Today’s entry continues our series on cheating, in which I apply some ideas from a research paper I read. I’ll first summarize the research itself, and then dig deep into how we can make for a better, more honest tournament experience.
While parts of the article may sound pessimistic, it should be clear from the get-go that players are mostly honest and sportsmanlike. However, cheating also shouldn’t be understood as something limited to just a select few bad apples, but a common problem made even more important to resolve because so many “honest” players fail to register when they even cheat!
A Brief Summary of “The Dishonesty of Honest People”
“When people are torn between the temptation to benefit from cheating and the benefits of maintaining a positive view of themselves, they solve the dilemma by finding a balance between these two motivating forces such that they can engage to some level in dishonest behavior without updating their self-concept.”
—Mazar, Amir, and Ariely
I recently read some great research done at Duke University, which you can read here. Basically, they are trying to understand cheating better, as well as how various forms of cheating affect people’s self-images. So if you ever wondered why cheaters project their insecurities on other people, then this is the research for you!
The experiments involved giving students at MIT and Yale math tests, offering the test subjects cash incentives for turning in better scores (meaning more incentive to cheat), and then putting the test groups in a variety of circumstances to see if they were more or less likely to cheat, as well as how they felt about themselves after the fact. There were six experiments in total, which I’ve summarized twice, with a “TL; DR” located below each one.
Experiment One (“Ten Commandments Experiment”) tested to see if religious reminders would deter cheating. Their results found their particular reminder – the Ten Commandments – to be of little help.
TL;DR: Religion doesn’t cure a cheater.
Experiment Two (“Honor Code Experiment”) tested to see if commitment reminders such as honor codes would help. Unlike the religious reminder, it actually turned out to be of significant help, even though neither university at the time had an honor code!
TL; DR: Honor codes reminding people of actual commitments they have work.
Experiment Three (“Token Experiment”), a slight variation on Experiment Two, tested to see if changing the reward did anything. They determined that when students were awarded tokens to exchange or cash instead of cash directly, they were more likely to cheat.
TL; DR: The less connected you are from the idea that you’re taking something of substantive value, the more likely you are to cheat.
Yes, Pokemon are money.
Experiment Four (“Self-Identity Experiment”) added personality tests on top of the math tests, both before and after. They determined that even though several people had just cheated, their self-concepts of honest vs. dishonest hadn’t changed!
TL;DR: People’s self-concepts stay the same even if they just cheated!
Experiment Five (“Alternative Explanations Experiment”) sought to investigate alternate theories for these outcomes – namely, whether these results were impacted by factors like self-esteem, calculated risks about what they could get away with, and social norms. They found that none of these factors were significant alterations to the results in experiments one through four.
TL; DR: All research can be disproven and challenged, but there seem to be limited alternative explanations that don’t have a significant impact on the study’s results.
Experiment Six (“Opportunity to Cheat Experiment”) threw out the math tests and replaced them with general knowledge questions. However, the topic the researchers were looking for here was to see whether likelihood of getting caught was a significant deterrent. In each test group, cheating rates remained similar, even when it was easier or harder to cheat.
TL; DR: There are some situations where increasing or decreasing the likelihood of catching a cheater won’t actually change whether they do it or not.
Analysis and Applications to the Pokémon TCG
First, I should note that I am not criticizing or analyzing this research even close to as scientifically as I could be. Second, a lot of my analysis is also informed not by scientific backing, but anecdotes, experience, and general knowledge of the community.
Anyways, there’s a lot of good stuff in this research to apply to cheating, stealing, and general dishonesty in the Pokémon TCG community. So let’s apply it as best as we can…
Implications of Experiment Four
-First, let’s look at the result of the Self-Identity Experiment, which is by far the most important conclusion if true.
The basic idea is that most people see themselves as honest, yet nevertheless don’t alter this view when they commit dishonest acts. If that’s the case, then our community actually has a ton of completely under-the-radar cheating going on that never gets caught, never gets called out, and – worst of all – may not even be acknowledged by the cheaters themselves as cheating.
I CAUGHT YOU, YOU SLITHERY SNAKE!!!
People care about their self-identities, and they also care about how other people perceive them – that’s why every man is the hero of his own story. So then how do we move forward when in all likelihood there are tons of cheaters who delude themselves into thinking they’re all honest, wholesome people?
Players should improve their self-awareness so as to gather a better reflection of their true identity. You may not have the stigma of “cheater” in the community, but you may have cheated before, and thus deserve to be called a cheater. Doing this starts with reading stories like these, where literally hundreds of the best minds in the country were completely ignoring their misdeeds when evaluating their own identities. Failing to recognize your bad deeds is itself a bad deed in negligence. Thus, it would definitely benefit us as a community not just to encourage fair play, but uncompromising fair play. That means calling out everything, bringing the possibly undetectable things to people’s attention, and so on.
What are you when nobody’s around to watch you? That’s where integrity both starts and ends.
Implications of Experiment Two
The results of the Honor Code experiment suggest that obligation reminders help in a more academic setting, but do they help in Pokémon? For the first couple years of Nintendo-run World Championships, tournament staff would read from the Spirit of the Game as part of their introduction to the event. I’m unsure why this was removed from modern World Championships, so it’s really tough to say if Play! Pokémon’s own honor code reminder made a significant difference in reducing cheating.
