For Science!
How Your Mind Screws with You in Games Like Diablo

CJ Miozzi | 5 Nov 2014 20:50
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Diablo Cognitive Bias 640

Is your mind tricking you into believing something that simply isn't true about the game you play? It's definitely trying to.

Our tendency to think in a way that leads us to draw illogical conclusions is called a cognitive bias. Here are 14 cognitive biases that may be affecting the way you play your favorite game. We'll frame many of the following examples in the context of Diablo 3, but these biases apply to most games - especially games that include an element of chance, including dice-based games like Dungeons & Dragons.

1. Confirmation Bias

This is our tendency to focus on information that confirms our preconceptions, and we often recognize when others fall prey to this fallacy on forums.

At some point in Diablo 3, a new character named Kadala was introduced. Basically, she's a glorified slot machine. A superstition began to emerge in the community: you could improve your odds of winning by "spam-clicking" Kadala - that is to say, gambling as fast as you possibly can. When a new forum thread would bring up this theory, you would inevitably see resulting reports from people who tested it and - gasp - appeared to have positive results!

Here's what was really happening: by gambling faster, you're not winning more often, you're just getting the same number of wins in a shorter period of time. We discount the gambling cost and only consider the time cost, which grants the illusion that we're getting more wins overall. Our mind latches onto the "evidence" that confirms our initial belief: all these wins must mean this myth is true!

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2. Expectation Bias

This bias leads us to only report data that agrees with our expectations - and to ignore data that doesn't.

One reason superstitions propagate is because people are far more likely to report "positive" results than negative results. This gives the semblance that a far greater percentage of people are confirming a given myth than actually exists.

Let's say 50 people test a claim. 10 of those people excitedly post the "positive" result that fast-gambling worked for them. Five people post negative results - that they saw no difference in win rates. And 35 other people get negative results, but can't be bothered to follow-up and reply to the thread. The status quo is something that people often don't feel the need to report.

The situation becomes worse when the negative reports then become marginalized and ignored - surely, these few negative reports are the outliers who failed to rigorously test the hypothesis, right?

3. The Availability Heuristic

This is our tendency to overestimate the likelihood of events that have greater "availability" in memory - in other words, how recent the memories are, how often they appeared, or how emotionally charged they are.

For example, if you are a forum-goer or Redditor, you will tend to see a lot of excited reports of people encountering something that has a really rare chance of occurring, such as a rare item drop. Even if you know how rare the item is - even if you have the raw data on the odds of finding the item - the flood of reports will overwhelm your mind's ability to keep in mind how rare it is, and you'll think you're really unlucky for not finding it. In fact, you're probably within the statistical norm.

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