Do you choose your character, or does your character choose you?

Do you choose your character, or does your character choose you?

It is a the start of a new game. An eager player begins by picking a character to play. He invests time and energy into learning this character. But then a funny thing happens.

Somehow, for some reason or another, he does not have success with this character. He seems to do better with a different one instead, one that he barely plays or practices. As he spends more time playing, the gap only widens.

You don’t choose your character, your character chooses you. Have you experienced something like this?

I suspect this is something that affects older players.

In gaming, there are two generations: boomer and zoomer. A baby boomer traditionally refers to the generation born between 1946 to 1964. In the gaming world, however, anyone older than 25 years old is considered a boomer. A zoomer on the other hand ranges from teens to early twenty-somethings.

It is said that the brain doesn’t finish maturing until around age 25. In practice, this means that the more youthful zoomers have an advantage in learning new characters, adapting to shifting meta-games, and simply learning things in general. When they pick up new characters, they can afford to be flexible.

Over time, the skills they gain from playing crystallizes into specific strengths. This might consist of knowledge, mechanical skill, and so forth. As they age from zoomer to boomer, two things happen. The first is that they don’t learn as quickly anymore. The second is that the experience that they’ve accumulated lends itself to playing in a certain way. For instance, if they’ve gotten good at a certain game mechanic, they will feel an incentive to continue playing in a way that utilizes that same game mechanic.

It is like building a house. It is far easier to change the layout and design of the house in the planning stages of construction than it is after the house has been already built.

When it comes to choosing a character, I would put it like this: in the early stages, you choose your character. But after a certain point has passed, your character chooses you.

But perhaps it was still your choice all along.

The strongest players are not concerned with playstyle

The strongest players are not concerned with playstyle

The other day, while playing a visual novel called AoKana, I came across a startling quote:

The strongest players are not concerned with playstyle. The best players will play anything.

I felt a little embarrassed. Could it be, that my interest in playstyle is nothing more than pure vanity? Wouldn’t it make this entire blog pointless?

Certainly, I can see how obsessing over playstyle can be waste of time.

A strong player doesn’t need to care about playstyle against the vast majority of opponents. He may not even need to play the strongest strategy to win. Against weaker opponents, he can still win off of dubious play.

Against stronger opposition, however, such dubious play would be dubious indeed.

Magnus Carlsen, the current world champion in chess, once said that he made a playstyle switch once he reached top level. A swashbuckling attacking player as a teenager, he later switched to a style in which he deliberately sought out simplifications. The ability to grind out wins in long, drawn-out endgames has since become a hallmark of his style.

Of course, Carlsen can win in a variety of ways. He can win both a “pretty” game, but also an “ugly” one as well. At the Sinquefield Cup, he was once interviewed by Maurice Ashley who perhaps may have suggested that the game he had just won wasn’t “always pretty.” Carlsen was not amused.

What do you want from me?” he replied.

When the younger generation of players, including Carlsen, displaced the older generation, there were a couple of attitude shifts to the game.

The first shift was the move towards a more diverse opening repertoire. This was due to the increasing importance of avoiding the opponent’s computer preparation. Whereas in the past players studied a single opening variation intensively in pursuit of a theoretical advantage, players nowadays have to be a lot more pragmatic and a lot less predictable.

This led to a secondary effect. Chess became more of a sport.

When Carlsen defeated Vishwanathan Anand to become the world chess champion, he employed a grindy, positional playstyle. He considered Anand a dangerous opponent in sharp positions. Furthermore, he took advantage of his youth and endurance by dragging the game out, exhausting his older opponent. At the time, such ruthlessly practical play was not common among the older cohort. The prevailing etiquette instead was to take a draw in many such cases – a “gentleman’s agreement” of sorts.

Carlsen’s play against top-level opponents can be contrasted with his play against lower-ranked opponents. Here, Carlsen often seeks complications in order to increase his winning chances. In fact, playing his trademark style might even be suboptimal. In a tournament, higher-rated players cannot afford to draw too often against lower-rated opposition. They need to stir things up, even if it means playing away from their core strength.

What is optimal in the context of a single game, therefore, may not be optimal in the context of a tournament or an extended match. What is optimal in the current era of computer preparation and databases may not be optimal in another era.

What is optimal shifts depending on circumstance. With that, so does playstyle. After all, the strongest players are not concerned with playstyle. The best players will play anything.

Playstyle is just what happens.

How to stop procrastinating

How to stop procrastinating

Avoiding procrastination requires willpower. So does going on a diet or quitting drugs. These things are easy to do, yet they are not easy to do.

It is easy to stop procrastinating. After all, one simply sets aside one’s phone or web browser, and gets to work. All it takes is a little bit of willpower.

