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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

TIMELY TOPICS - Confessions from an AP Prone Gamer

I'm an AP gamer. I admit it. If I'm not careful I'll slow games down due to my over-analyzing of a game. The good thing is that I'm aware I have this problem, this affliction. The bad thing is that sometimes I fall into the realm of AP during a game and don't even notice it - and this can be an issue. If you game with me, you can expect it to take longer than what is suggested for the game. HOWEVER, I have been actively working to keep my AP problem under control, so when I say it may take longer, it now usually only takes a little longer. Most of the time....

WHAT IS AP?
In case you aren't aware what AP means, I suppose I should try to define it. AP stands for Analysis Paralysis. What it means is that a player can get stuck analyzing a situation on their turn for so long that they seem to be paralyzed with indecision and, in fact, they likely are - they can't get to the point of making a decision and completing their turn.

I'm sure you may have seen an AP gamer here or there. Nearly every gaming group has one. In reality, just about anyone can suffer from AP from time-to-time. However, a true AP player is someone who CONSISTENTLY takes a long time to take their turn, even if the choices may seem obvious to other players. A true AP player not only takes a long time, they often cannot decide which decision to make about a move and this may be truly baffling to other players.

Now, sometimes spending a long time on a turn is expected. Chess is a good example. People EXPECT you to take a long time on your turn. Chess is a notorious game for this sort of behavior. It is part of the culture really. Perhaps this is why some people are intimidated by Chess or refuse to play it...they can't deal with the length and depth of thinking that is required to fully analyze the current board position.

But, there's an important distinction here for what is expected/necessary for a game. Chess typically has players competing 'in their minds'. They are thinking of hundreds of possible move combinations in their heads. They are planning out multiple moves in advance for themselves while also trying to anticipate what the other player is trying to do and prevent anything catastrophic. This is especially important when you consider that money or prestige may be on the line. This isn't to say you can't plan out several moves in advance in other games, just that it's more critical in chess with the idea that several lines of planning should really occur to be successful.

However, I don't know that I would define that sort of behavior as AP. The reason is because they are still DOING something in their mind - it just takes a long time. But, it's still possible for AP to creep in, to get to the point where the analysis is leading nowhere and a decision cannot be made. This is why they have chess clocks, to force players to manage their time and keep them from falling into an AP mode.

On the other hand, AP gamers take a longer than expected amount of time on their turn. This idea is what I think is the crux of the problem - the EXPECTATION of HOW LONG a turn should actually be during a game. If one person is taking longer on their turn than everyone else expects them to be taking it, then they might be considered an AP player by that group, even if they aren't 'spinning their wheels' so to speak.

The interesting thing with this idea is that AP may mean different things to different groups. I, as an AP player, love taking my time on a turn and not feeling rushed about it. With some people I play with, me taking more time on my turn is fine and they aren't bothered by it at all. Other times, I might be playing the same game with someone else and, if I don't take my turn relatively quickly it becomes a problem for them.

How do I know it's a problem? Well, I'll get to that in a bit.

WHY AM I LIKE THIS?

So, what's the deal? Why am I an AP gamer?

My initial, knee-jerk response to such a question is: I don't know.

My next response is: Well, if I think about it longer maybe I can come up with some reasons why....ha!

Well, here are some reasons I have thought of that may suggest why I'm like this:
  1. I'm hyper-competitive and I want to win every game.
    • Because of this, I want to make sure I cover all my bases for every move, even if the move I want to do seems obvious. This sort of leads into the next item on the list, but in general, I'm just making sure I haven't overlooked everything - I want to make the best move possible.
  2. I don't want to look like a fool for making a stupid move.
    • I hate making a move and then realizing it was really dumb. Some groups/people will let me backtrack if this happens, especially if I'm a newbie, but I still don't like taking a move too quickly and just making a horrible move, especially if it will put me out of the game.
  3. I sometimes get bogged down in the rules and don't ask for help.
    • When I'm overwhelmed by the rules and possibilities, I can get stuck spinning my wheels because I just can't get a grasp on what's happening. This is why I LOVE player aids that spell out your possibilities - it at least gives me some options to work from.
    • Also, I don't always want to ask for help. I might not want to reveal my move/position. I also might not want to admit I need some advice on a possible move because I have no clue what I'm doing. I'm an independent thinker and I know I can get to an answer. And, I likely can, it just may take a really long time.
There may be other reasons as well, but these are the most obvious to me. Of course, it would be ironic to make a huge, exhaustive list here, but I refuse to do it. See, I'm getting better already!

