In the past I’ve written about how good players make good games and vice versa. Today I figured I would talk more about what makes a good player in terms of skill. Specifically I wanted to talk about something known as ‘results oriented thinking’ and how overcoming is important. Let’s not waste any time and jump into it.
A quick Google search of ‘results oriented thinking’ gives a whole bunch of different results, many of them irrelevant to the discussion at hand. As such, let’s define this before continuing. ‘Results oriented thinking’ refers to valuing the result of a play, not the process of making it is. This is a fairly simple definition but there are two points that need to be covered before continuing. First of all, it’s my understanding that the term originated in the poker community, got picked up by MTG and has seen disseminated to general usage. As such, it’s important to understand that this term really only has its full weight in games that have hidden information and variance. While on some level it can be applied to all games, the full process here only makes sense for this particular subset. Second, I find ‘results oriented thinking’ to be not as intuitive to grasp compared to ‘anecdote oriented thinking’ so if you’re anything like me swapping those terms will make this easier to grasp.
Alright, we have our term defined, but let’s break things down a bit further. All games can be reduced to a series of decision points. These decision points inform and shape the flow of the game. All of these decisions happen within the confine of the rules and as such there are a finite number of decisions that can ever come up. This tells us two things: one that if we play a game enough times then the same, or functionally same, decisions will come up repeatedly. Secondly, knowing what decision to make is invaluable as it provides a sizable edge to win. In general, playing the game should be thought of as the process and winning or losing should be thought of as the result; but it can be compartmentalized into smaller chunks as well.
Now if you’re still reading this, then you’re clearly invested in winning the games you play, the result. It’s human nature for us to look at what we did in the past and based upon our success there to help us determine what we should do in the present. This is the crux of the problem with results oriented thinking. The result matters insofar as it is a motivator but beyond that we shouldn’t place much stock in it. Instead we need to care about the process that brought us to that result. This is why hidden information and variance are important components to consider. Most of the time you won’t have perfect information, so you need to act based upon what you know, both concretely and as possibilities. By extension, variance is also an issue, since you are dealing with unknown variables. Now it would be easy if whenever you made the right play you were rewarded and when you made the wrong play you were punished, but that’s not the case.
One of the single most important thing to understand about games is you are never playing alone; you are playing against other people*. These people also have decisions to make with limited information, and they can be wrong as well. Not only that but we can make the correct decision based upon the information that we have and still lose. This doesn’t mean it’s the wrong decision.
There’s another problem with results oriented thinking in that it can breed a fallacious line of thinking. If the results shouldn’t be valued as much, then how do you evaluate anything objectively? Isn’t it all just contextual? No, because the main thing to understand is that is not fact completely contextual. On some level there is an objective reality to games, if there wasn’t then there’d be no reason to play them, it’d just be pure chance. Understanding the objective truths of a game gives you the frame work in which you can understand the processes involved.
So how do you overcome this? The main takeaway here is that you need to look at the process you took, regardless of the outcome, to see if it was the right one. It requires a nonzero investment into the game in question in order to understand what is happening. It requires forcing yourself to think in a way that is not instinctive, and changing the way you think is never easy. It’s not impossible to do and there is a very real payoff involved.
I can’t really give much advice on changing the way you think but I can give some other relevant advice. Talking to your opponent(s) after the game is so incredibly useful. By extension talking about the game in general and finding out more about is such a boon.
Hope this was helpful, next week is a Solforge draftcap. Till next time.
*While this is also true for cooperative games, it’s not entirely applicable due to the nature of coop games. The variance and decisions involved on the opponent’s side are a lot easier to track and evaluation can be a lot more binary.