The Rookery

Madeline's thoughts on social deduction games, forum/community meta, and any other philosophical musings

Archive for Topographical Theory

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New Metaphor Just Dropped

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No mountains, no valleys
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Never argue with idiots; they'll drag you down to their level and then beat you on experience.
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This was inspired by watching the recent Game for 19, I was musing to myself in spectator chat but then it took a long time to close out!

The image I have is of a pyramid, where different layers represent different aspects of a player's style, and each layer builds off the one before--but just because players are similar on a deeper level doesn't mean that will deterministically impact their style on a higher level, or vice versa. Maybe sometimes when conflicts arise and don't get sorted out easily, it could be because the sniping is criticizing one layer but the real difference of opinion is at a different layer.

The top layer, the one that's most visible, I'll call the "finger" layer--what they post, what directly comes across to other people. "Player A has a high signal-to-noise ratio." "Player B is spamming the thread with GIFs."

The middle layer is the "nerve" layer--how they play, what their approach is to game mechanics. "C refuses to participate in an all-claim." "You can't trust D, they're probably just reaction-testing."

And the bottom layer is the "gut" layer--why they play, what they seek to get out of a game of werewolf. This ties into some of my thoughts on topography. "E is a valley slope, their goal is to support F."

You can sometimes see how lower layers impact the ones above. G is a mountain who think their own reads are better than the rest of the village (gut), so they feel justified in calling fake hits (nerve). H is just here for a FUN time because playing games is FUN (gut), and so posts a lot of GIFs in the thread because GIFs are FUN (finger).

But sometimes it's harder to express low-layer disagreements with people when your high layers are similar. Player X is someone whose hunting and analysis (nerve) comes across similarly to mine; we're both unlikely to make weird plays as villager, we'd rather play straight-up and then dig into the math. Most of the time, we get along well in games.

Once in a while, though, I see X behaving like a valley slope--their behavior around Y is frustrating and feels enabling (gut). It feels petty of me to point this out; after all, X is so much more "compatible" with my playstyle than many people! But I'm still wary of them because of it.

Similarly, Player Z and myself can sometimes write similar posts (finger). There's a lot of parenthetical asides and clever allusions and by the way, isn't this kind of like that math puzzle that got referenced one time, the one with the goats and the hats and the liars and...okay I'll stop, but wait, finding a solution to this dichotomy would be like (nerdy thing) okay, haha, I'm hilarious, let's move on.

On the other hand, some of the stuff Z has said about why they enjoy werewolf (gut), I disagree with so much that it probably takes effort to be that wrong. I like social deduction games because it gives a chance for other people's emotional leaps to fall short; they seem to like them because it gives a chance for other people's logical leaps to fall short. I like being competitive in a restrained, limited environment; they like pushing boundaries and hoping everything is okay. I like ensemble music, some people like fast-paced improv (not necessarily the same person Z, but you get the idea).

Now, you might think it would be useful for me to communicate this to people like Z, so we could try to find some middle ground. But one of the reasons that might not work is because the posts I write--like this one--tend to be long, nerdy, filled with asides and oh look, here's an xkcd link, and blah blah blah. I think it would be easy for player Z to read this and say "oh, Madeline doesn't really mind my style, she's just as bad. After all, the fact that she can write about this in such a distant, playful manner shows that we're ultimately more similar than different."

And that would be wrong, because our finger-layer similarities don't stem from gut-layer similarities. Which brings up another point: the idea of control, or deliberateness, in posts. At times it's tempting to say "J is emotionally lashing out and being whiny in the thread; they must be super immature and not know any better. K seems much calmer and purposeful in their word and sentence choice; they must be deliberately needling J to get a reaction." When the truth is, K is always going to come across as more controlled than J because that's how their finger-layer styles are, even if they're both emotionally upset at gut level. Temporarily making a post like "wah, my feels, bad, stop it!!!!" would probably get a reaction because it's "out of character" behavior, and might effectively get across how badly affected K is. But then when K resets back to baseline, their short-term behavior will be seen as insincere. Once you've established a "meta"--on any layer--there's no good workaround.
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Sat Jan 22, 2022 3:05 pm
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Topographical Theory Part Two: How We Got Here

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No mountains, no valleys
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A follow-up to my previous post; so these social dynamics exist. And sometimes there can be "earthquakes" that create even more mountains and valleys, shrinking the plateaus and pushing them closer to the margins. What form has that taken in BGG werewolf?

