What do you think about Game Theorists’ new video “The Strategy of Sex Appeal in Dead or Alive”?

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Personally I think everything about it can be summed up by the final moments, where the host (MatPat) boldly announces he’s proven something then immediately backtracks to say it’s “just a theory”. Also I think that it’s pretty morally reprehensible to try make a video shaming a community for trying to be more inviting. In this case it’s even worse than the absurdity of the SMITE video that MatPat made. So I feel obligated to vivisect it so we can reference to it later.

The (really long) full in depth breakdown is below the cut, but here’s the core of what I really want people to take away: Game Theorist is not a channel for actual discussion of game issues, it’s goal is not to make you better informed.  If you’re looking for that, I highly recommend ditching MatPat and instead checking out what Jamin Warren has to say every week at PBS Games Show. For starters, you’ll see Jamin do something that GT never does:

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In this case I did find at least one of MatPat’s sources and confirmed that he completely misread the information.  This is only possible if he didn’t read closely or investigate – meaning he just rushed to find something to confirm biases and allow for pretentious claims of “it’s science!”.

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(Simply put: “The smartest show in gaming”, isn’t)

So what is Games Theorist? It’s a way for the GT crew to make money by pretending to be clever in a way that flatters people and builds trust through reassurance – right before a message from their sponsor.  Much like how some ads tell a heart warming story followed by an endorsement for a company.  Basically every episode GT is the “bait” portion of an ad. And so, you should never expect that will challenge the status quo too much (unless it’s by reassuring their audience it’s not their fault and/or they’re different).

To quote the immoral Don Draper, “Advertising is based on one thing: Happiness. And do you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It’s freedom from fear. It’s a billboard on the side of the road that screams with reassurance that whatever you’re doing is okay. You are okay.

There’s simply more money and more praise in it for the GT crew to tell you placating stories about how the things you don’t like are bad and the things you like are okay than there is for them to challenge the audience in a way that might alienate some and get others so invested in a single discussion that GT doesn’t plan to return to.

That’s why MatPat will tell you SMITE goddesses aren’t commercially sexualized even though they clearly are, or that regardless of what the community who play it say – sexy costumes are essential to Dead or Alive strategy.  He wants his audience to come away from the video feeling that he made them feel OK with whatever them are doing, so them’ll come back again and again and again.

Seriously, MatPat himself has said that defending these costumes makes you a mindless puppet of the games industry because they basically leverage outrage to get publicity and hence attention (or course, it’s not your fault – you couldn’t have known unless you were MatPat!). He’s also more or less as shameless as they are, putting affiliate links in his video descriptions, one minute ads at the end of the videos and well…

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So seriously, before you take anything MatPat or any other Game Theorist crew member says – remember that they have a vested financial interest in telling you you not that just what you want to hear, but that you’re smarter for believing it.  He also has a vested financial interest in keeping his subscriber count as high as possible (not just from direct ad revenue but from credibility as a branding/SEO consultant).

– wincenworks

The Strategy of The Strategy of Sex Appeal in Dead or Alive 

The video is basically a train wreck and quite fascinating from an analytical point of view as it showcases pretty much all the hallmarks of pseudo-intellectualism used to try to maintain privilege and falsely assert superiority.  It’s a testament to how hard people can work to maintain the ignorance that automatically comes with privilege, and how the default method to dealing with challenges like this is to try to change the topic and claim superiority.

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It claims the strategic value of the outfits is the Distraction Bonus (yes, that one – my key arguments against it are here) and never touches on why the player who chooses the outfit won’t be more distracted than their opponent (after all you have no way to know what your opponent finds particularly sexy). Apparently MatPat thinks competitive Dead or Alive (DOA) tournament players play with their eyes closed!

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This claim is backed up by a a study we are shown the title of but not linked to or quoted from. This study tested how aroused the men were by films and their reaction times to tones played while the men were watching and is behind a $39.95 paywall.   So right off the bat, he’s comparing paying attention to when someone plays noise while you’re watching sexy times to playing a video game which has sexy outfits in it.  Apparently MatPat thinks of playing DOA as watching porn with occasional distractions…. well that may be true in some cases but probably not with competitive players.

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There are more problems – one of which is that regardless of stimuli you can avoid arousal by imagining or focusing on something else, for this reason, the arousal testing method is not considered reliable for a very important reason:  You can get false positives or false negatives if distract yourself from the stimuli (as anyone who’s ever gotten an awkward boner from daydreaming knows). Therefore it seems likely distract yourself enough to avoid “arousal” problems by say… investing 100% of your focus into winning a video game you’re passionate about! MatPat claims otherwise without sources or any other basis other than it’s convenient for this “theory”.

