Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Cognitive Dissonance, Dunning and Kruger, and probably some other things

Time for another psudo-apologist post about GW with a sprinkling of cognitive bias.  I'm fascinated by biases and trying to understand the reasons why we believe things.  Have you ever noticed how no mater what the topic is people tend to act in the same way when their opinions and beliefs are challenged?  Whether you have a Mac and a Windows guy, a Privateer and a GW guy, or a Democrat and a Republican, its always the same tired back and forth arguments.  It goes way beyond just the standard sloppy logical fallacies.  You can be dead right and still make a logical fallacy in your argument.  I'm talking about the way people think they are dead right when in reality they are dead wrong.

It's not rational behavior in any sense.  There are psychology studies that show that when you give people good evidence contradictory to their beliefs it only makes their original beliefs stronger.   A current theory behind this is that the person experiences cognitive dissonance.  The two competing ideas bounce around inside the person's head causing stress, so the person has to alter their perceptions to alleviate the source of that stress.  We also tend to value our own experiences over those of others, so we will often rationalize away any contradictory evidence instead of altering our understanding of our own feelings on a subject.  Other times people will just ignore the contradictions completely and not realize they exists ("Keep government away from my medicare", anyone?).  

Psychology is a soft science.  It's hard to do the controlled studies it takes to really examine cause and effect relationships in peoples' behavior without raising batches of clones in bubbles.  There are many compelling experiments that do describe the behavior I'm talking about as best as can be done.  You can read about the studies themselves by jumping off the reference links in the articles already mentioned.

"So how does this all relate to apologizing for GW?", you may ask.  Well, I think people have a few contradictory ideas about games workshop bouncing around in their head.  Often I see people concurrently assign super-competence and incompetence to GW simultaneously.   For instance take this comment that appeared recently on TheBack40K:
You'll never SEE a good competative game of 40K 'by the book'...because there is little profit in it. For example: Why make halberds +2 to Init and not +1? Because this makes Init 5 furious charge types too competative and along with things like GK termies getting frag grenades to one-up other termies...not harping on GK, just looking at how every codex does not MARGINALLY overshadow msot of the previous armie's books....if there's not much edge to playing and buying all those new models, who's going to lay out the cash?

The same goes with a unit's effectivness on the battlefield being some indication to GW pricing....for example, the Ogre Magi figure from Reaper looks better than the Obliterator from GW...yet you can buy two for the price one oblit. Why are wraithguard $15 a pieece, when their metal content is no better than a assault marine? 

GW KNOWS people love 40k Tourneys yet refuse to say 40k is a competative game. Why in Krist's name does it take years to get codex out? I believe they think a smaller consistant company with a captured audience is better than one that targets more folks with faster turn around on their game books. There's no reason new updated codex shouldn't come out every 3 years, period, and updated minor rules yearly. If they did a large Codex official rules update book for 4+ armies every year, a lot of the gamer tested balance issues would be fixed.
So GW is devious enough to know that they can leverage codex creep and unit effectiveness to dollar cost to maximize profit, but is not smart enough to release product in a reasonable amount of time.   Well of course not, they are too busy being capital 'E' evil.  The characterization may be a bit of a stretch here, but I think it's a common sentiment.  People tend to insist that GW is incapable of releasing a balanced game, but still can find creative ways of ripping you off.  You could argue that the marketing is smarter than the design team, but
a smart management would know that it's much easier to sell a good product than a bad one.

Sometimes I think that GW could do things better, but I also know that I am none of the following things:

  • A miniature sculptor
  • A miniature manufacturer
  • A professional game designer
  • A CEO of a company with an international sales and distribution network.
  • Responsible for the jobs of hundreds of people
  • Responsible to hundreds of shareholders
There is another neat little cognitive bias known as the Dunning-Kruger effect.  Basically, you have a hard time understanding fields that you have limited knowledge off.  So much so, in fact, that you tend to overestimate your skills in areas you are not proficient in.  In other words, you don't know how dumb you are.

We as amateurs and the uninitiated can look at the actions of GW and declare what they should obviously do.  Of course, we are only speaking from our own ignorance of the situation.  That doesn't mean I or anyone else couldn't provide good ideas to GW if asked.  It also doesn't mean that GW is infallible.  It does mean that, from our arm chairs, most of us don't have the skills and knowledge to make the right call.

Basically we all arguing about our feelings.  Projecting imaginary motives on others' actions and making false dichotomies.  It doesn't really accomplish anything.  I don't think it's possible to convince someone of anything by arguing.  Our self image and group status are much more important to us than facts we can't understand. I'm guilty of that as much as anyone else is.  I've often blamed game balance and dice instead of accurately measuring my own skill to protect my ego. The best thing that could possibly happen is you can try to get someone to look at the rationalizations behind their opinions.  Hopefully people will work things out on their own.

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