High self-monitors are social chameleons. They ask themselves, “Who does this situation call for me to be?” Low self-monitors have a more fixed self-image, instead asking, “How can I be myself in this situation?” Low-self monitors are prone to see high self-monitors as two-faced and inconsistent, while high self-monitors may see low self-monitors as social incompetents. You probably know some people who could get along just as well in a biker bar as at high tea, and then others who are very good in their comfort zone but completely inappropriate outside it.

I found myself thinking of this in a gaming context based on how people adapt to their circumstances. Loosely, “how can I play my character in this situation?” versus “what does this situation call for?” I think we all want players to display some adaptability, but the range of what you think is reasonable for a game to demand probably varies in a way similar to degrees of self-monitoring. People with lots of alts are generally displaying more adaptability, but people with three alts of the same class (“Alice runs dungeons, Bob is my crafter, and Cindy PvPs”) are adapting on a different scale than someone who feels comfortable respecing the one character four times in a night.

I am a relatively low self-monitor. I tend to approach gaming looking for things that fit my style, rather than looking for new things to adapt to. Good content for me lets me apply my approach in an interesting way, rather than calling upon me to develop a new approach. That is not 100%, but we are talking about matters of degree here. On the more extreme side, I know people I trust to do one job really well, but I would never ask them to move outside their comfort zone (like most of the really good tanks I know). You have heard me mock one-trick pony players who have one favorite tactic that is devastating in some contexts but completely useless in others, and they think every encounter not designed around winning with that one-trick is broken and that every counter is overpowered cheese. My more adaptable friends probably view my tendency to play ranged support characters on that end of the spectrum.

You have three characters of the same class because each character is one thing. Bob is a crafter, and it would be untrue to the character to send him out as a PvP DPS character. High self-monitors may need a while to get their heads around the concept of having a single, fixed self-image, especially when you then abstract it to the self-image of a video game character.

I found the Tower of Nightmares to be very straightforward content. It encourages grouping, mutual support, and taking advantage of the structure of the map to find good rest and regrouping points. This is a great map for someone like me, and the range of adaptation was perfectly within my comfort zone. There are about three new mechanics, and otherwise just using previous mechanics in new combinations? I’m good at that. Other people were completely destroyed by the new content because they have been taught to solo, to rampage through things, and to wear purely offensive items (“full zerker”) and then proceeded to do so through a relatively old school open world dungeon with dense, fast respawns, environmental hazards, and condition damage. They died frequently and were very unhappy. My main unhappy moments were trying to corral those people into successful groups while taking another character up the Tower.

I found the Queen’s Gauntlet far less enjoyable. I cleared all but the last fight (read about it, wasn’t interested in trying) with minor adaptations to my main character. I found myself frustrated by bosses that required more serious adaptations, especially ones that would call for weapons I did not typically carry around. Adapting on a larger scale was not all that difficult, but I did not like it. Some guildmates could not cope at all with content that required them to change talents and/or weapons and/or skill slots 6-0 and/or tactics for every fight. That was just too much adaptation of who the character is. Other people really loved the puzzle boss nature of adapting their characters, and happily rebuilt them from the ground up or found an optimized build for a boss and farmed it for hundreds of gold. And then some people just happened to have the right class/build to clear almost everything trivially and did not see an issue (there was some Mesmer hate in guild chat that month).

In Team Fortress 2, adapting is as easy as swapping classes or loadouts. If I am playing TF2, I am probably playing at least 7 classes in one session. Some people instead rage against counters to their classes rather than adapting weapons, tactics, or classes. I occasionally find myself in that same rut: “I can’t clear that as a Pyro.” Oh, right, it takes me less than a minute to swap to something that can clear it.

I recently read Cryptonomicon, in which the entire Japanese military is depicted as a low self-monitor, psychologically unable to adapt tactics to changing situations. They die honorably in banzai charges, and then more of them die honorably, and they just keep dying honorably until they lose WWII. Goto Dengo, the Japanese POV character, notices at one point that the Americans have realized their approach was failing, admitted failure, and tried a new approach. The Americans are great technologists and traders but obviously not warriors who would throw themselves upon their own swords before engaging in such dishonor.

Or, “I gotta be me.”

