Today we’re going to look at a piece of video game history: a bug introduced six years ago to the game Dungeon Crawl: Stone Soup (abbreviated DC:SS or just Crawl, as distinct from the game named simply Crawl). It persisted for two weeks before it was removed, and it has a lot to teach us about just how easily domain rationality can make you vulnerable to certain kinds of ignorance. Very much including myself, here - I was an active Crawl player at the time and fell prey just as much as everyone else.
Before explaining the bug, some background on Crawl is needed for those who haven’t played. (You also could just play it - it’s free to play and available both in browser or as a local download.) Crawl is a roguelike, a genre of game that’s undergone some linguistic expansion in the last decade, so we’ll focus only on the two attributes that are core to our story. The first is that the levels are procedurally generated every time - you can’t memorize the layout of the dungeon, because each run takes place in an entirely new version of the dungeon. The second is that consequence is permanent - you can’t ever reload a save to a previous turn, and if your character dies, your file is deleted. Combining these factors means that there’s no way to guarantee yourself a victory in Crawl. You can’t endlessly grind to improve your level, nor can you look up exactly what steps to take or memorize a route. And if you die, all of your progress is gone - the only difference run to run is what you learn.
So beating Crawl requires some degree of self-reflection. After all, if you kill off a character with eight hours invested in them (something I’ve done more than my fair share of!), those hours were completely wasted unless you manage to learn something from what happened. It naturally forces you to take responsibility and update your internal model, and it does so in a rigorous, no-nonsense way that’s hard to come by in everyday life. You can make all sorts of incorrect predictions in real life and simply forget about your misses and remember your hits. But if you predict that you can beat that ancient lich and you can’t, then you are Dead With No Do-overs, and It Sure Looks Like You Don’t Know What You’re Talking About With Ancient Liches, and Maybe You Should Work On That.