Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Homework Assignment #1

    I am a fervent fan of a semi-popular party game commonly known as ‘mafia’ (or in another variation, ‘werewolf’), and play it competitively amongst my friends as well as on various internet forums and websites. The concept for the game was invented by a university professor in the 1980s in order to test the psychological effects of an informed minority versus an uninformed majority. To be brief, a group averaging around seven to fifteen people, online or offline, are randomly assigned either ‘villager’ roles or ‘mafia’ roles, and the two sides work against each other diligently and through strategy, as well as analyzing the behavior patterns exhibited by the people around them, to eliminate the opposing side before they themselves are eliminated. The mafia’s goal, therefore, is to ‘kill’ the townspeople whilst trying to remain hidden, whereas the goal of the townsfolk is to find the mafia before they reach parity and dominate the town. The mafia knows each other whilst the townies do not—hence the aforementioned aspect of informed minority verses uninformed majority.

    Recently, I discovered that players were engaged in a type of mafia incredibly new to me: ‘outside contact.’ This new rule allowed players to privately contact each other during the game. This is a highly forbidden action in the original form of mafia that I have been accustomed to playing since my venture into the world of mafia four years ago, and I disliked the idea of it. Why? It seemed to take away the mystery, as well as give the town an unfair advantage against the mafia. To me, it was a form of cheating. A friend of mine (who, from this point onward, will be referred to as ‘Rafi’) constantly insisted that I play his outside contact games, despite my numerous protests against them; one day, this eventually escalated into a heated argument, which is something I am entirely unused to.

    Rafi said that outside contact between players was necessary for forming more coherent strategies, and that choosing who to trust is a fundamental skill in mafia that can be enhanced in this way, rather than ‘fending for one’s self’ when one is town. “I say that mafia should be played like Diplomacy,” he stated hotly, “and not like a blind herd of sheep hobbling about in the darkness, waiting to be devoured by the wolf pack.”

    I sat there for a moment, bewildered by an unexpected wave of passion—suddenly, without realizing it, I was in a debate about mafia. “Excuse me,” I retorted, my body beginning to tremble, “but the way you play outside contact is unacceptable to what I personally consider to be true mafia.” I went on to explain that the establishment of a ‘town leader’ in the beginning of the game (someone considered to be innocent by means of a special powerful role, such as a cop/sheriff, and that every single player claims their role in private to) reduces the game to nothing more than ‘follow the leader.’ Anyone who rejects the ways of the town leader is considered an infidel in the eyes of the town and hastily eliminated without any second thought. “That ‘blind scumhunting’ that you speak of is what mafia was originally intended to be. People should be allowed to freely play the game and contribute to the discussion in their own, unique way,” I continued, “and playing ‘follow the leader’ does nothing to increase the skill level of other players, save for the leader himself. It also reduces the fun of the game, and the essence of what makes mafia, well, mafia. Instead, it immediately transforms the town into… well, an informed majority.”

There was a pause.

    “You’re naïve,” Rafi scoffed, “and do not seem to understand what true strategy really is, which definitely isn’t ‘scumhunting’ in the dark. No; true strategy lies in deciding whom to trust. It is YOUR responsibility to create your own allies through your own judgment, and you can do this at any time, at your own risk—even with a village leader.”

    I stopped for a moment, and then pondered to myself this: what was true strategy, then, if it wasn’t the critical analysis and the delving into the behavioral patterns of other players, and therefore choosing your actions wisely based on these careful observations? It dawned on me that, even with the ability to interact with players behind the scenes, this element of mafia was left virtually unaffected. I soon realized that the problem here wasn’t, in fact, outside contact, but instead the restriction of opinions, proper techniques, and the gameplay overall when one player gains all of the knowledge on every player’s role in the game. In short: it wasn’t the new rule of outside contact that I rejected, but, rather, the new strategy formed to coexist with it.

    He didn’t listen to this conclusion at all at first, and the argument abruptly ended there for a number of hours. I knew for a fact how unbearably silly it was, debating so feverishly over a simple game. I began to feel almost ashamed of myself; it isn’t worth bickering so furiously over such a thing. However, why should I be forced to play a style of a game that I already knew I disliked from experience? If it wasn’t into my interests, I felt it unfair to be pushed by my friend into a time commitment that I knew, for a fact, I would not enjoy.

    He apologized to me afterward; I apologized in return, and there was another melancholic silence. “You wouldn’t have liked my game anyway,” Rafi eventually explained, and proceeded to show me the layout of his prepared mafia game. And he was right: I wouldn’t have. However, I still participated as a spectator, and watched the game being played before my eyes.

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