third being the same as the first!

2. Perspective is not an irrelevance threshold. In fact, Mr. Wilson writes lots of profound and valuable things on perspective, only then to dismiss them saying he’s having something different on his mind, namely the good old “kids in Africa” conception. This is, and always has been, the lamest argument ever, for anything. If you have the flu, you treat it – you don’t watch pictures of AIDS victims instead, because theirs is much, much worse. When you get your pay check, you don’t throw it away, just because you didn’t make as much as Bill Gates.

Perspective means, you keep it in context. It means you treat a problem arising in a certain environment with tools appropriate for that environment. It does not mean, that you ignore the problem entirely, just because in the general scope of problems it’s a minor one. It does not mean you feel less strong about an issue that is important to you. Perspective means, that you don’t go out and kill an actual person, because he ninja’d your loot. Perspective, however, also means that even the fiercest forum flame won’t resolve child starvation.

3. Calling it “pretendy fun time games” accomplishes more than just putting the P to the front. It also obscures what’s most important. See, it’s not about pretending. It’s about fun. And it’s about time. It’s about spending your time in a way that yields you fun. And that is important. It’s not as life critical as finding food for a starving person is, but, again, perspective is not an irrelevance threshold. The following is a very simplified view of life, but, in a way, everyone fulfils their less pleasant duties in order to be able to then commit themselves to more pleasant things.

What part of their life a specific person views as the more or less pleasant, is subjective and may strongly vary. If you choose your favourite hobby to be online gaming, however, you expect it to result in fun. More importantly, fun through joint activity with other people. And that’s the kink. Online gaming, like every multi-player constellation, is a contract. An agreement with other people to spend time in a way that maximizes common fun had. Thus, if, say 5 people meet and set out to have fun together, but then one or more of them start acting in a way detrimental to the others’ enjoyment, those others are taking real damage. They will have ended up losing real time, without having gained the real benefit they were after – fun. Their lives will have become one day shorter. There won’t be a second July 16th, 2009, in my life, no matter if I spend it satisfactory or not.

4. The “pretending” people are, in fact, real people themselves. If the character Rocket Tits tells my character that he’s raping dogs, it’s RP; if the girl pretending to be Rocket Tits tells me I rape dogs, we have an issue (this is referencing the linked article, so, if you have not read it, you might be surprised by the wording). That’s an important difference. The game is played by real world persons, not characters. It’s the real world persons who invest something into the game (at the very least, time, see above), and it’s the real world persons who intend to derive something from it (fun, see above).

If the way real world person A behaves during their common game sessions causes discomfort for real world person B, then there is an issue. I’m not saying person B is automatically right, mind you, I’m just saying it is an issue. A real world issue, because two real world persons are not getting along, yet are supposed to spend time together for the sake of having fun. And it totally doesn’t matter if their vehicles of having fun are fictional characters, when their animosity is a real one. Perspective, the other way round: if the measure at hand is fun had, a fun-killer is a real problem, not a pretended one.

5. Just walking away (not explicitly suggested in the article, but always a related implication) is not a satisfactory solution. At least it’s not an easy one. People invested time, effort and heart into this (whatever “this” may be), they did it because it was fun, and because it was supposed to yield even more fun in the future. It’s not the part about wearing capes they take seriously, it’s their joy and entertainment they take seriously (if that makes any sense). They care.

To sum it up, this is why I’m not a friend of the “perspective” argument. Too often is it used to justify inconsiderate acts with the notion, that, taking perspective into account, no one really gets harmed in any meaningful way.

So, if you want to avoid drama, don’t call “perspective!” on everything as soon as you find yourself on thin ice. Rather, when making decisions, take into account some of the perspectives of those other people you share your fictive world, your hobby with. It’s not just a game. It’s a hobby. It’s a time sink. It’s a source of fun and satisfaction. It’s a collective activity you and your peers love, or you wouldn’t be spending so much time with it. Everyone who says “it’s just a game”, is missing the point.

Growing up

… is when you don’t turn your alarm clock on in case you need to get up early, but turn it off in case you don’t.

Trust is when you dare to say "no"

My mother reminded me yesterday of an incident that took place about two years ago:

We two had to pick floor tiles for our house. The sort of decision you only think is enjoyable when you don’t have to make it for yourself. When you do, you suddenly find yourself staring at hundreds of options all of which have one thing in common: they are not quite what you had in mind. Oh, and there’s also this absolutely gorgeous model over in the corner, which costs about 10 times as much as you could possibly afford.

So, there we were, roaming a shop, looking through samples, deciding. Finally, we found a tile model (for the main part of the ground floor) we both liked. So, we went along and planned, calculated, played with colour schemes, transitions and contrasts.

There was just one problem with it: we did not like it. Neither of us. We didn’t actually hate it, no, it was okay, but we didn’t like it either. I thought my mother likes it, so I played along; she thought I like it, so she played along. At some point, long down the road, one of us let a negative remark slip, and we were like “wait, you don’t like it either? But I thought…!”. So we laughed and got out of the shop.

We were tired of the entire selection-decision process, and didn’t want to prolong it unnecessarily by being overly picky and moody. As long as one of us thought it’s good, the other one would tone it down and go with what’s just “oh well, not that bad” for them. That’s a societal attitude, and it’s a good (sometimes even necessary) approach to be able to agree on things in a finite time. But it might get problematic, when both (or all) sides choose to pick the “follower” role at the same time.

Sometimes, to trust someone means to blindly follow, and to know that you’ll end up in a good place. But sometimes, it also means to stand up and say “no, I don’t like this; I’m going for it because I trust your sentence, but this would not be my preferred choice”. Sometimes we find it easier to entrust our life (well, not in the context of floor tiles, obviously!) than to entrust our honest opinion.