Quote: Nethack

A friend of mine on difficult video games and accomplishment:

Have you heard of the game NetHack?

It’s been in continuous development for the last 20 years or so. It’s all text-based graphics, very spartan in that sense, but those limited graphics make for extremely rich and deep gameplay and interaction with the world.

Oh, and it’s really, really fucking hard.

When you die, you’re dead forever. And it’s really easy to die.

Basically, every time you touch a key on your keyboard, a turn passes.

If you hold a direction key on your keyboard, 20 turns will pass and you’ll have moved 20 squares.

It’s very, very possible to have a threat emerge and kill you in 2-3 turns. The game requires extreme patience, caution, and planning to get through. Even that might not be enough, but it’s definitely required.

Beating NetHack is called “ascending” – I finally did it after a few years of playing.

And afterwards, I thought to myself – you know, I bet it’s easier to start a bank in the real world than it is to ascend in NetHack.

… Anyways. I haven’t started a bank yet. But I really seriously suspect it’s easier than beating NetHack. If you took 200,000 perfectly normal people and split them into groups of 100,000 – and half of them were instructed to beat NetHack and the other half were instructed to start a bank, and it was a really big deal if you succeeded or failed… I bet you’d get more new banks than NetHack ascensions.

His points:

1. If you can win a hellishly difficult video game, you should be able to do almost anything.

2. If you can structure your life like a video game– e.g., forgiving learning curves, point-based progression systems, rewards for difficult accomplishments, carefully selected addictions— it can really help better yourself.

I basically agree. Regarding #1, I think video games are somewhat akin to very broad IQ tests (probably a much better IQ test than the “standard” psychometric suite!), and as such don’t test for everything. There’s more to achievement than IQ. But if you can beat, say, any of the Civilization games on the hardest difficulty, it’s good evidence that you can handle complexity much, much better than most people. (Maybe you should start a bank!)

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4 thoughts on “Quote: Nethack

  1. You are so clearly onto something here. When we play complex video games, it allows us to pit OUR best attributes against others best attributes, or the machine. For example, if creativity is your strength it will certainly be an asset in a complex game. Methodical thought may be my asset. In effect I can pit the strength of my asset against the strength of your asset, even if we aren’t competing one on one. If my methodical nature allows me to more easily beat a game than you.. then I win. So in effect these very complex games that allow for very different skills set to be tested and be possibly successful would be a far better test of a person’s abilities than an IQ test. Additionally, it would allow for varying degrees of each strength to be tested. A jack of all trades type person may far better than someone that is EXTREMELY logical but lacks an ounce of creativity. The Jack of all trades would be able to draw from his (limited) abilities as the situation required. It’s an interesting thought. I suppose, in a way it is like letting someone live a life in a compressed amount of time to see how they will be at real life. Immerse them in a situation where they are asked repeatedly to succeed or fail using whatever skills or strengths they possess. It’s like a Life monte carlo simulation.

  2. Interesting… so video games would test multiple cognitive attributes, but it could be “my best attribute vs your best attribute”, “a weighted average of my attributes vs a weighted average of yours”, or “my worst attribute vs your worst”. Depending on the type of game.

    1. Or any combination. It could be “my best vs your weighted average”. It sort of pits your ability to A. decide what attributes are valuable and usefule and B. what attributes you HAVE and how strong they are. Like I said, it’s almost monte carlo simulation of real life. You know what I mean?

  3. I’ve played Nethack. ‘Forgiving learning curve’ is not a phrase I would use to describe it. Ever.

    I’m not saying his Point #2 doesn’t have some merit to it, but Nethack is not the poster child I would choose.

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