Spies, Narcissism, Egocentrism, and Solipsism

I was playing a birthday match1 today with jecat, and after one of the games where I was the Spy and thought I was highlit the entire game but in fact was lowlit, we got to talking about often this happens, even in elite games. In fact, the Spy often thinks the Sniper knows (or strongly suspects) who he or she is, and so Spies often find themselves playing conservatively even though they know from experience that when they’re Sniper, it’s very hard for them to figure out who’s the Spy; you usually feel pretty snowed under with information.

I got to thinking about it, and this Spy world-view, where you always think you’re the center of attention, even though there’s an entire party going on around you filled with people doing their party things, seems really narcissistic, or egocentric, or solipsistic…I’m not sure which, maybe all three? Fighting that assumption that you’ve already been made and forging ahead is one of the core biases to overcome as the Spy. You see it at all levels of play from newbies to elites, which I find very interesting.

This is all related to one of my core aesthetic goals of the game, namely forcing consequential decisions with partial information, which I’ve always thought of as primarily occurring on the Sniper side, but it really does happen on both sides. As the Spy, you have to decide to do something (accomplish missions), and then what to do (which mission), even though you don’t really know if you’re a suspect or not. How you go about this “doing” is obviously very important, but just the act of overcoming your confirmation bias and starting at all is something you can feel when playing.2 This is one of the parts of the game that I’m most happy with, because I think this concept of embracing uncertainty and making decisions even when you’re not sure is very au courant, in that most big decisions in modern life are made with only partial information, but you still have to make them to the best of your ability.

Here’s an edited clip of the stream with parts of this game and the discussion after it:

If you want to see the whole stream, it’s here.

In the stream chat, varanas had a nice quote on this topic:

Sometimes when I think I’m done for I’ll just start taking crazy risks because I think I have nothing to lose. I think it’s best to assume that if you’re not dead then there’s still everything to play for.

Given how often the person who thinks they’re doomed ends up winning, I have to agree.

  1. usually round numbered games like 1000, 5000, but in this case, 12 games around his 2222th game, since we missed his 2000 []
  2. This idea of games making these thought processes explicit is covered nicely in Frank Lantz’s GDC talk, Hearts and Minds. []


  1. KrazyCaley says:

    Indeed, it’s almost always the correct play to forge ahead even if you think you’re top suspect.  A lot of the time you’ll be wrong, and if you’re right, you were not gonna win anyway.  #gametheory

  2. artrexdenthur says:

    Very interesting article, it really nails one of the intrinsic draws of well-balanced asymmetry. It kind of makes me think of Richard Garfield/Fantasy Flight’s (Android:)Netrunner. The Corp, like the spy, has to trust that the Runner won’t guess what they’re doing behind their ICE walls, and the Runner has to take action or else they’ll lose even though they rarely have complete information.
    Also, I’m going to go ahead and call egocentrism as the defining term for the scared spy’s neurosis. The scared Spy most definitely realizes the Sniper is there, so I don’t think that’s solipsism. The difference between narcissism and egocentrism is tricky, and narcissism is often associated with loss of personal boundaries. However, egocentrism tends to support the self as important, for good or ill, and dismiss or disconnect with others’ differing opinions, which I think is more in line with the Spy not being able to wrap their head around the Sniper missing a tell.

    • checker says:

      Excellent comment, thanks! I need to play Netrunner at some point, I’ve read a bunch about it. I’m always happy to see more interesting asymmetric games.

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