The Rookery

Madeline's thoughts on social deduction games, forum/community meta, and any other philosophical musings
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The Topographical Theory of Werewolf

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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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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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