The Rookery

Madeline's thoughts on social deduction games, forum/community meta, and any other philosophical musings
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First Impressions of a Verified Math Nerd

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No mountains, no valleys
Never argue with idiots; they'll drag you down to their level and then beat you on experience.
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"Mathematicians like to pretend that they can't even add, but most of them can when they have to." - Calculus, Michael Spivak

It's true. Many mathematicians are not that much better or worse at arithmetic than anyone else. And I include myself among them. If I'm playing something like Ticket to Ride or Sheriff of Nottingham with a bunch of point-tallying at the end, I have no shame in reaching for my phone calculator because I'm too lazy to do it in my head.

And a lot of board games I enjoy, I discovered through other math friends! To the extent that all of us might be shaky at arithmetic, it doesn't matter, because it affects all of us. On the other hand, to the extent that all of us might be good at logical thinking/strategizing ahead to reach a goal, it doesn't matter, because we all have that skill, so it doesn't give any of us an advantage!

Board game conventions, or meetups, or websites, are not particularly representative of the population at large. There are societal reasons: people who have the leisure time and money to attend will skew richer-than-average. And there are also individual ones: not everyone enjoys manipulating cards or rolling dice or moving tokens on a map for hours. Those of us who do sometimes tend to have other personality traits in common. For another example, with the caveat that this isn't a scientifically-valid theory, consider the extremely non-uniform distribution of Myers-Briggs types in the microbadge world.

What this means is that attributes which may make someone relatively "unique" in the "real world" (whatever that means!) might not in a geeky context, and vice versa. If I'm briefly interacting with strangers, I probably don't need to mention my occupation or academic credentials, and that also holds in a gaming context. However, if the people I'm talking to are a truly random sample of the population, I can be somewhat confident that, for instance, I have more academic credentials than most people. This may be important if I need to "pull rank" on something that requires a lot of expertise.

If I'm playing a traditional one-on-one, winner-take-all, game with fellow nerds, it doesn't really matter whether I slowly analyze every possible game tree or just estimate things and go with my gut. (I mean, it matters in terms of whether everyone else gets bored.) But everyone understands that everyone else is trying to maximize their outcomes, whether that's formalized or otherwise. (However, there can only be one winner, which means all but one players are going to be losers. See below.)

What if I'm playing a hidden team game like werewolf? Now, part of my goal is to convince people that my viewpoint is correct and they should vote along with me, or at least not vote for me, whether I'm honest or a werewolf. Part of this, for me, involves using logic; "I think that the way A voted for B means that A is probably not wolves with B." But part of this can sometimes be bolstering one's own believability: "please trust me! I know what I'm talking about!"

This means that mountain-type personalities have an incentive to mention their RL circumstances, when relevant. "I do math for a living, you can be sure my logic is ironclad!" "We all need to trust X here, she is smarter than us mere mortals!" "Don't worry if you don't understand, it might be too much brainpower than your adorably diminutive brain can handle!" (In the last case, this can sometimes be the result of someone trying to be kind and display empathy for others, even though that does more harm than good.)

In the short term, this might help someone's argument carry the day. What are the long term effects? It might lead to an arms race where people cite more and more reasons (which might not necessarily be true!) why they're just smarter than others. Or it might sharply disincentivize other players from talking about their background: if Y mentioned that he does math for a living, but Y is also a jerk, I'd better not say anything about my math skills because people will assume I'm a jerk.


I think first impressions matter a lot. They can be hard to overcome! If my first impression of someone else is "they bragged about their abilities in a way that felt condescending, and/or not considering the fact that other people with the same interest might also have those same abilities," that's going to color how I see them for a long time, even if they don't repeat the behavior all the time.

I hope that the impression you've formed of me is not a bad one. (If this blog post is your first impression of me, hello! I'm Madeline and I ramble a lot about board games, especially social games like werewolf.) I say "not bad" as distinguished from "good." Maybe we crossed paths in a game where I followed the rules and made an effort, but didn't succeed. Or maybe we were both in a thread where another person shared a difficult and upsetting experience. I probably didn't say anything helpful or reassuring, but I'd like to think I didn't make matters worse, either. Sometimes mediocrity is just fine!

In the "real world" [citation needed], over the years, I often found myself earning recognition based on my academic-type/abstract thinking skills. But I shouldn't expect that those will be distinctive in a self-selected group full of nerds. Often, my best won't be good enough, and I shouldn't get angry or upset about that. (I say "shouldn't," but I recognize I probably have not always lived up to this standard. It's a learning curve.)

Now say my first encounter with person Z is in a hard-fought competition, and I don't do very well, and feel belittled or patronized by someone who was more successful. (Could be Z, could also be some other X or Y). My instinctive reaction is, "Z probably thinks I'm a loser and an idiot."

This may not actually be true! But I tend to universalize and assume my experience is standard. I judge by first impressions, so obviously Z also judges by first impressions! I think Madeline did a terrible job, so obviously Z thinks Madeline did a terrible job! You might protest that "you're obviously a crazy person and you can't assume that everyone is like you." But remember, if I were to say "I have a PhD in math, the rest of you guys probably don't, I'm weird and different that way," that would also be very bad. (See above.) Especially as an autistic person, I feel like this is a damned if I do, damned if I don't, assume my worldview is typical.

So what am I going to do in the future? Grovel and scrape like "oh, Z, it's me, Madeline, remember? The loser who made a total fool of herself?" No. Even I understand that this would be whiney and attention-seeking valley behavior, and that would put Z in a really uncomfortable position. But it does mean that I will tread very lightly and coolly around Z in the future. I can't really recommend this psychological outlook, but for me, it's the last bad option.
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