In mid-2015, something happened that was consequential in a number of ways; the original Cassandra site (the off-site resource where votes are tallied, werewolf players have chats with the mods, wolves make decisions, game statistics are recorded, etc.) crashed. In the medium to long term, this was frustrating to people like me who really care about the old archives and being able to browse past games; I and others spent a lot of time rebuilding it.

But in the short term, it was much less practical to play games at all, because we didn't have the automated "this is how many votes are for this player!" tally.

*Politics Metaphor Follows*

This should not be taken as indicative of my RL political views, because I believe that there are many steps the government can take to promote gun control and create a safer, healthier society. (If you disagree, this isn't the place for that discussion.)

Nevertheless, there's an idiom in the US that kind of applies here, which is "if you outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns." To generalize this to the point of extreme vagueness, I would say, "if a certain tool disappears overnight, only the people who are very invested in keeping it around will find immediate substitutes."

I feel like, to an extent, this happened with Cassy. Smaller rolesets became easier for mods to manually handle; one of the classic small rolesets here is the "no reveal niner," a game that often leads to some loud counterclaim battles. Historically, it's often been run early in the day compared to some games, and sometimes tends to attract louder, more aggressive "mountain" players. This is anecdotal and I can't demonstrate it rigorously, but it feels like during those few months, there were relatively more games that catered to mountain players, whereas the valleys were more (in the aggregate) like "eh, Cassy's down, don't wanna make more work for my adorable mods, let's pass."

Eventually Cassy came back (and crashed again, and was rebooted again, the following year, by which time I'd drifted away and couldn't tell you the effect even if there was one). And around maybe the start of 2016, the valley type players were more, "hey, can we have a place where our touchy-feeliness gets a say?" There were games built that deliberately encouraged a "mod will intervene if things get out of hand, please speak up if your emotions are being affected" environment, and though this didn't specifically target a valley audience, it sort of wound up that way.

So the total effect was a larger separation between mountain (slope)s and valley (slope)s. Again, this is all anecdotal, but I feel like that timeframe gave some of these people more opportunities to avoid troublesome interactions--but at the cost of making it more difficult for the plateaus, because almost every game would feature at least one emotionally volatile person.
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Mon Oct 22, 2018 6:16 pm
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The Topographical Theory of Werewolf

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No mountains, no valleys
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Never argue with idiots; they'll drag you down to their level and then beat you on experience.
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This is the central metaphor that a lot of my other philosophizing is based off of. It will be very wordy.

I originally posted some of this here, after having turned it over in my head for a while, but didn't feel like I could go into more detail. So I'm self-plagiarizing.

So you probably know about topographical maps. In real life. They are representations of the physical surface of the earth, to highlight areas of extreme elevation, like, mountains and valleys. One way of doing this is by drawing a 2D map like normal, but using lines to connected places with the same elevation. Both mountains and valleys will appear as tightly nested ovals on these maps. Others are in profile, taking a cross-section, which makes mountains and valleys easier to distinguish from each other.

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So that's very exciting, but what does it have to do with board games.

Well, some of the metaphors we use in describing personalities (not just in games, and not just online) have to do with size. "She makes me feel small." Some of them don't really fit consistently--if you're trying to "be the bigger person," are you being "bigger than the game"? Hopefully not. But in terms of mountains and valleys, I feel like we can get a fairly complex, extended-metaphor description of a lot of interpersonal conflict (obvious, or otherwise) that arises.

What is a mountain? It “towers above” others and “looks down on” them. It exists in “rarefied air.” Next to its size, others are made to “feel small.” It “dominates” the landscape. And so on. Basically, mountains are those who go too far in touting their own ego/skill at a game, so as to create a corrosive environment for others.

"You're mean if you kill me on the first night, because everyone is so in awe of my talents that they don't let me play."
"You're stupid if you don't kill me on the first night, because I'm smarter than you and I will figure out the game."
"You need to listen to my opinions about player X, because I'm flawless at reading them."
"Don't feel bad that you lost, you never had a chance against me anyway."

It's okay to take pride in your skill and enjoy your successes! We all like to do it! We're all smart, thoughtful people who enjoy the fun of figuring out puzzles. That's why we're here. Mountains, however, act as if only they can be the smart ones.

