Thursday, March 22, 2012

"You can’t yell someone into submission if they aren’t playing the same game"

Taken from the really cool article on a newbie's experience with D&D posted at the Onion AV Club. It was just too good to pass up.

From what I've read, the Chicago school of economic theory generally goes thusly:

If you give people perfect information, they will behave in their most logical self interest.

This idea is used to justify all kinds of deregulatory bullshit because it wants to insist that corporations will do right by their customers because the customers will always-Wait, WAIT, come back! I swear this is going somewhere.

As I was saying: this idea is out there to support a whole lot of 'hands off' or 'free market' ideologies, because it suggests that people will always behave in their best informed self interest, thus punishing the bad and rewarding the good. All of which I personally find to be insanely flawed because they fail to consider how human beings actually behave and ignoring how people actually think. I offer this anecdote with the usual disclaimer that it isn't data so much as an illustration.

My personal philosophy when I play a game is simple: play the best game I can. I am not there to win, I am there to play my best game and there is a difference. It is this difference that compels me to help other people when I play: I want THEM to play the best game they can and I want to help them do it, until it becomes clear that they don't need my help anymore. This is, in the short term, a bad strategy if I want to win, because it means I am helping my opponents. It's a good idea in the long term, where I make friends and learn to play better but that is because of what I choose to value.

As I mentioned in my last post, I was playing Undisputed Attitude against mono-U Illusions, Elf ramp Eldrazi and B/W human/tokens. The elf deck was spitting up mana, the Illusions deck was creeping, I was slow rolling my deck, holding two Ashenmoor Lieges from my opening hand because I knew that when I played them, the table would turn on me, and the B/W tokens player who was developing a nice board with two Niblis of the Mist a nice selection of equipment and a Suture Priest in play.

The tokens player was missing their Suture Priest triggers so I leaned over and said: "Hey, you'll want to pay attention to your Priest." There was, I thought, a slight 'A-ah!' moment...and then she started making me lose life whenever my creatures. Now, I knew that was going to happen, so I wasn't too distraught about that but then she started swinging at me in the air for 4 a turn!

So, here's the board state: the elf player is up to over 40 life, with elf lords boosting his creatures so he has an army of 3/3 and 4/4s, along with Glissa and a Loxodon Warhammer but no way to block flyers, the Illusions player has a Lord of Illusions and a Phantasmal Image and is building things up but again, no way to block flyers, while I have a Rakados Guildmage, Lyzolda, a Goblin Deathraiders and a lot of land.

So mentally, I'm screaming, Why would you do that? I just helped you out, right? I am not a force in this game! I actually had to check myself because there's no point in whining and I didn't want to tilt out. I did, however, drop the Demigod of Revenge in order to stop the bleeding but not until I'd taken 8.

What this captures is a part of the game that I have the most trouble with, in multiplayer: Understanding what someone else is doing. In my brain, all the information is out there: The elf player is the biggest problem, followed by an Illusions/Tokens tie. So it's in the self-interest of all the non-elf players to take out the elf player, right?


But this isn't a situation of perfect information: I don't know what she has in hand, her Priest lets her keep a handle on the elf lifegain if she stays on top of the triggers and maybe nothing else is really a threat?

There's other stuff though. Perhaps she saw my hand and knows the Lieges are coming. Maybe she wasn't thrilled about the extra cards I'd drawn with Sign in Blood, because card draw is always a warning shot. Maybe she didn't like the way I nudged her about the Suture Priest. Maybe she was worried I was going to make Lyzolda into some kind of engine. Or perhaps she knows that I'm a good player and I need to be dealt with, and saw an opportunity because I was using my life to draw cards. Maybe she has no interest in winning whatsoever or winning as I understand it. 

My purpose in speculating on these motives isn't to judge them: one of my goals as a player is to try to not take the decisions that are out of my control, personally. There is no point and players always make the play they think is the right one. Additionally, I view all of these motives as being equally valid ones for her course of action. I may not agree with them but I recognize them as legit and any reason, short of cheating/being a dick, is a good one. On top of that, shaming someone into my point of view is antithetical to how I want to play a game.

My purpose is to point out that there is a gap between what my philosophy is whilst playing and anyone else's and it's a gap that cannot be completely bridged, because each of those reasons has a different perspective on what the best, most logical course of action is. It suggests that there is no such thing as perfect information and as a result it is impossible to always behave logically. On top of that, self-interest is a very, very wobbly thing which always depends on subjectivity: how the hell can anyone always predict how people will behave if they cannot even agree on the best thing, nor the motive for playing?

This is what I wrestle with.

I ended up winning that match at one life, because the pressure on me forced me to Lightning Bolt the Suture Priest, sacrifice a couple of blockers to Lyzolda for damage to creatures (Lord of Illusions and the elf lords) and cards; then play three Ashenmoor Lieges, which pretty much made my creatures impossible to deal with. Once I tripped into a second Demigod of Revenge and was attacking for 18 in the air, there wasn't much anyone could do about it.

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