A TALE OF TWO AP PLAYERS
So, as I'm writing this I'm coming to a realization here. The symptom of me as an AP player is the amount of time I take to complete a turn and that length in relation to the expectation of how long a turn should take.

The CAUSE of this symptom is actually one of two possible things as suggested by my 'reasons' above - optimization and wheel spinning.

The Eternal Opimizer
I think I fall more into this category most of the time. I'm always looking for the best move or combination of moves. I spend a lot of time evaluating all of my options. To justify this, I feel that if I'm at least looking for good options and actually DOING something in my mind and considering the possibilities, that this is less of a 'problem'.

This problem can be addressed easily if I recognize I'm taking too long and just make a decision. It may not be the 'best' or 'optimal' decision, but at least I'm not holding up the games for others. This is especially important for me to do when there are multiple people and/or when I'm taking WAY longer than everyone else. It's also important when I'm new to the game - I likely won't understand all the nuances anyhow and so making what looks like a decent move should be sufficient.

Cutting off my thinking at a particular point can be a difficult thing for me to do, but ultimately I know it's beneficial to everyone (even myself even though I want so much to win). I don't want people to NOT want to play games with me again due to my AP, so I try to maintain a certain sense of balance.

It's funny, I sort of relate this to a chess program I used to have on our old Atari 2600 - Video Chess. It had 'difficulty' levels you could choose for the computer AI. If you chose something on the easy end (levels 1-3) it would 'think' with the screen flashing random colors from 10 to 45 seconds and then make a move. But at higher levels it would 'think' for much longer, flashing colors for up to 12 minutes or even 10 hours if you wanted it to, covering thousands or even millions of possible moves. This was very cool, but also very frustrating having to wait. I knew what it was doing - it was evaluating more and more possible future moves, traversing the ever expanding tree of possibilities into the great depths of the game. Sometimes, it might make the same move whether going to 2 levels or 7 levels of analysis. And this is one problem of the AP'er - exploring the depths of the game much farther than necessary.

When I recognize I'm taking too long, I think about that chess program and try to use my 'easy' settings so that people don't get tired of my colors flashing - and, besides, my level 2 depth of thought may be just as optimal as a level 7 depth!

The Spinning Mind
I sometimes fall into the category of the 'spinning mind' - getting stuck on your turn where you're not sure what you are going to do. Usually this involves a couple of possible things:
  1. Having too many options and, even though I understand what my choices are, I'm not sure where to start or I get stuck in circular decisions or not seeing any good basic moves.
    • This most often happens during new games where it may be explained well and might even have a good summary reference, but it's so open or has so many options that it's hard to know where to start. Sometimes this type of game it can be crucial to make good decisions early on and, when you're not sure to do I can kind of panic a bit and get stuck.
  2. Not understanding the rules enough to make any kind of decision at all.
    • Sometimes I might miss rules during the explanation (distractions, focusing on other rules too long, etc), sometimes I might not understand them enough to be able to parse them completely in my head, and sometimes there are rules that I just don't get. All of this can lead to having problems making a decision about my move. This may also include not even remembering what all of my options are.
The 'spinning' mentality was something that was more likely to happen when I was first getting back into gaming - all the 'common' mechanics were new to me, the depth was more than I was used to, and the decisions to make were often overwhelming, even in games that I now consider pretty easy. I sometimes even now can have this happen to me, but I think it happens less often now due to other actions on my part that I try to take.

Taking this into consideration along with my desire for not wanting to ask for help, it used to be a real problem and pushed me often into the horrible AP mode that can ruin games for other people.


THE PROBLEMS IT CAN CAUSE
When I first started getting back into gaming I would many times spend a lot more time on turns than I should have. Honestly, I didn't know. I used to play chess in Jr. High and High School so I was used to taking some time on turns and it didn't bother me.

