Giving your unpainted armies a ray of hope.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Rage Against the RNG

Before getting my Hearthstone beta invite, I had watched a few live streams and read some strategy guides so I could better understand the game. One term that kept popping was "RNG," or "Random Number Generator." I knew the term, but I had never given it much thought until recently.

I first ran across the term when I was playing XCOM. When performing actions, I knew a number was rolled behind the curtains to determine whether or not I'd succeed. One thing I noticed was that if I had a turn go horribly wrong and I restarted a mission, I would still basically succeed or fail my actions in the same order. I hit the internet to figure out what was going on and discovered that programs don't really like on-the-fly randomness, and instead will pregenerate a series of numbers, and those numbers will be used based on the order they were generated.

This was a bit disillusioning for me, because up to that point I'd assumed that there was true randomness to everything that happened, and nothing could be exploited. I even quit the game for awhile because I felt like I'd been lied to all these years! Of course anyone who's played XCOM can tell you that you can't stay away for long, but since then the reality of RNG has made games of random "dice rolls" a bit less lustrous in my eyes.

So what does that have to do with Hearthstone, or gaming in general? Because when I was reading through some beginner guides, one piece of advice that really stuck out was "Don't get mad at the other player. Get mad at the RNG," meaning that both players are working in a state of randomness, and no matter how poorly a game goes it's not the other player's fault that fate smiled on them or urinated on you. As I thought about that statement, I realized that I (and many others) have misplaced our frustration during a game.

Think about it - whenever it's a critical moment in a game, what happens when we draw a worthless card or biff on a crucial dice roll? Some people can move on without missing a beat. Many, including myself, get flustered. We get mad at our opponent, ourselves, or the game. "I hate this game" is one of the most pout-filled, immature, whiny phrases that I mutter to myself whenever things aren't going my way. I try not to get mad at my opponent, but it's usually open season for me, my models/cards, and the game itself.

However, we all forget who's really to blame - that stupid RNG. When it comes to drawing cards and rolling dice, players who don't cheat leave everything up to chance, with statistics being the only tool we have to manage the fickleness of chance. We try to outplay our opponent, but in the end success and failure is left up to chance.

Of course nothing about that is new, but I've finally realized the implications of it. When things go poorly, maybe I'm not always to blame. Maybe the game isn't broken. Maybe my model isn't cursed. If there's anything to be made at, it's chance, and I love that.

Randomness can't be fixed. At best it can be planned around, but considering no one created "chance" like they would a game, and chance isn't a being that makes decisions on who will succeed, it feels silly to even get mad at it. And although RNG is an artificial recreation of chance, it too is something that we can only accept.

This realization has actually been very encouraging as I've been playing Hearthstone. Although deck building and strategy play big parts in the game, sometimes things simply don't work out. In Arena, which is a draft format, I had one run where I went 10-3 with a Paladin deck because I was able to draft some great cards, and during critical moment I drew the exact card I needed. I was lucky to use a Paladin deck in my next run and went 5-3. Two runs later I used Paladin again and went 1-3. I didn't change as a player, and the game didn't change its rules. RNG gave me some bad card choices, bad opponent matchups, or bad draws. Maybe there was something that could have been done, but even if I'd made the perfect choices it's still possible that there's not a thing I could have done to prevent losing.

In one way, RNG can feel unfair because it sucks not to be in control of one's success. However, I'm also discovering that it is an oft-ignored, but totally worthy target of our ire when a game goes sour. By that logic I suppose we should also attribute good games to it, but for now I think I'll settle with accepting that randomness happens, and sometimes a bad game is an anomaly and no reason to beat up myself or the games I love.

See you tomorrow!

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