Existential risks: RPGs versus real life


In 2012, Jim Henley got tongue cancer, but it was the good kind -- his odds are like making a save-against-death throw on a D8 and needing to beat a one.



In an RPG, these are the generous odds offered by an indulgent GM. In real life, they're pretty terrifying.

Henley's post on life-and-death odds and the way risk is managed in RPGs is a beautiful read. It gets at the question of what RPGs are really simulating, and how we make our life-and-death choices in the real world.

Here’s a thought experiment. Someone, we’ll call that person the Game Master, wants you to accept a single D8 die roll, with death no resurrection on a 1. But as a sweetener, if you roll 2-8 you’ll get…something nice! What would the something nice have to be for you to agree to make that roll? It has to be a pure win, not something like “if you win, the person you love most in all the world lives but otherwise dies.”

This really is Russian Roulette for nerds. Put it in pure monetary terms, say. Fifty bucks? Not unless you’re a junkie already, right? A thousand? Not if your typical tsuris counts as #FirstWorldProblems. A hundred thousand? For the record, not me. ONE MEELLION DOLLARS? That’s real money! But, no thank you. I’d like to have a million bucks, absolutely. But it doesn’t overcome my loss aversion. And by the time you get to offering me a billion dollars, I think you’re past a level of reward I can actually grasp, making it paradoxically less compelling.

I think I probably wouldn’t make that roll for any amount of money. I wonder if your answer would be any different. I suspect not.

Moral: player characters are weird! Depending on the system used, our PCs undertake risks most of us would spurn.

Save Versus Death [Jim Henley]

(via Making Light)


(Image: meteorite 7, Windell Oskay, CC-BY)

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