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But there’s more! In order to try to make it look like he paid attention he starts talking about habituation – that is the tendency of a stimuli to be less effective over repeated exposure.  He claims you can use this to your advantage by alternating outfits – again bringing into question how you prevent this effecting yourself and how it’s going to be “novelty” to show them a different costume they’ve seen hundreds of times before, because the test showed a small improvement in response time (not a full restoration) to films the subjects had seen eighteen times.  Novelty can’t fix everything, especially not this video.

But there’s more!  He then asks the most compelling question of the video, the one that puts everything you need to know about MatPat and Game Theorist’s understanding of women, representation and sexism into proper light:

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MatPat is responding to a community trying to expand it’s membership and include people who are put off by hyper-sexualized imagery by speculating that women don’t even play the game! Basically advocating that the non-existent “tactical” aspects of sexy wardrobes are more important than making a community welcoming. (Spoiler: Women do play Dead or Alive games and it would have taken about one minute of searching for him to confirm this – that’s how little he cares.) 

Since MatPat can’t imagine anyone who isn’t heterosexual and doesn’t conform to his expectations – he then assumes that he can say which male fighters would be most appealing based off more studies he doesn’t share so we can’t investigate further or check his interpretation of the data!  Not only that, it means researchers are not getting credit for their work. Basically if fucks over everyone except MatPat.

Then he goes on to claim that women are always a disadvantage because “decades of studies” (he can’t point us to) then scrolls over the contents of a “recent” study from 2006 which used data from 1987 (prior to the rise of the video game generation). This is where we get conformation that MatPat’s research is profoundly worthless in a manner that highlights why you should never take anything on his channels seriously.

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(What’s really disappointing is the number of participants for the first interview, that didn’t involve any reflex testing, was 9003 so MatPat also missed a golden opportunity to jump on a meme that would have at least entertained)

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The 20 millisecond time he quotes is a hefty rounding up of the (adjusted) intrasubject standard deviation for choice reaction time (ones where the subject must make a decision rather than act off pure reflex). This is not a measure of actual reaction times, but how much variance there was in individuals.  In this case we find there was usually between 100 and 120 milliseconds variance in results for an average participant (see the graph at the top). Coincidentally, you know it takes you 100+ milliseconds to blink?

The actual reaction times themselves? Upwards from about 550 milliseconds (mean), so even if MatPat’s 20 millisecond difference was true this would mean it was still impossible to be frame perfect since at your peak you’re already at least 34 frames behind being “frame perfect”.

The actual differences in Mean Choice Reaction Time are anything but consistent, to the extent they had to move the points had to be moved to show the overlaps and only show smooth curves after processing to predict overall trends (lieu of testing every human on the planet).  Of course, they also showcase that they’re completely secondary to age, yet no discussion of how if you’re over 21 you should just stop playing now.

The dotted line is female results, the solid line male – the vertical bars show the amount of variance at each of the points.  As you can see – the man factor is as you get older you get slower and there’s more variance.

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It’s anything but consistent (which the researchers found fascinating and talk about in the summary… another part MatPat didn’t read).  He also skipped over a point I think would be kind of important in a game where you apparently need (literally) superhuman reflexes:

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He also fails to make mention that reaction time testing is kind of complicated and the methodology can make a huge difference – for example this (more recent) study showed women were (on average) faster at decision making but men were (on average) fast at muscle movements.  How would that translate into video games? We just don’t know because nobody’s actually done the research and you can’t just pretend other research is “proof”.

Oh yeah, he also claims this study is reaffirming decades and decades of research… what does the study say?

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Importantly: This study does not claim, anywhere, to have proven anything because that’s not how studies work!  It shows the outcomes of data analysis focused on trends they predict will be universal, talks how they fit with the hypothesis and suggests more research be done on some aspects… including differences between sexes.

Currently it’s up for debate whether inherent differences in male and female  brains/nervous systems even exist, with more and more evidence suggesting they don’t. If the difference has been nurture in childhood rather than nature, it seems likely the video game generation will have better gamer reflexes.