: Zubon

5 thoughts on “Adaptation”

  1. Interesting. I tend to be a low self-monitor in real life, but in a gaming context as defined, I would trend more towards the high self-monitoring side of things. I love having a stable of alts, the right tool for the job and being able to switch roles and strategies on the fly.

    The drawback of high self-monitoring in a game is possibly that one becomes a nervous wreck in group dungeons. There’s no comfortable settling down into your one role and doing it well. There’s “am I doing my role good enough?” “are others doing their roles sufficiently well?” “does anything else need to be covered?” “do I have to flexibly switch and cover something that’s not covered?” “oh dear god why am I the only one reacting to this situation?” *distraction* *overwhelm* (thud)

    Oh, and it’s awfully expensive and inconvenient to switch up certain things in GW2. I would have enjoyed the problem-solving process of the Queen’s Gauntlet a lot more if I didn’t have to worry about and foot the cost of decking out a new thief or a new necro in the right kind of gear and build to solve a situation that my guardians were having trouble with. I did enjoy the end result, a necro build I’m having a nice time with to this day, but the cost was a big barrier.

    In TF2, people who can’t adapt to situations they’ve already been in are my favorite as a sneaky engineer with a movable turret. “Oh yes, that sentry gun is still here!” “Nope, still hasn’t moved.” “Whoops, it’s in this corner now!” “Don’t look now, but me and my shotgun are right behind you!”

    13 deaths later, they come back as a spy. *slow clap*

  2. Fascinating. I was hitherto unaware of the term “self-monitoring” although not of the underlying content. I’ve always considered myself to be reasonably socially adaptable in exactly the context you describe. I’m not sure my range would extend quite as far as biker bar to high tea nowadays but in my twenties and thirties that could have been pretty much a literal description of a not-especially unusual day.

    When it comes to MMORPGs, things are very different. To what degree is the inflexibility you are observing low self-monitoring and to what degree is it role-playing? When you say that “High self-monitors may need a while to get their heads around the concept of having a single, fixed self-image, especially when you then abstract it to the self-image of a video game character” is that the same as saying high self-monitors just don’t *get* roleplaying?

    The follow-on from that is what, if any, is the correlation between high self-monitoring and the achiever archetype? I don’t think it’s controversial to observe that MMORPGs contain a lot less RP than they did a decade and more ago. It’s been suggested often of late that the genre has become heavily focused in favor of Achievers and I would say there’s a definite and ongoing trend towards systems that facilitate the adaptability of a single character to a number of functions (Rift’s Soul system, TSW’s skill wheel, GW2’s traits etc).

    Whether there’s a direct link or not, the combination of an increase in content appropriate for high self-monitors and achievers would seem to indicate a concomitant reduction in content for roleplayers, or at the very least that an environment originally designed to favor them has become less favorable over time.

    Also, following on from Jeromai’s observation that cost is a factor in whether or not one chooses to re-spec characters in accordance with function, I’d add that so is laziness. I’m perfectly capable of re-doing my Rift Soul Points or re-traiting my GW2 characters. I just can’t be bothered. It’s tedious, dull, annoying busy-work. I don’t avoid doing it because I find it psychologically difficult; I avoid it because it bores the arse off me.

    It is true that as some form of roleplayer I do have a vague conception of who my characters are and what they would or would not do, but I’m not married to it. I’d be a lot more likely to “adapt” if I could do it with a single key-press. In games that allow stored profiles and macroed gear changes I have done that (although even then there’s the tedious busy-work of setting them up). But really, should you need to re-trait at all?

    If we go back to the biker bar/high tea example, isn’t the point of being a real high self-monitor that you can go straight from high tea to the biker bar wearing the same clothes and be accepted socially in both settings? If you have to go home and change into a set of leathers first, doesn’t that defeat the object?

    1. is that the same as saying high self-monitors just don’t *get* roleplaying?
      I would expect that a high self-monitor would be better equipped to roleplay a low self-monitor than vice versa, but either case would involve getting into a different mindset than one’s normal personality.

  3. Really interesting post!! You’ve definitely given me something to go away and think about.

    Something I’ve been playing of late (which I have no background in prior to these last six months) is card games – been playing Rise of Mythos, now the Hearthstone beta, just got into the Hex alpha, as well. I think what you’re talking about here is relevant to looking at how some people want to perfect a single deck and perfect their play with it; others love to constantly build completely new decks and try new ideas.

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