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  • Writer's pictureRicky

Games let us practice suffering Bad Luck

First I’ll share my story. Then I’d love to hear yours.

In Twilight Imperium, there’s a unique hex called the Gravity Rift.

As beautiful as it is deadly.

Ships that pass through the Gravity Rift gain +1 movement as they slingshot around the black hole or whatever. But the Gravity Rift is dangerous. Each ship has to roll a die from 1-10, and on a a result of 1-3, that ship (and anything it’s carrying) gets sucked in and destroyed.

This simple risk-reward mechanic leads to memorable moments and choices.

One time while playing with friends, I decided to launch an unexpected sneak attack on my neighbor. I sent not one but TWO pricy Dreadnoughts, each carrying an invading army, that could just reach my friend’s unguarded planet through the Gravity Rift.

Each ship had a 30% chance of destruction. But I only needed one ship to make it through and claim the planet. There was only a 9% chance that both would be destroyed.

I rolled the first die.

It was a 1.

Not even close. One Dreadnought and one army came off the board.

And the whole table leaned in.

It was too late to back out now—I had already committed both ships to traverse the Gravity Rift. “Here we go!” I said and rolled the second die.

It was a 3. Close but no cigar.

The whole table erupted into laughter, and my friend breathed a sigh of relief.

So my sneak attack never materialized, and this devastating blow to my early navy set me back substantially. I don’t remember who ultimately won, but it sure wasn’t me. And I wasn’t even mad—I had accepted that risk, and the possibility of disaster.

A few dice rolls provided us with an incredible result to weave into our ongoing narrative. What had happened, a gravity storm? Had one ship gone down trying to save the other? Did they transmit their final screams as they were sucked into the Gravity Rift?

I’m very interested in the idea that games let us practice suffering bad luck. And now, I’m submitting a proposal for a controlled study exploring how players assess, experience, and interpret unlucky outcomes in games.

But every experiment starts with a question: What do I hope to learn?

Well, that’s where I’m reaching out to you.

I have several ideas and hypotheses I’d like to investigate. But first, let me ask:

  • Do you have a story of suffering bad luck in a game? Was it foreseen or a total surprise?

  • How did you interpret that bad luck and respond within the game? Did you respond outside the game?

  • Do you think your experience changed how you think about bad luck in real life?

Just looking for folks’ informal anecdotes and reflections in the comments. Would really love to hear from you—anything helps!



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Andrew Russell
Andrew Russell
Sep 24, 2023

Bad luck is present in a lot of games I play! Particularly there seems to be two kinds of bad luck. The first is the kind that just happens without any sort of direct influence or control. Like in the game Cascadia, where the "resources" provided to you when it is your turn are largely out of ANY of the players hands and are just placed there by a random assortment of grabbing pieces from a black bag. The second kind of luck seems to be the one you described in your game and often when I play DnD. Where players make a "calculated risk" (oh, that can't possibly happen to me! It's like 1 in 100 chances, and the…


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