A theory of choice

"A glimpse of the dark side."

You are a general and you are surveying the battle field. To succeed you will want to both chose where the battle takes place and how it is fought. To be able to do this you will likely have to understand all your options and the options of your opponent. You will then analsyse what he/she may do and plan a strategy for success. Such is the way that great battles and campaigns are won. But the seeds of your destruction are sewn by your own hand.

The simple rules of Diplomacy allied to the complexity of the human mind together can create an almost infinite set of ways of playing.But there are ways to visualise this.  Let us imagine that every possible move, every possible action, can be plotted on a geographical surface similar to a landscape. Every point on this surface represents one technique, action or event that a player can use within the game at any given time. Taken as a whole we, the traveller, stand in the centre of a great landscape where we see every possible interaction and we are both empowered and required to select what we will do. Our goal is to the reach a destination that we call victory. We call this great landscape of options the choicescape.

Let us examine the concept of the choicescape a little.  Firstly we must understand that the choicescape is vast and undulating. It includes every possible move, every possible strategy, every possible tactic. It includes good behaviour, bad behaviour, unintended behaviour, real cheating and breaking the law. It is the sum of all options open to you at any particular time. Routes through the choicescape are legion.

Is it infinite? Probably not.  Although it could be argued that there are no limits to the variations of human interaction, there is a point at which these variations will not effect the game. So for the sake of illustration we can view our choicescape as having boundaries but boundaries beyond our horizons.

So the choicescape is vast and it is varied. It varies in terms of closeness, familiarity and accessability so, for instance, our traveller sees plenty of easy paths that are made of unchallenging and uncomplicated actions. However he also sees great peaks where the proposed actions are too difficult to expect success, he sees great rivers that once you enter will whirl you away towards unknown consequences and he see great dark forests where he is unwilling to go.  He may not see hidden traps or secret routes as his knowledge is unlikely to be complete. Our traveller ponders this vast landscape of choices.

The options are almost too many for the human mind to consider and certainly beyond a game player with a fixed length turn. So the traveller makes a decision factoring in what be believes are the important issues. He consciously dismisses some options as too risky and having little chance of success. A further section of landscape will be avoided because this general in particular does not "like" that type of action or believes it will affect his reputation as a leader. In effect, the traveller dismisses some routes across the choicescape and reduces the options down to a more manageable size. Then using his experience, gut feeling and sometimes out of desperation he makes a choice. All at once the choicescape mutates into a new set of choices and the game continues.

All players will reduce their options by utilising their experience and reading of other players and how they will react. Inexperience and unwillingness to tread certain paths further reduces the complexity until the traveller is left with a set of "acceptable" routes from which he chooses. It seems clear that inexperienced and naive players will not recognise as many viable options and will discard some unnecessarily whearas the experienced player will see more options and select more wisely. If you accept this then you may also consider this: as a player improves he will consider, and visit, places in the choicescape that less experienced players don't know about, cannot understand or indeed actively shun.

The purpose of these articles is to explore these regions and the reasons that they are not in common usage.  This is no tourist trail. The choicescape has some dark and dangerous places and some steps once taken cannot be reversed. Some travellers will walk away from areas saying that they are impassable, some may seduced by dark beauty to the point of forgetting the journey. But those that get to understand how each traveller both defines and destroys his own choicescape may also see a way to expand their own.

This opening article is no more than a fly by and a few questions. We hope in future to work with some of you to explore further. But for now lets look into one place -  we can call it the dark vale of ungentlemanly conduct. There is a dark valley on the choicescape that leads, or at least seems to lead, towards your goal. This is a place that many avoid. In here lie actions and approaches that others will decry as unacceptable. Using the valley can be a boon or a curse, bringing great success or failure. In here you will find options such as forwarding press, falsifying press, misuse of the forums, metagaming and multi-gaming. Some of these actions, whilst possible, are illegal and will get you expelled - yet they remain valid choices. Many, many more of these actions are perfectly legal but are deemed by many to be "against the spirit of the game". So here's the rub, if you are willing to travel by this road you risk the wrath of the enemy yet you can gain great advantage. Select use of these tactics may surprise your enemy, destroy his reputation with others, open doors that would otherwise be closed. Yet, dally here too long and your enemies will soon understand how you play and worse, your friends will fear that you are always on this path.

You may chose to keep away from the vale of ungentlemanly unconduct but, even if you do, you should be aware of where it leads and what options it contains. Your enemies may not share your values and when considering their selction from their choices you would unwise to assume that they also stay in the light.

In summary: the selection of routes through the choicescape is vast and varied, all players use a sub set of the moves available to them, bounded by their experience and morality. Those that select from a wider range  of "acceptable" choices will do better.

Next time we will explore the dark vale and look at some practices from it.