One evening, I was playing these new and wonderful games with my friend, Chris, who was indoctrinating me. Unfortunately, he had to put up with my horrible AP. It obviously became really bad when we were playing Colossal Arena which is supposed to be a game of fairly quick decisions and play in under an hour. I don't know how long it took us but much longer than the suggested hour. MUCH longer. I was taking FOREVER on my turns. Honestly, I was even somewhat aware of taking a long time but I just wasn't sure what to do on my turns.

Chris asked me politely if I'd heard of the term "AP" and proceeded to explain what it was. I was a bit embarrassed and, honestly, I don't think it helped me much knowing what AP was. I was still stuck. I think we eventually finished the game, but I'll never forget that night, how I felt about realizing I was an "AP" gamer, even in my fledgling career as a Board Game Geek.

I know now that the real problem for me that night was not really understanding the rules, not really understanding what I was supposed to do on my turn, but still wanting desperately to win. I didn't ask for more help as I felt like I should be able to play based on the explanation, but it just wasn't clicking for me at all. I had a great time overall playing games that evening, but that memory leaves a bit of a bad taste in my mouth and it's something I try very hard to avoid now.

Here's something important I should say now: I'm REALLY happy that Chris was able to let me know about AP. I got the hint. I don't know that it particularly had an immediate impact for me that evening, but it at least make me aware of how I am and eventually led me to want to avoid being the AP player that slowed down the game and ruined everyone's fun. Thanks Chris!

WHAT DO I DO ABOUT IT?
So, over time I began to realize the impact to other gamers my AP had on them. Now, some friends I game with don't seem to mind too much, especially those that don't mind taking time themselves on turns. This is probably when I have the most fun because I don't have to feel too pressured about taking my move quickly.

But, I still know that taking less time/playing quickly (or at least within a more 'appropriate' time frame for a given game or group of gamers) is important for the general fun and happiness of all players involved.

So, what do I do to help myself not be so AP?


Well, here are a couple of the things I've been trying to actively do:
  • First and foremost, I try to be aware of how long I'm taking on turns and, if it's too long, I cut myself off and make a decision.
    • You'll now hear me say something like "Well, I'm taking a bit long so I'll just go with my gut on this" or "this seems like a good choice so I'll just do that".
    • A corollary to this, though, is sometimes, at what I deem to be key decision points in a game, I will allow myself to take longer and really think through a move. I try to keep turns to a reasonable length, but sometimes a move seems crucial enough to take a little extra time and I still allow myself that when appropriate. I will try to say "I want to make a good decision here so I'm going to think about it a bit longer". This takes the pressure off of what I perceive as impatience from other people - they know I'm going to take some time and can take a break, get a drink, use the bathroom, etc.  And then I can make my decision without feeling rushed. They also know I'm just not stuck in my thinking but actually considering my options.
  • I make sure I ask detailed questions about the rules during rules explanation so that I understand everything as much as possible. 
    • Anything I can do to make sure I understand the rules will help keep me from spinning my mind for no reason.
    • Also, seeing the rules in action also helps me tremendously and I will insist on a quick demonstration if I'm still not getting it.
  • I make/print out player aids or make sure I get a player aid.
    • Good player aids summarize all your possible actions which makes it easier to get some grounding when getting started on a new game. Then, I can at least force myself to stick to an appropriate action and take it, even when I'm stuck.
  • I will say 'I'm not sure what to do here' or just ask for advice outright. 
    • I'm not so proud now that I won't do this. At least saying it this way is a way to ask for help indirectly which may or may not get a response, but at least it's a start.
  • Along the same lines, I might state what I'm thinking first and seeing what others think.
    • For instance, I might say that I want to do 'such and such' or accomplish some particular goal and then say I'm thinking about doing A or B, then ask what others think. This will at least help me come to some decision if there is positive or negative response.
  • Something similar that I see other players doing that I might try to do is talking through a move.
    • I don't do this very often, but might on occasion to get me through to a decision. 
    • What this does is let me air out what I'm thinking and, perhaps get a response from other players. At the same time, it also helps to 'hear' it rather than 'think' it. Something that sounds correct in your mind can sound ridiculous once you say it.
There are other little things I probably do, but these are the key things at least.

