“It always remains a scandal of philosophy and universal human reason that the existence of things outside us ... should have to be assumed merely on faith, and that if it occurs to anyone to doubt it, we should be unable to answer him with a satisfactory proof.” – Immanuel Kant
I was talking with fellow gamer buddy Martin about the kinds of beer I like to drink (the wet kind) and explained that I once hosted a blind light beer taste test. I put Coors Light, Bud Light, Miller Light, and Busch Light into identical cups at identical temperatures. Each cup had a number between 1 and 4 clearly marked.
First, I asked each participant to drink them all and establish their favorite. I also had them clean their palate between tastes with water and low-salt crackers. Second, I revealed the four labels and asked them to identify their favorite based on name and attempt to match them correctly with their numbered beers. I figured the alcohol content was low enough not to affect judgment in such a small time frame (there were other factors I also conveniently rationalized away).
I feel inclined to add that all of the participants were familiar with these beers and enjoyed at least some of them on a regular basis. Most of them also had a clear favorite according to label. That is, they were “Bud Light Only” guys or “Silver Bullet Gentlemen”.
The results were significant. No one was able to guess the beers correctly greater than 25%. If I’m not mistaken the number of possible guesses is 4 factorial (4!) which would be twenty-four. Furthermore, many participants expressed amazement that their favorite beer according to label was not their favorite beer according to taste. No one matched their label and taste favorites! This suggests the power of mind over sensory input to me and was consistent with my hypothesis. In fact, I got this idea from the recent study that showed wine drinkers rated more expensive wines better.
What does this have to do with gaming? I suspect this would hold true for gamers.
Couldn’t we do something like this at a con? Have pre-generated characters and adventures ready to go, but not explain the system. Maybe the GM could do the rolling, but even that wouldn’t that be necessary. Some game-specific mechanics would give it away, e.g., you go insane, but if you were careful (see list below) it’s doable.
My point really boils down to this; just like people who rate beer and wine based on labels and mental constructs (see Kant, above), gamers do the same thing with game systems. Systems can be analyzed objectively and mathematically, but I’ve yet to see many people do this thoroughly (think empirical versus rational). Instead, it usually boils down to preconceptions and mental constructs.
Imagine a series of games, like a bunch of quick adventures, where the game system is not revealed and labels aren’t used. For example, instead of asking a player to roll d20 to hit, tell them to roll it and then describe the actions as a result. Instead of saying, “the goblins scream and attack” say something like “small creatures with greenish skin and glowing eyes gurgle something incomprehensible and raise their black spears at you.” This point has been blogged to death and I mention it here only as a tool, not my concluding thesis.
After the series of games, the players could then think about which one they liked most. Then, the host could provide the list of choices and they could try to match each session with each game. Afterward, the players could discuss the issue amongst themselves. Finally, the GM would reveal all. I bet some awesome dialogue would happen then!
I know… I know; this is a loaded proposition. It would be extremely difficult to control both primary and secondary variables. Furthermore, because most role-playing games are fundamentally subjective, it would be equally difficult to measure and evaluate the factors objectively. I suppose you could run the same adventure each time, but player knowledge then becomes a factor. If you don’t use the same adventure for each system you hit a different problem, but one that equally complicates the factorial considerations. I offer, at this time, no answer to this dilemma.
Still, if you had the time and willing people, it’d be cool, wouldn’t it?
I think my list would be:
Labyrinth Lord or B/X or Basic Fantasy
Lamentations of the Flame Princess
Swords & Wizardry
Have any of you heard about a similar experiment? I think it would take some hardcore gamers, but the idea is an exciting one. I also think it would make a cool Gencon activity which, as I’ve said, I will attend this year. Feel free to contact me if you’d like to drink some beer and discuss gaming in Indy, by the way. I’d love to roll initiative with some of you in person.
P.S. I am fully aware of my love affair with commas and have recited my pentitence to Strunk and White almost daily. It is an affliction of which I cannot seem to avail myself. I ask for you to bear with me, Constant Reader, as I battle this demon.