'Newcomblike' Video Game: Frozen Synapse

by AdeleneDawner1 min read29th Sep 201127 comments


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Disregarding for the moment the question of whether video games are a rational use of one's time:

Frozen Synapse is a turn based strategy combat game that appears to be particularly interesting from a rationalist standpoint. I haven't played it, but according to the reviews, it's actually a combination of turn-based and real-time play. Each turn encompasses 5 seconds of realtime, but that 5 seconds of realtime doesn't happen until both players have constructed their moves, which they may take as long as they'd like to do. Constructing a move involves giving your several units and your opponent's several units commands, watching what happens when the units play out those commands, and repeating that process until one has a set of commands for one's units that one considers optimal given what one predicts one's opponent will do. This happens on a procedurally-generated battlefield; there are reports of this occasionally giving one player or the other an insurmountable advantage, but the reviews seem to indicate that being able to play on a fresh field each time and having to think about proper use of its layout on the fly outweighs this issue.

Also, the game came to my attention because there's a Humble Bundle available for it now, which means that it can be acquired very nearly for free; just ignore the 'beat the average to get more games' hook.

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Let's not call shoes we like "rationalist shoes".

Edit: (Original title of the post was "Rationalist Video Game: Frozen Synapse".)

CARSON (turning to KEITH): Keith, would you like a cigarette? Here, this is a particularly rational brand.

KEITH (a bit bemused): "Rational...?" (A slight pause) Oh, I'm sorry, thank you. I don't smoke.

(Exclamations of disapproval from JONATHAN and GRETA.)

GRETA (lashing out): You don't smoke! Why not?

KEITH (taken back): Well, uh... because I don't like to.

CARSON (in scarcely-controlled fury): You don't like to! You permit your mere subjective whims, your feelings (this word said with utmost contempt) to stand in the way of reason and reality?

-Mozart Was a Red: A Morality Play In One Act, by Murray Rothbard

I think it has a deeper connection than being "a game rationalists like": it seems like an actual game where you can practice conditioning on the other player's decision theory, because, IIUC, you learn the various ways they would respond to various choices you make. And conditioning on another's subjunctive output is a crucial element of the Newcomblike decision theory problems we talk about here, and discussed mainly in that context.

This is the aspect I was looking at, yes. I wasn't sure how to condense it to a few words suitable for a title.

Very true - but then I would call it a Newcomblike Video Game. Which is actually juicier than Rationalist Video Game, come to think of it.

Should I change the title? I was under the impression that doing so is frowned on.

Less frowned on than "mis-using the word rationalist in the eyes of the community", I would wager. (Yeah, change it).

I see where you're coming from, but the majority of competitive games have a large element of modeling your opponent and predicting his actions. Without playing this one, it seems pretty silly to advertise it as exceptional.

If you play it and learn something in particular that's interesting from it, then I look forward to that post.

I see where you're coming from, but the majority of competitive games have a large element of modeling your opponent and predicting his actions. Without playing this one, it seems pretty silly to advertise it as exceptional.

Most games give you one chance at estimating your opponents subjunctive decision theory. If I understand this one correctly, it involves a lot deeper probing of their decision theory. This has significant differences from regular "predict the opponent" game mechanics in that you have to build up a strategy that works even when the opponent knows it (and knows that you know that they know ...). So it seems like the emphasis is unique, and matches the kind of reasoning we've talked a lot about here in the context of newcomblike problems.

I have a game I play on the subway called "Rationalist One-Foot", in which you stand on one foot for as long as possible and whoever falls over first loses. (It's "Rationalist" because I thus far have only played it with other aspiring rationalists.)

(yes, this is a joke)

(by which I mean I DO play a game called Rationalist One-Foot, and then hope that people do not actually think it reflects Rationality in the slightest)

The only way to win Rationalist One-Foot is not to play, obviously.

No, you win by standing on one foot for a very long time.

Actually, come to think of it, someone did win once by immediately pushing over everyone else. (Probably the best use of Rationality in a game of Rationalist One-Foot that I've seen)

Curious why this got ten upvotes.

I'm also curious about that, although not really complaining. I think it's hilarious that my collective posts on Rationalist One-Foot have netted me 29 Karma so far.

(The other highly upvoted comment relating to Rationalist One-Foot was presumably both funny AND actually related to rationality. This one I assume was upvoted solely for comedic value. I actually didn't think it was all that funny, but it may have benefitted from being a relatively unique type of humor on Less Wrong, and if others were to attempt to replicate it it would quickly drop off in value)

Your tsukkomi-fu is strong.

I have no idea what that means, and google didn't help.

Oh, sorry. When I tried googling it, to make sure it was figure-outable, the explanation was the first hit. I guess that must be due to a history-filter on my end.

Oh, that actually was an early hit, but the title of the entry wasn't the same as the actual term, and a lot of other similar Japanese words came up that made it hard to figure out what I was supposed to be looking for.

It occurs to me that I was actually mixing three languages using an American idiom. (The "-fu" was a la "kung-fu", "wire-fu" etc., and comes from the Chinese.) This is perhaps not precisely fair to expect anyone but Omega to get right off the bat.

So really, the conclusion is: I am just not very good at this 'communication' thing.

I got that the "fu" part was tacked on, but it wasn't an existing expression (whereas Google-Fu shows up immediately), and the word tsukkomi brings up the wikipedia article on Manzai, which isn't immediately obviously related.

[-][anonymous]9y 6

But man, wearing these shoes allows me to think critically about the path I take to and from school...

For the record, I think strategy games in general tend to make good use of rationality skills (whether or not they help develop new skills that can be applied elsewhere). I'm okay with linking particularly good ones on Less Wrong, but I do think it's better not to refer to them as "Rationalist Games"

The review alone makes me want to play it!