SIGNS THAT YOU MIGHT BE AN AP GAMER
So, how do you know? Are you an AP gamer? It might be hard to tell. And, you might not have someone tell you (in)directly like I did.

I think the worst thing about being an AP gamer is the fact that it's difficult to see yourself as one.

Here are some possible signs. Some of these may seem silly or ridiculous, but watch for them as they may really be indicators:
  • Other players tapping on the table, humming (maybe even the Jeopardy theme song - seriously, some people do this), or heavy sighing as you think through your turn.
    • I've noticed some of these things when I'm taking my turn. People try to be subtle and polite, but sometimes gamers caught in AP won't even notice these things or realize they are directed at themselves. 
  • Other players leaving the table to use the bathroom (or get snacks, etc) whenever you take your turn.
    • This may not always be a sign, but it could be. Just be aware if this happens a lot.
  • Other players ask "Who's turn is it?" and it is consistently YOUR turn when they ask this...
    • ...and you already knew it was your turn. Sometimes you don't realize it's your turn and that happens to everyone. But, if you KNOW it's your turn and people are asking this....you may have a problem.
  • Other players stating things like "this is usually a pretty fast game", particularly when you are taking your turn.
    • This is a clue about expectations. Consider the game. Consider who you're playing with. And, adjust your game play as appropriate to the situation.
  • Realization that you've already covered one of the options you are considering 2 or 3 times before.
    • It's time to cut it short. Make a decision and move on.
  • People avoid you at game days, game conventions, etc.
    • AP gamers may not realize/see this, but if you notice such behavior around you, this might be one reason why. Of course, there are OTHER reasons people may be avoiding you as well...but that's a whole other topic. Just know this is a possible sign of something and it's probably something you should address, whether's it's AP or not.
There will be other signs. Be aware whether you suspect you are an AP player or not. And, when any of these things happen, make a decision and make your move. Try to think about your move as much as possible during other player's turns and have some decisions made ahead of time. Try to consistently make your moves quicker in general. If other players after you are saying things like "it's my turn already?" or similar, you're on the right track!

AND REMEMBER - IT'S JUST A GAME! YOU DON'T ALWAYS HAVE TO WIN!

DON'T PANIC
If you've come to the realization that you are an AP gamer, there's no need to panic. You can get through it. Really you can. And, if you have a good group of gamers/friends that you play with, I'm sure they will be willing to help. Be honest with them and ask them to help remind you. Believe me, you can still have a great time if you don't win every time or make the optimal move every time.

For some ideas, look back in the What Do I Do About It? section for some ideas and work on it, little by little. However, YOU are not ME, so there may be things that work better for you that I haven't mentioned at all.

IF YOU HAVE ANY SUGGESTIONS, 
POST THEM HERE SO THAT OTHER AP'ers MAY BENEFIT!


MY FRIEND IS AN AP GAMER. HOW DO I HELP HIM / HER?
We all know an AP gamer or two, whether we are one ourselves or not. They often are the people that others are wary of - "Oh, that person is an AP player and I will only play certain games with them". I know of at least two people I run into from time to time that I have heard similar comments about.

If they are someone you would like to game with more but shy away from playing with them because of their being AP players, here are some suggestions from an AP player. Keep in mind that depending on the person involved you may need to be more or less sensitive to their needs/feelings.

Consider:
  • If they are taking a long time, ask them if they'd like some help figuring out possible actions or ask if they'd like some suggestions. 
    • Don't just jump in and offer advice. THAT WOULD BE BAD! Ask first and then don't tell them what to do but offer up what they possibly COULD do (legal, good moves and such)
    • This would be especially good to do if they haven't ever played the game before - they may be stuck with the rules or just have no idea even what to think, but they don't want to admit it. 
    • If they seem open to it, point out the obvious good and/or bad moves to help narrow down the possibilities. 
    • Help them to eliminate choices to where they might have one or two good moves. They don't have to even be the 'best' moves, just 'not bad' moves at least.
  • Be direct and ask them (like Chris did) if they know what AP means and see if there is a reaction there. 
    • This might need to be repeated on future sessions. Just don't nag.
  • Leave subtle hints.
    • This is similar to the signs I mentioned above -- doing subtle things to give the AP gamer a clue to move it along.
  • Suggest playing with a clock.
    • This might be a last resort sort of thing, but if you end up playing with an AP player consistently, this might have to be the solution. If they don't like it then maybe it will open up the discussion.
Please take these ideas with a grain of salt - I haven't really done them myself, but I've seen them in action for ME and they do help as they are reasonable things to do. Just be sensitive to your friends. It's not worth insulting them if it will cost you a friendship.

