Tuesday, July 22, 2014

On Tilt: Origins

For the next couple posts, I want to explore the concept of tilt. And it all starts with the simple game of pinball, which I spent way too many hours playing. Not on a physical machine, unfortunately. But, I spent countless hours playing 3D Space Cadet Pinball on Windows XP. Granted, I was not the most skilled player, but it was still fun.

Of course, virtual physics don't quite match up to the real-world counterpart. Nowhere was this more apparent than in its "nudge" control, which would allow you to virtually "bump" the table in a particular direction, much as you can in a real arcade pinball machine. Rarely did this feature accomplish anything other than activating the game's tilt sensor. For those unfamiliar with pinball (virtual or otherwise), this tilt sensor immediately locks out all the controls and often cancels any bonuses or other earned advantages in the game. I distinctly remember watching that little silver ball bounce erratically around the course, powerless to do anything to affect its eventual trajectory down the drain. While occasionally I would heed the warnings from my frequent use of the "nudge" control and tone back my button mashing, usually I just ignored them.

Today, the term tilt has survived the near-extinction of the pinball machine and come into the world of Magic via poker. When confronted by a series of events in which the player experiences frustration, animosity, or bad luck, an emotional response is triggered. The player becomes more aggressive, more likely to make bad decisions, and often feels as if he or she is owed an optimal outcome due to the sequence of misfortune that has played itself out. Just like a poor bounce of the pinball would lead a player to pushing aggressively on the table to try and change the ball's trajectory, these events cause a player to aggressively push back against the game, giving up control and finesse and attempting to force good results through sheer effort. And in either case, this aggression ends with the player powerless to do anything except watch the silver ball, and his or her game, slide down the drain to yet another loss.

In poker, tilt results in players throwing away significant dollars by playing out too many hands, making unreasonable calls and raises, and stubbornly refusing to walk away until they win their money back. In Magic, while the stakes are certainly much lower, the same sequence can play itself out, leading to increasing frustration, a feeling of powerlessness, and the sense that one has lost the ability to compete. And in either case, tilt has no doubt been a major factor in the decision for that player to walk away from the game, never to return.

I should know. Too many times, I've allowed tilt to detract from the fun of Magic. And worse, I've seriously considered walking away. Next time, I'll share more about my own experiences with tilt.

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