There is an overarching feeling that not taking sides is a bad thing. In various aspects of life being uncertain on a position is quite often seen as weakness. Some people think uncertainty leads to wasted time and missed opportunities. Additionally, uncertainty is often tied to with a lack of confidence which can be a key component of effective communications.
While some of this may be rooted in truth, it too often masks the fact that uncertainty is a part of life, plain and simple. Beyond this, emphasis on having a set in stone position belittles the value that uncertainty can provide.
Persona 4 had a wonderful, though slightly infuriating, way of hitting this point home to me. Be warned, there is a major spoiler ahead, so you can skip to the “Wavering on the Cusp of Uncertainty” section if the game is on your to-play-list.
Persona 4 – Get the Gamer Thinking
For those of you who have not played Persona 4, or other games in the series, it plays as a classic JRPG buttressed by a relationship simulation game. This game, like many of the Shin Megami Tensei games, veers in the direction of mature themes and asks its audience to consider and question various moral dilemmas.
When playing through Persona 4, the relationship simulation aspects give a layer of character development as the player builds on whichever relationships they so choose. Additionally, the relationships aid in battle as they help characters gain levels more quickly.
The relationship-sim side of the game sets the scene wonderfully for the player to ponder “how much of this matters for the end game?” Different players will question this to varying degrees. Some will be enthralled by the flavor of the characters, others are simply pursuing the battle advantages. Most relatively seasoned gamers will question the end results of all of these decisions. Thus, the gamer is thinking, and likely left with a twinge of uncertainty.
Persona 4 – Life Out of Uncertainty
What choices matter? What choices do not matter? We tuck these concepts away in the back of our mind, hoping that we are making the “right” decisions.
Ultimately, we find that only one decision really matters, and quite beautifully it is a decision of indecision. When many mysteries focus on the actual finality of the “whodunit” question, Persona 4 places the pinnacle decision on how to act before the question can be answered.
Surrounded by an easy-out and the weight of peer pressure, the game presents the player with various choices. The most satisfying, “best” path unfolds from the player being uncertain with themselves, choosing answers that suggest that something is amiss and that the team needs to calm down.
To actually have the correct choice be to step back and say “I don’t know” is such a meaningful in-game decision to me.
I can see how this can be infuriating for those that fail to get the best ending, and perhaps there is a conversation to be had there from a game design perspective (I had been given a vague heads-up about it by the friend who recommended the game so I was prepared). That aside, to actually have the correct choice be to step back and say “I don’t know” is such a meaningful in-game decision to me.
Wavering on the Cusp of Uncertainty – The Pros and Cons
Now I’m not saying uncertainty is definitively a good thing. There are plenty of instances where not having clarity leads to indecision which stifles valuable, innovative progression. However, there are times where it’s okay to be unsure.
Let’s look at both sides of the coin here.
As I mentioned above, uncertainty stifles confidence which diminishes your presence and ability to persuade others. It becomes harder to rally people to your cause, and in turn makes your arguments weaker in a crowd. The voice of the person who fully believes in what he is pursuing will most likely be louder and drown out those questioning their own thoughts.
While I think uncertainty is a component in many facets of most peoples’ lives, it is not necessarily an end goal, and it does not help you progress towards a goal. If it becomes the constant and not a middleman, then you get lost in stagnation. Being unable to ascertain a nugget of wisdom and translate it into a direction will make it hard to get from point A to point B on a daily basis, and often leave you less satisfied with the results.
The world is constantly in motion and opportunities are often fleeting. If uncertainty unfolds into indecision, the paths that are laid out in front of you may vanish in front of your eyes. It can be hard to capitalize on fortuitous, yet ephemeral chances in life if you find yourself gridlocked by uncertainty.
Errs on the Side of Caution:
If you embrace uncertainty with an inquisitive, step-back approach, you are less likely to make rash decisions. Jumping into decisions because “being sure with yourself is a good thing” is what crucifies the innocent man or leaves an abundance of eggs in one basket. In my experience, good things happen when you err on the side of caution.
Openness to Other Ideas:
As a counter to the possibility of stagnation, a healthy dose of uncertainty might help avoid stagnation in group settings. Bipartisan governments’ gears often slow and sometimes stop because of a lot of clashing opinions bound by political promises to a certain narrow path. Having instead a glimmer of uncertainty helps to listen to the ideas of those around you with an eye towards finding out the meaning of those words instead of finding fallacies to rebut.
My list of pros and cons aside, I cannot really say that I have a good understanding of where uncertainty stands mixed into a balanced healthy lifestyle. What I can say, though, is that there is a meaningful place for it.
I have felt and seen pressure to dispatch uncertainty, acting as though it is a pure roadblock to progression. I do not think this is true at all. Not knowing can be just as helpful as it is harmful, and it certainly is not beneficial to feel guilty of a very normal state of being because of societal pressure.
On top of this, part of me wants to say that given the vastness of the world, those who are “sure” about the little hole they have carved out for themselves are likely missing possibilities that are out there.
Having instead a glimmer of uncertainty helps to listen to the ideas of those around you with an eye towards finding out the meaning of those words instead of finding fallacies to rebut.
That’s all I really have to say on this for now, but I think it’s a great topic for debate, so post away! Can you think of any games where uncertainty was beneficial? Or what about times in life where a mentality of uncertainty helped find clarity in a situation? Also, do you feel pressured to be certain with yourself by those around you and society as a whole?
Until next time, Game on and Learn on!