TRUE CONFESSIONS - AND A REQUEST FOR FORGIVENESS
Well, I suppose it's time for some final confessions:
  • To Chris: My apologies for being a horrible AP player early on and still a moderate AP player from time-to-time now. Hopefully I'm getting better....and thanks for putting up with me!
  • To my regular gaming friends: I know I take extra time sometimes on my moves. I'm trying to get better but sometimes you have to ask "who's turn is it" and, when you do, it's usually still my turn. Sorry....
  • To my family: My apologies for taking too long on my Rummikub turns to the point where I would optimize my moves to death, ultimately killing the fun in playing the game with you ever again.
  • To all future people I might ever game with: Yes, I'm an AP gamer. Please bear with me....I'm trying, I really am! Please accept my apologies now...

Whew. I wrote a lot there!

But hopefully it helps some people who have AP recognize they may have a problem and perhaps offers some solutions to dealing with it. I'm certainly not an 'expert' or someone trained in psychology, just an average Geek hoping to get the best experiences out of gaming that he can and wanting others to have a good time gaming as well.

And, I try to be actively aware of how I'm playing so that I can avoid being the AP player at the table. I think I've been mostly successful. I know I have my moments/days, but I also feel I'm doing well since I actually have others inviting me to their houses to play games....thus must mean something, right?

Now, go play a game with an AP gamer and perhaps help them to see the light. Just be polite and sensitive to their needs if you do.....

And, if you're an AP gamer yourself, go play a game and make quick(er) moves! Be honest with yourself and perhaps start to consider how what you're doing may be negatively affecting others around you....

3 comments:

  1. good article! I must admit I'm generally quite up front with AP gamers and generally am the one who tries to keep the game ticking along. The main point you mention that rings true with me is exactly what you stated - Hey! It's just a game..It's really not that critical really if you come second..or third..just fight not to be last! :P. A gamer friend of mine will often say, first game is always a learning game. Meaning, don't sweat the small stuff. Enjoy the ride, and after the game ends either set another date for a re-match 'now that you know the game' or if you still don't quite 'get' the game make your challenge to score better than your first game. I have another gamer friend who has been playing games longer than me. He's very, very effecient, and one of the best gamers in our group. But games with him are glacial. Now, I'd never go as far as avaoiding playing with him, because aside from his AP he's a good friend. But that doesn't stop me from giving him a bit of a ribbing when he's taking time to make a move when everyone else is playing at a good rate of knots. He, like a true gentleman, accepts this and grudgingly begins to make his move. The other thing I have tried is sand timers but that has never particularly worked well (apart from Galaxy trucker where it's part of the game).

    So I cannot hardly offer you much advice apart from saying harden up!

    Try and think about moves during other players turns.

    Go with your gut instinct.

    Try and mentally give yourself a time limit to make your move by.

    Allow yourself a couple of times each game where you're allowed to extend your turn for that 'crucial' move.

    Have fun - think of others and don't make a game painful.

    Hope my advice has been of some use!
    Kind regards
    wizardless

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yes, the 'gut instinct' is what I've been trying to do more recently. I can't decide so I'll just go for my gut instinct.

    I find it interesting that you say your friend is very efficient, and yet his game playing is glacial. Do you mean he's efficient in other things, just not in playing games?

    Thanks for the comment and the suggestions!

    ReplyDelete
  3. This was a good read. I usually only suffer from AP if the decision is key or if someone takes my move or makes one that makes me change my plan.

    My brother-in-law is a total AP gamer no matter what game we play. He knows and we mention it and say that a game will take longer if he is playing with us. But he is a good sport about it and we try to be pretty patient with him.

    I agree with wizardless that gut instinct is usually a good thing to go with. Especially if you know the game.

    Also plan ahead try to have a plan A and B so you have a pecking oreder of what you want to do next. This may not always be possible depending on the game.

    ReplyDelete

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