One thing I would love to see implemented at the North American International Championship is for experiments to be done with the pods. For example, one pod could be conducted as normal, while the second pod may have special Spirit of the Game reminders before and after matches. Try to keep it as low-key as possible, to the point where not even the staff realize an experiment is being conducted.
Example: Players sit down at the players’ meeting in two pods, blue and yellow. While deck list collection is conducted as normal in blue pod, yellow pod would also require players to sign statements confirming they understand spirit of the game and will abide by it at all times. Then, see which pod has the higher incidence of judge calls, game play errors, and cheating.
Player honesty, game state errors, etc. is just scratching the surface at what we could learn. Maybe Play! Pokémon has been doing experiments all along and I just wasn’t aware of it, but there’s certainly more potential to be gained from doing so.
Implications of Experiment Three
While the implications of the Token Experiment are less obvious, there is still something to be learned about cheating when gains are less direct. Since booster packs are a great analogy to the tokens, it could help shed light on why cheating by people who identify as “honest” players in their own minds ever happens at low-stakes tournaments like League Cups.
However, the Token Experiment seems to bleed into a larger problem, which is the gap in ethics where people who cheat rationalize their bad behavior as “not that big of a deal.” I suggest, then, that when the prizes become less cash-like, the worse behavior you may see from people specifically they think that “playing for packs isn’t that big of a deal,” resulting in a self-identifying honest player scamming their final round opponent mercilessly so as to get 18 boosters instead of nothing.
This of course is much less simple than I suggest, for several other reasons which I think make our community different, in ways that an experiment like this can’t replicate…
Implications of Experiment Five
The researchers at Duke only looked at some alternative explanations; they didn’t look at them all. It’s also very important to consider that the setting of the experiment is quite different than what you’d get from tournaments. So here are a few special factors which probably change how to understand self-identities in the playing community…
1. Everyone’s friends, so we’re necessarily more incentivized to self-identify as honest players. Despite the competitive playing community having tens of thousands of people, it’s hard to find a player who’s genuinely unknown. We also get to know our local playing community extremely well, which is why in-tournament cheating is such a betrayal when it’s caught. For those reasons, incentive to self-identify as honest even after committing one’s own dishonest deeds is a concern worth investigating more.
2. Younger players are discouraged by the rules to not self-identify poor behavior. Three different age groups, and therefore three very different standards of responsibility, place our kids in a dangerous position to be numbed to what’s okay and what’s not. When little Timmy in Juniors is only given a warning for never putting out his prizes, or a group of top level Seniors are given slaps on the wrist for blatantly cheating, do you really think they’ll age up and be sportsmanlike adult players?
3. Self-identities of talent. The playing community is a meritocracy, which means that with some exceptions, the popular people are usually your good players. That in turn results in a ton of importance being placed on remaining “good” and putting up solid results. A lot of toxic things result from this, but perhaps one of the worst is increased incentive to cheat. This in its own right poses an interesting contradiction, because cheating necessarily results in a player’s stats being worthless. The whole meaning behind a player’s stats, including Championship Points, ELO, and win %, is that those are true reflections of the player’s talents. Yet when cheating is discovered, it naturally casts doubt on all of those stats.
Implications of Experiment Six
Perhaps the least applicable result in this experiment would be the Opportunity Experiment. That’s because while we have many situations which can replicate this experiment, our highest levels of play involve two important things which deter cheating: table judges in the final rounds, and streams. Both of these result in scenarios where the odds of one’s cheating going undetected becomes very low. This in turn shows that while people may be just as prone to cheat with a 50% chance of getting caught as opposed to a 20% chance, there comes some point where only the most idiotic people would cheat.
However, perhaps the results of this “opportunity” experiment are still applicable, because the majority of the game’s most notorious, infamous cheating incidents involved streams. So at some point, in some time, someone filmed in front of thousands of people thought it’d be a good idea to cheat, despite it almost being certain they’d get caught!
Then there’s the issue of dishonest play being tolerated by the community. But hey, maybe we’ll address that in a future article…
Conclusion, and some Final Recommendations
What will YOU do?!
Some people cheat and know they’re cheating scum; others cheat and yet have convinced themselves they are untouchable standards of good sportsmanship. In a game with so many incentives not just to excel but be liked, some people balance these at-times competing interests by never even daring to recognize themselves as what they are.
While I ultimately side on trusting the honesty and better virtues of the player base, I’m also convinced that our worst cheaters are probably the ones who delude themselves. Here’s what we as a community can do to discourage this:
–Explicitly encourage Spirit of the Game when reasonable and timely, maybe with reminders before or during events. SPORTSMANSHIP EXISTS!
–Make it clear that any prize or accomplishment stolen is a big deal – not just cash, trips, and scholarships. EVERYTHING IS CASH!
–Get people more honest, open with, and critical of themselves. IF YOU CHEAT, CONFRONT THAT TRUTH IF YOU WANT TO FIX IT!
–More emphasis on holding everyone accountable, including our youngest players. EVERYONE IS RESPONSIBLE!
–More emphasis on celebrating the genuinely good characters of the game. IF WILL POST ISN’T ON A WHEATIES BOX, RIOT!