Hacking The Brain: Weird Psi-ence

I’ve been reading a few posts on Psychology Today. To put it another way, I suppose that I’ve been thinking about thinking.

Very meta.

Anyway, I came across this article this article which suggests a very interesting notion about the human experience.

Simply put, it goes like this:

Generally, we experience what we expect to experience. 

Now, this pops up in all sorts of little ways; we’ve all heard of the placebo effect, but it gets even more interesting than that – read the piece, it’s worth skimming. It seems like this kind of thing applies itself over and over again in all sorts of areas of our lives.

This got me thinking. Not just about how this applies in my own life, but how this applies to me as a gamer.

Let’s take Pathfinder, for instance. I have to wonder – did I have negative experiences with Pathfinder because my own expectations worked against it?

Maybe that’s a bad example, and Pathfinder is still a bit of a sore spot for me, but it’s worth wondering about. Did I find games like D&D 4th Edition or Mutants and Masterminds more enjoyable because they’re compellingly better, or because I expected to enjoy them? 

Are my reasons for liking them after-the-fact justifications intended to explain my own experiences?

I don’t think so, but it makes me wonder. And it does explain some of the edition rhetoric I’ve heard…

Anecdote time.

So, right before our first session of our new D&D 4th Edition campaign, I overhear a conversation between my DM’s brother and one of the players. I was a little wary about this, and with good reason: he jumped almost immediately into his assertions that 4th Edition was, “WoW on Paper,” and acted very dismissive.

I told the player afterward to ignore the guy, made a joke out of it, and everyone had fun. But the moment still stuck in my head.

Partly because – approached logically – the idea is so wrongheaded. But it makes sense if it was lodged in his head by someone else before he looked at the game on its own merit.

The funny part is that the dismissive brother plays WoW; you’d think he would recognize how silly that line is by now.

Logic doesn’t come into it.

No offense intended to WoW players, but … well, I’ve played WoW, briefly, and I’ve observed more than a few raids and dungeon runs as my best friend and DM plays through them. And I’ve never seen anything LESS like D&D 4th Edition.

When I watch a combat in WoW, I see a lot of standing around and pushing buttons. Mash the right buttons in the right sequence at the right times, and you win. Stand in the safe spot (but otherwise almost never move). And the healer spends all his time healing, pretty much all round every round.

In fact, it feels like they took combat, and then the pulled all the enjoyable tactical elements out of the combat. Combats feel static, apart from the multiple character deaths and resurrections every fight.

On the other hand, 4th Edition D&D puts a big emphasis on movement – pushing, pulling, sliding, shifting, and all the other ways of moving yourself and your enemies around the battle. I’ll admit, I’ve only played at low levels, but when I’ve played through a fight in 4E, it feels … alive. Dynamic, active, and engaging.¹

I could go on. I could go into how if a fight requires someone to stand around and heal you the whole time, it means that either your tactics are bad or the game is poorly designed. I could talk about defender mechanics versus “aggro,” (there’s a nonsensical concept that never gets explained in any way that relates to reality…) but I won’t, because anyone reading this either already agrees with me, doesn’t care, or is trying to think of a polite way to tell me to shove off.²

And it all comes back to expectations.

We find what we expect to find. 

What’s the message here? I guess when it comes to games, the message is this:

If you want to have fun, keep your expectations positive. 

I know that in the future, I’ll be actively working to put aside any pre-conceived ideas I might have about a game before I sit down to play, and will do my best to avoid tainting anyone else’s expectations of a game I, personally, do not care for.

¹ At least it was for me. But I played a Striker. YMMV.

² This isn’t to say that I have anything against WoW. On the contrary, I’m very grateful to WoW. Without the constant revenue stream from WoW, StarCraft II would not exist. 😉

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