Friday, 4 November 2011


I'm guessing that most people won't have a clue what I mean.  Not just in general but specifically to the title of this blog.  My initial thoughts before writing this blog are to meander through the power of the mind, the placebo effect and then neatly on to having a pop and my board gaming buddies. At least one of my buddies is one of the few people likely to read my blog.  Funny, this statement put me in mind of Bilbo Baginses speech at his n'hundred'n'nt'elevntieth birthday:

"I don't know half of you half as well as I should like, and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve."

The picture is of tangential relevance only to the blog but over on my gaming blog, in order to find an illustrative picture to add "flavour" to the text, I tend to search google with the theme of the blog and use the preface "fine art".  So this is an image of "fine art statistics".  Nice.

Meta- can be used as a prefix to mean "beyond" or in some sense relating to the subject it prefixes.  Metadata is an integral part of my working life and it appears metagaming is equally entwined within my social life and this got me thinking about how displaying results in an intuitive visual way, allowing us to truly see the trends, actually encourages us to want to influence them.  For example, I currently weigh just over 13st (I use *st* as any US readers will need to get their calculators out and then remember whether its 16 or 14 for the multiplier and will probably give up - as I do when someone says 180lbs - doh) the mere fact of recording my weight makes me want to change it, thankfully I tend to forget and then about once per week I have a disappointing few hours whilst my brain endeavours to erase what I just saw when I stood on the scales. 

[note to self, its long enough after the theft of your beloved Commencal Meta 5.5.3 to buy a new bike - quick before you burst].  

I know that if I put up a chart and routinely measured my weight I would be motivated to make the trend move in the right direction.  

Back to games.  

A few weeks ago I programmed a spreadsheet to use an adapted chess ranking formula to rank the performance of my gaming buddies and me - more detail here - the existing method was not really capturing the performance overall.  The method allowed me to enter the results for the previous few months and to display a performance ranking graph.  What is interesting is that this does bring out the metagamer.  One player has consistently won, or more accurately, consistently won when it mattered, and maintained his #1 Seed ranking since the very beginning.  Now I must add that there are many inadequacies with the scoring system, for example if we play only games that one person does well at then they will rise to the top, this wouldn't happen in chess as it's the same game for each calculation of rank.  It is like saying the top seeded tennis player will be determined only on the speed of his first serve - this would favour fast first servers.  In the long run, as long as the games we choose aren't selected any differently due to the result, this should average out (regress to the mean) and there will not be a systematic bias towards a particular game type.  But here in lies the problem, we are only human, one guy is winning so we should all try to beat him and choose games he is no good at!  I'm not advocating this stance or accusing anyone of saying it,.... er .... ok I guess I am accusing anonymous of saying it but the point stands.  We are only human, we see rankings and we start to want to improve them.  We automatically want to play the metagame.  

The placebo effect is real.  Whilst it may not be a real treatment or any treatment at all the effect does exist.  In many cases it can be put down to the added attention of the staff running a clinical trial but not always.  It can be confounding factor in so called complementary medicine reported success.  However, the fact remains that we have the power within our minds to affect our health.  As a scientist, in a medical related discipline, I believe it is important to qualify that I am not advocating complementary medicine, just noting that we can appear to influence our own health/bodies.  I found it tragic just recently to read that the fabulously intelligent and inspirationally creative Steve Jobs probably accelerated his early death by trusting in "magic" medicine.  

We should all start collecting statistics about our health and recording them on a personal dash board.  Then we wouldn't be able to help ourselves, we'd have to win - or go to the health professionals when we were clearly loosing.

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