This is a response to an article recommended to me.

So Bruce, according to Rizzo, needs to fail. He will influence decisions so that the outcome is failure. But Rizzo also points to how people point outward for reasons. “I got mana screwed.” There seems to be two bits that produce one idea. “I did nothing wrong.” + “I lost.” = “I deserve to lose.” I think this is the essence of Bruce.

Rizzo offers Bruce as a failure engine, an agent in direct opposition to whichever agent is acting on behalf of The Goal. The Goal is to win the game of magic, Bruce, therefore, is looking for the out, the way to lose. But it’s more complicated than that. Bruce has rules. If Bruce were really at the wheel, you might declare you’re a failure by crying and running away from the match. But you don’t. You just accept a hand you know is going to leave you mana screwed. It seems Bruce is inherently a hidden agent. He acts such that what seems like the most likely reason for your failure is not “I was trying to lose.” Or “I made decisions that pointed me toward failure.”

I’m playing with the idea that Bruce is not just the inverse of success. I’m thinking that evolutionarily this trait should have extinguished itself in a big hurry. If The Goal is to eat, and Bruce lets you purposefully go to the part of the forest you know has less food, you’d die of starvation before you could evolve into modern humans. So how can Bruce exist? I think Bruce is a social failsafe. Consider the following example.

Your nephew just learned how to play chess. He knows how all the pieces move but he doesn’t know anything about strategy and constantly puts his pieces into situations that causes him to lose them because he hasn’t yet learned how to check for that. You’re decent at chess, certainly no grandmaster but your fundamental grasp of chess strategy is enough that you can defeat your nephew 100% of the time (assume your nephew remains at the same skill level). You lose to your nephew. Why? Rizzo might say, “Bruce, obviously. Because you’re so terrible at chess even a child could beat you and Bruce wants to make sure you know that.” I offer an alternative. There’s greater social value in losing to your nephew than the value of winning. What is there to be gained by winning? Proving you’re better than your nephew? You knew that before you started the match. Getting better at the game? Your nephew’s skill level is so far below yours that your skill isn’t being challenged, just exercised. So, why lose? Because if you lose in a way that makes your nephew think he won by virtue of his own ability, you’re building his confidence. If he starts playing and you destroy him, you risk him thinking: “I’m terrible, I never stood a chance. I should stop wasting time playing chess.” You want your nephew to keep playing and get better, so Bruce tricks your nephew (and sometimes you) into losing in a way that looks like you did everything you could to eliminate any doubt in the victory. Your nephew thinks: “Wow, I just beat my cousin! Chess is fun!” and wants to keep playing.

I think that the interpretation of Bruce I put forward is based on what you believe is true about society, and how you identify yourself. If you think only champions win tournaments and you don’t think you’re a champion, Bruce will help you lose to make sure this stays true. Bruce helps keep our social reality predictable, Bruce keeps everything in line with what you might expect. Bruce is not the inverse of success, Bruce is working to support social true. You know you’re a loser, Bruce is just putting in the legwork of it. If you think “I probably won’t win every single game of magic I ever play.” Bruce thinks “Cool, what percentage of the games should you lose?” And some other belief about the success rate of magic players kicks in to guide Bruce’s behavior.

I think Rizzo also understands this – “You sabotage yourself because you know that you shouldn't be allowed to succeed. You've heard"no!" since birth and had it confirmed throughout your entire life.” --

I don’t know enough about the Magic community to know who Kai Budde is or if he’s really that good, but Rizzo presents the idea that he merely controls his Inner Bruce. What if it’s not that he’s restraining the need to lose, so much as he believes that he is the champion, so Bruce is not interfering because winning is what should happen, the champion should win.


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The hypothesis of sabotage for social reasons (including imaginary ones, when you think someone else should win but other people actually don't care) sounds reasonable to me, but in a way unrelated to playing with the nephew.

I think that in ancient evolutionary environment, people had only one or perhaps two status ledgers. (Not like today where each sport or a computer game has its own ledger of winners.) Because if you tried to act above your status, the person with actually higher status then hurt you, to remind you of your place. If someone is stronger than you and also happens to have more friends than you, then when you have a mammoth-painting competition, you need to make sure you lose against this person.

So, losing for social reasons, yes; but not for politeness, but for survival. You lose to avoid getting punished for winning more than your status would permit. The reason for the champion to win, is that otherwise the champion will kick your ass after the tournament -- you may be better at Magic, but he is still stronger and has more loyal friends. I believe this is what our instinct tuned by evolution is screaming at us. Even if it is not true in given situation, i.e. it is unlikely that a defeated Magic champion would actually attack you; because that is not how things would have ended in an ancient tribe.

That was the point I was going to make.

I think Bruce is also related to protecting your ego; if you invest everything you have in the game, and still lose, you're inferior. But if you're lazy or don't take it too seriously, and get back luck... then you *could* have won, had you really wanted to.

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