Thursday, February 9, 2012

Why Discussions Turn Into Arguments (or, People Don't Listen, Part II)

A: Have you ever read a really interesting article online, but when people posted their comments it was obvious that they didn’t really understand what the author was saying and instead posted tangential comments based around the topic under discussion?

B: People make off-topic comments all the time, like male enhancement ads on the Rane forums.

A: I don’t mean off-topic like spam; I mean off-topic like they couldn’t quite grasp the writer’s point and were arguing in a different direction.

B: No, I know exactly what you mean. That happened a few weeks ago when I was reading a discussion about the Occupy movement and somebody posted about how Obama was being a socialist by not approving that oil pipeline.

A: No, you’re still talking off-topic.

B: I think that’s quite different than the male enhancement example.

A: Listen! Pick a random topic, say, Monopoly. Monopoly is a game based primarily on luck. If I’m the last person to roll in a five-player game, my odds of landing on unowned properties are greatly reduced. They’re reduced even further if one of the other players gets doubles and can buy a second property on the same turn. If I can buy fewer properties, I have a weaker chance of developing a strong position later in the game.

B: That’s ridiculous! Lots of games are based on luck! Settlers of Catan, for instance: if nothing but fours and tens come up, then the players who build on the fours and tens are going to get a shit-ton of resources every game. Cribbage is the same way: if I get a twenty-nine hand, it’s going to be pretty hard for you to beat me. Or in Hearts...

A: You see what just happened?

B: What?

A: I said that Monopoly is a game based primarily on luck, especially in larger games.

B: You didn’t mention anything about larger games.

A: I implied it. Anyway, I was saying that in larger games, Monopoly is based primarily on luck. You didn’t respond positively or negatively to that comment; you just went on to talk about how lots of games have luck in them.

B: Are you saying there’s no luck in cribbage? If we cut a starter card that gives me an inside-double run and helps you out not at all, isn’t that luck?

A: Of course it is, but I was only talking about Monopoly.

B: Maybe you weren’t being clear enough!

A: Do you think Monopoly is based primarily on luck?

B: In larger games?

A: In larger games.

B: Any game with dice or cards intrinsically involves some degree of chance! That’s the way of the world!

A: Yes, but do you think that degree of chance is substantial enough in a game of Monopoly to cause an imbalance?

B: In a large game, or a small game?

A: A large game.

B: How many players constitutes a large game?

A: I don’t know. Five.

B: You don’t know? This doesn’t seem like a well-thought out argument to me.

A: Fine! We’ll say more than four. Four or more players constitutes a large game.

B: You said five before.

A: Five is more than four! I’m trying to explain as best I can: Do you think that the degree of chance in a game of Monopoly involving more than four players is enough to create an imbalance for the player or players who are last to move their pieces?

B: I think the Chance cards have a lot to do with it as well.