In real topography, mountain peaks don't just appear out of nowhere. They're "supported" by mountain slopes, who form a "pedestal" for the mountains to sit on.

"We can't lynch Y, because they'll solve the game if they're good."
"Z is actually my father's second cousin's aunt's college roommate, like in RL, so we'd better trust them!"
"The team needs to be myself and Q for mission 1, it worked last game!"
"R is smart and knows math, gotta keep 'em around!"

What is the mirror image of a mountain? A valley, which is “low” and “drains” much of the precipitating energy. Mountains and valleys look almost indistinguishable on the first kind of topographical maps, and are reflections of each other on the second. It's hard for mountains and valleys to exist in the same place at the same time.

"Don't lynch me, my pet gecko just died."
"How dare you expect me to post content and relevant thoughts on the game? Meanies."
"I'm so stupid, I'll never figure it out."
"But games are supposed to be FUN, and how can I have FUN if you expect me to contribute and help my teammates figure things out?"

Again, lots of people have upsetting experiences IRL. Many people struggle with mental health issues, and find an online format an easier way to communicate at their own pace. But the implication that one person's problems are uniquely important isn't cool.

Like mountains, valleys also have valley slopes propping them up (propping them down?)

"Don't you dare ask S to contribute more, that gecko picture is plenty evidence of their goodness!"
"Is T not happy enough with their success in other games? Let's trade accounts so they can have my constructive meta?"
"We're all friends, aren't we? Friends don't make other people sad!"

A lot of the major conflicts in games arise when mountains and valleys clash with each other, let their emotions boil over, and/or feel like they have to replicate emotion that would seep in as other alignment.

M: You all need to trust me and [vote V], who is obviously a werewolf!
V: I'm not a werewolf, why are you out to get me????
MS: Well who do you think is evil then?
V: That's too much work, I don't have to tell you that!!
MS: Let's follow M to victory, [vote V]!
VS: Stop picking on V again, we vote V every game.
M: Now I'm going to get murdered! Woe is me! It's so hard being so talented!
V: Why are you talking about murder, that's not polite in these modern times, let's be ethical and talk about lovingly ostracizing our excellent friends!
VS: I think we're all getting distracted from the real issue here, which is that the mod posted some beautiful gifs last page, and I think we should quote them and annoy all the phone posters! Now, doesn't everyone feel aesthetically happier?
Cassandra: please go here to replace an upset player
Player who just quit: Waaah, you're all awful and I hate you, this incredibly unhelpful ISO will surely not scare off any potential replacements from stepping into this perfectly normal seat!

And it's not long before mountains and valleys are trying to avoid each other, for everyone's sakes. Sometimes one party is more clearly in the wrong than the other. Sometimes they're both to blame for escalation. Sometimes the slopes go too far in enabling. Sometimes a slope is more extreme than a small hill or vale. Nobody is "the most wrong," but everyone is affected.

In topography, we also have plateaus, which are sometimes too common to warrant mention. Until noted, every piece of land is relatively flat in its own regard. And we'd all like to believe that those "level playing fields" can exist. Oftentimes, mountains and valleys (and slopes) will recognize that the "opposing" party has aggravated an issue and want to avoid them, but are relatively cool with the rest of the players, who are just trying to keep their heads down and play the game they signed up for.

And some of them are easygoing and can get along with just about everyone! But I, the quintessential plateau, rankle very easily at perceived unfairness, and the consequence is that I can barely stand anyone.

I guess for me it all boils down to an issue of fairness. Do the standards player B wants to be held to make for a cohesive game if everyone gets that kind of treatment? If not, why should we give B that treatment? Are there any objective criteria to justify that? (Every once in a while the answer is "yes!" There's the "generally don't lynch newbies on their first day of their first game" guideline, which is possibly to stave off groupthink for our sakes as well as the newbies' potential retention/benefit. But usually, it isn't.)

Nobody likes to be lynched. Nobody likes to make the wrong decisions. But at some point in time, everybody is going to. And by coddling the people who demand special treatment, you're not just alienating the "other extreme;" you're also pushing away people in the middle. I know this sounds cynical, but sometimes I think social life in general is more zero-sum than we'd like to admit.

(Continued/repeated in "How We Got Here," and to some extent "Selection Bias.")
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Mon Oct 22, 2018 5:22 pm
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