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!
I’m known for either being indecisive or stubborn, but some of the time it’s because I want to know what other people think first before my own stance colours their opinions. I often like to go along and make sure other people are happy before I’ll consider what I want too. I have read lots of advice about how to look confident that state you should be decisive and forward about your own opinions, but I’ve sometimes found such people to be closed minded or a bit forceful. If we feel uncertain about a situation then maybe it means we don’t yet know enough about it and that’s a trigger to do some more research first. Mind, we can’t sit around unsure of ourselves for too long or we’ll never take action. In some ways you may make more progress by trying and failing than sitting around wondering what or when about things. I use to have a ‘have a go attitude’ and would take opportunities when they occurred because I figured that if worse came to the worse and I didn’t like the direction I was taking then at least I’d learnt something about myself and could back out and try something else. Unfortunately I think we live in a society that demonizes mistakes and as we grow up many of us learn to fear failure. I don’t rush into things any more for fear that it is not the right option for me; even though it really wouldn’t be a big deal if it didn’t work out. The thing is I don’t always know what is right for me until I experience it.
Thanks for commenting! I agree with a lot of the points you made. I’m pretty similar in not wanting to color other people’s opinions with what I want… even more so than that, I am a pretty go-with-the-flow kind of person and even if I have a slight inclination towards one thing or another, I have generally found it preferable to do things that those around me want to do; they often have stronger preferences and will have more of a negative experience with their alternates than I would with mine.
Same boat on the confidence issue too. Even in business writing, they always want to cut phrases that temper the boldness of statements and it feels so weird to me. I try to work on my confidence in communications a little, but generally try to find solace and success in a form of communication that is more reserved and, I think, slightly more endearing/trustworthy than a lot of communications you see in the corporate world (in the US at least). There are people it really connects with, and others that clearly see it as weakness… but it is what it is. You can’t win everyone over.
I touched on the ‘have a go’ attitude in one of my posts, but I’m failing at finding it right now. I feel like it is great for some situations and bad for others, but as a whole my leaning towards staying with the familiar often pushes me away from just jumping into things. It is kind of sad that the culture we live in punishes mistakes more than it relishes creativity in success. This concept hits very close to home for me right now, because I’m working in the litigation consulting space, where I’m finding you generally do like 20% analysis and 80% making sure you didn’t screw something up, because mistakes look so bad. I think there are jobs out there where the people you inspire and the creative solutions you produce matter more than an improperly rounded number. Like, teaching, maybe? I guess to an extent, game design maybe lies at least closer to that inspiration side of the spectrum. I don’t know. Anyways, it’s definitely a thing that I’ve been thinking about a lot.
Lots of agreement from me too.
My experience of academic writing sounds similar to your experience of business writing, Dyl. The main ‘reason’ I found I could get behind was that it is often seen not as making things more ‘confident’ or ‘bold’, but actually just cutting down on excess judgmental words. But it doesn’t leave a lot of space for relatability, which some (read: me) might argue could be a good thing.
Heh, actually my experience of game design is sort of similar: everyone says they want innovation (and do sometimes reward some forms of innovation), but polish and ‘not making mistakes’ is what really consistently gets rewarded in terms of reviews and sales. So yeah, 20% creativity and 80% not screwing up.
Maybe there’s some kind of analogue to the old Edison quote ‘Genius is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration’. But then, I think he was talking more about doing the legwork and making something people actually want, so it’s sort of a separate issue (unless we take it to mean that, given a forced choice, people generally value something that lacks apparent flaws more than something new).
Just chiming in to share a skit from Tales of Vesperia (I think I’ve omitted the spoiler parts of it, so it should be alright to read, but minor warning anyway).
Rita: Are you that conflicted about fighting him?
Estelle: Yes… But we won’t win if we go in with doubts.
Judith: Oh, I don’t know. If doubting is part of your nature, you should trust
that nature in battle.
Rita: Well said, Judith. Maybe that’s the right approach. We’re not your typical
band of heroes, after all.
Judith: You do what you can. You take the hits. But you don’t lose. Sound about
I’m not a big fan of absolute certainty, and statements like ‘you won’t succeed if you go into something with doubt’. I don’t want to be too pessimistic either, because that can be hindering, but if you’re somewhere in between, hopefully you can do your best and still react to a situation if it doesn’t go according to plan.
Oh, insights from the Tales series. Always a good thing 🙂
For whatever reason a somewhat counter example popped into my mind of a random early episode of Rurouni Kenshin. A guy thinks he has perfected this strategy by adding an element of caution to it, but it ultimately falls apart because the technique required that full, lay it all on the line kind of mentality, and it just didn’t work when tempered with an element of defense.
Now, I say somewhat counter example because I think there is a bit of a different issue at work in this example. I do not necessarily equate this offense/defense scale to the same certainty/doubt scale, but I think they often overlap when you think, especially as they relate to personality types. Similarly, I wouldn’t say discussing Type A vs. Type B personalities necessarily equates to the same argument, but I would guess a Type B person wrote that dialogue 😛
Give me a second to read about A and B types… Ok, thank you wikipedia.
Yeah, there’s examples on both sides, I just think in games/anime I more often find that ‘give it your all or you’ll lose’ attitude, which is why this was refreshing.
Hm, I guess I do tend to be on the defensive side, which mirrors doubt, so I can’t say they’re not parallel =P
I just stumbled on this and it kind of felt like it fit in with the article, so I thought I would post it: http://kiriakakis.net/comics/mused/a-day-at-the-park