Metacognition: Doing It For Yourself

We’re back with our “thinking about thinking” series! If you’re interested in our previous deep thoughts, check out the Metacognition series.  Join us for some deep thoughts (and maybe the occasional not-so-deep thought) about gaming. If you find one you’d like to answer, you can either comment below or write a post and share the link so we can all read your fantastic thoughts!

In RPGs, do you complete sidequests for XP, items, or because you are trying to role-play as a certain type of being?

Oh, the sidequest. It’s a staple of any RPG – a little journey out of your way to do some menial task that may or may not be related to what you are actually trying to do, either so you can gain some more experience points, win someone’s favor, or earn a little extra coin. Maybe, for some of you, the only reason you help those poor lines of code who can’t seem to figure out their own problems is because of some innate sense of duty. Altruism. A genuine desire for help.

What if I told you that altruism doesn’t actually exist?

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Well, that’s not for certain, but there is a theory called psychologial egoism that states (basically) that all human behavior is motivated by selfishness and/or self-interest, even if the action looks altruistic. Of course, there are dissenters, but let’s follow this logic for a moment.

Human behavior can be modified through the manipulation of two things: the antecedent or the “burden” of the behavior (e.g., washing the dishes means putting off watching that movie you want to see) and the consequence or what happens after (good or bad). If the burden is light and the consequence very good (or otherwise “worth it” in your mind), you will perform the behavior (e.g., if someone offered you $5000 [consequence] to walk outside of your house at 2:00am [antecedent], you’d probably comply [behavior]).

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But here’s the thing about consequences: they only need to be meaningful to you. For an extreme example, let’s look at one of Gandhi’s famous hunger strikes. Please note, I am not putting Gandhi’s activism down, nor belittling his role in leading India’s independence movement against Great Britain. But this is a very good example of how thinking of actions through a lens of psychological egoism can change, well, how you look at the entire world.

Going on a hunger strike for a cause seems to be an altruistic thing to do, doesn’t it? Denying yourself food, weakening your body, and overall giving of your physical self for another human is one of the most selfless acts a person can perform.


What if a person does this because it makes them feel good about themselves? Or it makes them feel morally superior to others?

But Athena, you type. That isn’t worth starving over!

To you, perhaps. That’s why this is egoism: it is an incredibly personal experience. Perhaps feeling morally superior is so motivating that a person would endure anything to achieve it, or to achieve the notoriety and fame that comes with their action, or any number of other consequences that are positive and motivating for that person.

Which brings us back to sidequests.

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Oh. Okay.

In video games, it seems like most of us put up with sidequests because they are a means of getting us something we want: XP, items, armor, prestige, power, what-have-you. Games are built for our egoism: literally everything in the game is there for our benefit, in one way or another.

In real life, we will often complete mundane tasks that are asked of us because we’d like to help the other person, and isn’t it nice to get a “thank you” every once in a while, and it feels good to do the right thing, or the nice thing, or…

Oh wait.

Do you sidequest for story purposes? XP? Loot? Or do you do it because it feels good to do the nice thing for those poor NPCs? Do you believe altruism is real, or is altruism just a by-product of us doing something that feeds our ego in some way? Are any RPG heroes truly “heroes,” then? Have I ruined heroism for you? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll see you soon!

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  1. I remember studying altruism at college and university. It’s certainly interesting! The idea is that you could do something that harms you and benefits something you don’t agree with as being true altruism. But the question then is “What’s the point?”

    Anyway, to answer your question, I tend to do side quests because they’re there! I hate to leave an undone side quest unless I’m just trying to get to the end of a game.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s an interesting question, for sure. I like the point you make about true altruism involving doing something good for someone else even if it hurts you, but then there still being a question of “what’s the point?” because it’s not benefitting you… hm…

      I think you’re probably on to something! After all, there are side stories to see, XP to earn, and things to do without all of this morality nonsense 😛

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is an interesting topic to think about. There’s an NPC in Pokemon XY who asks you for a potion, and if you give them one they say thanks but then there’s no mechanical reward, like money or another item or anything. I always thought that was a weird choice to include in the game. Why would you give them a potion if it doesn’t DO anything? I guess my video game self just isn’t an altruistic person!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Why WOULD you give them a potion if it didn’t benefit you?? haha It’s an interesting consideration, though, especially since games are set up to have a consequence for everything you do. To not have ANY consequence is unexpected, at the very least.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Psychologial egoism reminds me of an old episode of Friends where Phoebe is trying to prove to Joey there is not such thing as a truly selfless good deed, haha.

    In the real world, I enjoy helping people and the amazing feeling I get when someone genuinely says “Thank you” is the best sense of purpose ever! I’m happy to be selflessly selfish 😎

    In games, my obsessive need to side quest stems from my old compeletionist habit I’m trying to kick. I like seeing everything and side quests are often needed to do that. I do enjoy helping out NPCs just so my character feels good about themselves too 😁 I know my Geralt turns down rewards whenever that option pops up in the Witcher 3, haha.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha and that’s another school of thought: at the end of the day, does it really matter, as long as the action and consequence is a “good” or “altruistic” one?

      Ha! I guess everyone in the game gets a little self-esteem boost when you’re behind the controller!

      Liked by 1 person

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