(BTW, if you ever see a video where someone claims they’re “shielded by science” to back up misogyny, etc and you don’t see them link to sources you should be very skeptical – there’s an excellent article here that covers how studies can be used to manipulate and outright lie by, among other things, assigning false significance to random clusters of data and the paywall guarding most scientific journals makes it easy for people to misrepresent their content and credibility – particularly if they’re not in the field of study)

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Furthermore studies like these can generally only ever focus on means and other averages, which means that the fastest reflexes in the world could easily belong to a woman – she’s after all only one of billions.  The top ten could be, the top hundred.  Averages don’t define individual ability – particularly if they’re not averages of people who practice/train for the task.  In fact a listed limitation of the study is it didn’t record individual test results, just the mean and standard deviations.

All this makes his stance incredibly disrespectful to women, science and people who play these games competitively.

Playing a fighting game like Dead or Alive or Street Fighter 2 competitively at top level takes tremendous dedication – it essentially comparable to fencing (which is also incredibly fast paced and at least as much mental as physical). As people age their reflexes do tend to slow, but they also gain benefits of experience and conditioning.

At this level a competitor needs to have memorized the reach, attacks, combos and strategies for every character; they need to keep track of their opponents strategic leanings, idiosyncrasies, placement in the arena, hazards in the arena (and how particularly characters can exploit the), time and health so they can make instant decisions based off this information.

Yet, despite this commitment MatPat is stating:

  • Playing Dead or Alive is basically the same as watching porn with having to keep an ear out for a tone.
  • Players either keep their eyes closed so as to not be distracted by their own character choice, or if they never blink for fear of missing a frame of animation.
  • They apparently have very poor memories and consider all the sexy outfits they’ve seen hundreds of times already to be “novel” if you switch them up.
  • Literally 100% of men who play the games are aroused by the site of the pixelated boobs in a manner comparable to watching an erotic video.
  • The mental aspects of this game are so trivial that really the only balance stat to worry about is reaction times.

Then, having abused science and competitive DOA players mercilessly, he turns to the stock standard of fallacies:

  • The Nirvana Fallacy – Perfect game balance is impossible because of mortal limitations (apparently it’s now a game balance issue, even if the ban would mean that it’s still equally fair/unfair) so we should demand more fap material in games.
  • Expansion of the above with a ridiculous idea that if we can’t have the ultra-sexualized outfits then the next game should be about genderless blobs for true game balance. (Again, this was a game community, not the developer, hoping to avoid turning people off the game at first sight… game balance issues are entirely MatPat’s fantasy)
  • He then speculates that there are unwritten codes of strategy in these games (true, there’s a whole lexicon of tricks and strategies players have developed independent of developers of these games) that are biological and hard coded into our body… (but doesn’t comment on how the bigger factor would be age).
  • He quotes Sun Tzu completely out of context! A classy move that always guarantees you’ll be taken seriously!
  • Goes on about how people have weaknesses and those who learn to exploit them triumph, which is an interesting stance on a game channel calling itself the “smartest show in gaming” that tells people what they want to hear… and not only has YouTube ad revenue but an affiliate link for an unrelated product in the video description.
  • Speculates that he knows more about why aspects of the game are developed and included better than the developers do… that doesn’t come across as narcissistic at all.
  • Announces he has “proven” there is a “legitimate strategic advantage” for fan service elements… at no point clarifying who ruled it was proven or legitimate then backtracks that it’s just a theory.
  • Hopes nobody noticed that at no point did he address any concerns that the community leaders had regarding pushing people away (other than his assumption women don’t play the game).
  • Immediately subjects you to an ad in the hopes he can double down on the YouTube ad revenue.

An important part of:  “But that’s just a theory! A game theory!”  this is particularly dishonest given his announcement that science is his shield.  MatPat can’t claim this has anywhere near the credibility of a scientific theory,

(it also has nothing to do with the actual field of game theory)

it’s not even the same type of theory. If anything it’s more closely related to an “Obama is a space lizard” type theory. 

This kind of doublethink is nothing really new, particularly when one wants to make light of a real issues that effect real people every day.  Particularly when it’s pandering to this sort of crowd:

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Yes that’s right – according to this portion of GT’s fanbase people with PTSD triggers and disabilities deserve to be ridiculed because MatPat “proved” (but not really!) it was WRONG of a DOA tournament community to ask members to refrain from using the ridiculously oversexualized costumes in their tournaments in the hopes of broadening the community.

Not petitioning to remove them from the game. Not telling people to stop using them.  Just to please not use them at their tournaments in hopes that it’ll lead to them expanding the community.

This is what they find so offensive they feel the need to attack people over, and they complain that other people are “too sensitive”.

– wincenworks

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