However, even after many tries success may be elusive. Just because something can be done easily, doesn’t mean it will be done easily.

My current approach to procrastination is threefold:

  1. Resource management
  2. Prophylaxis
  3. Conditioning

Resource Management

Studies say a person’s willpower is limited. As a person expends willpower, his ability to exert himself further diminishes. Like a battery running out of charge, he feels increasingly drained by each application of willpower.

Naturally, one takeaway from this is to concentrate one’s efforts. Willpower can be regarded as a resource to be protected and managed. The idea is to not waste willpower nor expend it inefficiently.

The next study is about decision fatigue. The idea is that as one makes more and more decisions, one experiences fatigue. Satisfaction subsequently decreases.

An example is when purchasing a product. If there are too many brands and options to choose from, the buyer will feel less satisfied with the resulting purchase. The overabundance of choice creates doubt, regret, and confusion about the final decision.

With these in mind, when forming a plan or resolution, it is a good idea to keep it simple and focused. This may mean voluntarily limiting one’s options to streamline one’s intent. A common mistake is to make too many additional stipulations, and to give oneself too many options. If there are too many stipulations, perhaps the resolution may not be well-formed.

Suppose a person wants to quit Facebook. Perhaps he is tired of the distraction. At the same time, he feels reluctant to quit it all at once. He could risk losing contact with some friends. He could also experience withdrawal symptoms, such as anxiety or loneliness.

A natural try would be to limit his browsing. He may try to establish a quota for how long he can browse, what types of content he may interact with, which friends he may contact. He may establish rules, exceptions for emergencies, and enact penalties on himself. His plan eventually becomes more complicated than the city legislative codes.

In other words, his plan is doomed to fail from the very beginning. Rather than going on such a complicated route, he may find it easier instead to cut off Facebook in one fell swoop, making whatever sacrifices that are needed in the process. Otherwise, he will find himself constantly having to make decisions on when, what, where, and how much to browse, sapping his willpower each time.

Of course, the decision will ultimately depend on the nature of one’s commitment. What is one hoping to achieve by cutting off Facebook? With a half-hearted commitment, one may fail to experience the benefits of one’s endeavor. The reasons will vary for each person.

Prophylaxis

The next step is prophylaxis. This just a fancy term used in medicine and in chess to refer to preventative, defensive measures.

A common oversight when forming a plan is to forget to prepare for setbacks. It is natural to experience setbacks when attempting anything difficult. We’ve already established that stopping procrastination is not easy. If it were so easy, I would’ve stopped procrastinating by now, I think.

Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.

– common saying

Studies describe an effect called the “what the hell effect.” This is what happens when one experiences a setback, feels regret, and then says “what the hell!” and abandons the goal entirely. A person on a diet might eat a cookie, feel regret, and then eat the entire box of cookies, for instance.

It is a good idea to defend against this tendency in advance. My approach is to keep a log of my progress. The idea is like this:

Suppose a master procrastinator procrastinates 8 hours every day. One day, however, he manages to procrastinate only 7.5 hours. He still feels bad about it though. He might not even be aware of any improvement. He is dispirited, feeling as if he is making no progress.

What if one were to view things differently?

Instead of feeling dispirited, he feels encouraged that he made an improvement, even if small. He uses this minor victory as a stepping stone in the road to his eventual success. Perhaps tomorrow he will only procrastinate 7 hours.

Keeping a log could also help guard against the “what the hell effect.” If one has thoroughly blown off one’s resolution, procrastinating 7.5 hours in one day, one still retains an incentive to cut one’s losses and work to secure a minor victory. In this example, the difference between 7.5 hours and 8 hours is noted, not overlooked.

Conditioning

The final step is conditioning. The idea is to regard willpower as a sort of muscle. It can be trained and strengthened. Conversely, though, like a muscle, if not maintained, it grows weak.

Suppose a person were looking to lift weights to build muscle. If he selects something that is not challenging enough, he fails to acquire any gains. If he selects something that is too challenging, he is crushed by the weight.

In the same way, it might be a good idea to assess and evaluate one’s strengths and weaknesses. If one is not yet strong enough, then one will need to take steps to build up that strength.

A master procrastinator might have not just one, but many resolutions he would like to juggle. But perhaps the strength is not quite there yet. He may have better success picking the most important goal and focusing on just that, giving it his undivided attention. On the other hand, a strong man may have to seek new ways to challenge himself.

To sum things up, many willpower related tasks require constant vigilance. It is recommended that one work at it continuously.

Irrigators regulate the rivers;
fletchers straighten the arrow shaft;
carpenters shape the wood;
the wise control themselves.

– DhP