Personality in games

Recently my dad was talking about how you can really get a glimpse of someone’s personality by watching them play the game 10,000. If you haven’t played, it’s a dice game where as long as you keep scoring points you can keep rolling, but if you ever roll and don’t score you lose whatever points you had built up that turn. So there’s an element of risk involved, and that’s where personality comes into play.

When playing 10,000 some people (typically women, as dad observed) won’t ever take any risk at all. Even when the odds are greatly in their favor (such as when rolling all 5 dice, or after starting with three of a kind) they won’t risk the points they’ve accumulated. Some people like to just keep rolling until they score big or lose their turn. I’ll take a risk if it’s favorable (I always roll 5 dice), but I’ll take a lousy couple hundred points if there’s little to be gained by rerolling (never roll 2 dice!).

Another family favorite where personality shows up is the card game Golf. In that game there are a lot of time where you have to throw your opponent a good card in order to keep a better one for yourself (or to avoid keeping a lousy one). Some people, including a certain member of my extended family, just cannot stand to give an opponent a good card. They’ll actually hurt themselves in order to avoid helping out an opponent. Personally I just do whatever is going to do the most to help me win. I don’t care if I’m helping my opponent move from 4th place to 3rd or whatever. Sometimes you do have to deny a card to your opponent, but only if it makes sense in that particular instance, not as a matter of policy!

Those are just two examples among many of how personality influences how someone plays a particular game. Another very prominent example is poker. People are naturally “tight” or “loose” and it’s hard for people to change from one to the other. And in poker it’s a huge deal since play style, and the ability to “mix it up”, is such a huge deal at the poker table.

You really can tell a lot about someone’s personality when they sit down at a game table. Whether they’re timid, aggressive, vengeful, analytical, or risk-averse, you’ll see that shine through in one way or another. In fact one often recommended way to get a read on a poker opponent you’ve never played before is to check out the way they dress, talk, sit, etc. If they’re loud, boisterous, flashy, and generally aggressive even when they’re not playing they’re probably aggressive and loose at the table. But if they’re dressed conservatively and sit quietly they’re probably pretty tight.

Conversely though, sometimes an aspect of a personality will manifest itself only when playing games. All the examples I can think of this phenomenon come from sports though. I mentioned in an earlier post that when I fenced I was much more aggressive than I normally am. You hear all the time about athletes that are very nice off the field but play with a fiery anger on the field. A high school friend of mine (also named Dan) was the nicest guy in the world but people said when he got onto the rugby field he turned into an animal. I think it makes a difference when it’s a physical type of game as opposed to a board or card game; maybe when you’re undertaking a fast, physical activity instincts take over, but when you’re at a game table and going at a much more leisurely pace there’s time for a personality to shine through.

So how can we use this knowledge? If you have a personality that tends to come out during games it might not necessarily be leading you to the best strategy, so you might need to go against your own tendency in order to give yourself the bets chance to win. For example, if you’re playing Golf and you don’t want to give your opponent that really good card, you may need to remind yourself that you’re giving yourself the best chance to win, and go ahead and do it.

Of course, if your personality leads you to playing in a poor way, or a way that makes it harder for you to win, you might eventually figure it out after a while as you continue to lose games. However, there are a million factors that determine who wins and loses any individual playing of a game, so there’s no reason to think that if you’re not winning it’s because your tendency is to play “wrong”. But if you’re aware of your natural tendencies and can look at how they’re serving you in any particular game you can use that to your advantage and give yourself that much more of an edge.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Personality in games

  1. Great topic! Very interesting. I am definitely not a big risk-taker in and out of games. If I am being risky, it’s usually out of silliness or because I’m losing badly and don’t care as much.

    • dantherpgman

      Thanks! I’m naturally not much of a risk-taker either, but when it comes to games I’m pretty good at figuring out when it’s ok to play safe and when you need to take some chances.

      In fact, I kind of enjoy taking end-game situations where your only chance to win is to take a bunch of crazy risks 🙂

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