Logical Fallacy, Arsenal Durability, & Mathematical Accuracy
So, it’s occurred to me recently that not only do I have opinions, but I also have contemporary opinions. People are talking about the weapon durability system in the latest Legend of Zelda games, namely Tears of the Kingdom and its predecessor, Breath of the Wild. One of those people is currently me.
This obviously got me thinking about common logical fallacies, the way we assign universal appeal to mathematical arguments, and why people are wrong on the internet.
And yes, I know that this is coming out so long after the release of Tears of the Kingdom that people have started to actually move on from this game, but I still have a very nice point to make, and I’d like to talk about it.
So, in case you’re unaware, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild introduced a very controversial system into its game where there are lots of weapons just strewn about the vast, open kingdom of Hyrule, but they’re kind of shit. Some weapons are expressly indicated as shit, like the rusty broadsword, and will break after less than 10 hits. Others are hilarious and intentionally useless implements like a soup ladle and will break after 5 hits. There’s also the Master Sword, the sacred sword of legend, the blade of evil’s bane that seals the darkness, the sword whose viability compared to other weapons is clearly stated, and the sword which will also after batting around one too many hogs disappear in a puff of smoke and proclaim it’s too tired and has to recharge for a little while.
Obviously, this is a video game and not expected to be taken as an accurate representation of reality. For a lot of players, this system is just a quirk of design that forces you to seek out new weapons instead of hoarding the same ones. For some, they just wish they could bat around a few more hogs, at which point they’d accept defeat and the puff of smoke that was their weapons. Some find this an irritating, bad design that just makes you feel worse when playing a video game.
I’m not going to argue which side I’m on. Despite my colourful language I’m not acutely bothered by the system, but I’m not obtusely bothered either. What I’m going to talk about is how arguments about this system tend to go, why I think that the benefit of this system is overstated, and how people tend to use mathematical rigour as points in debate club without understanding what the hell maths is even about. I’m also going to use it as a segue to talk about a series that I’ve been writing about for far too long, and to excuse my procrastinating behaviour. By procrastinating. With this.
Our mammalian brains are notoriously bad at understanding things in any coherent or consistent manner. The reason why we created languages to speak is so we can have some hope of better understanding what anyone is going on about, and we added logic and reason on top of that as part of a massive conspiracy to give people more homework.
Logical fallacies are the tools we use to grade that homework. People have diligently categorised all of the ways in which people have attempted to use logic and reason to create arguments, while failing to receive full marks for their effort for one reason or another.
Sometimes, these fallacies are failures to follow the mechanical parts of logic, like improperly ordering propositions. For example, one might assume that observing something consistent with a theory proves that theory, but all it does is fail to disprove that theory. Mechanically, this is effectively flipping an arrow the wrong way around; while the theory implies the observations, the observations do not necessarily imply the theory.
Sometimes, fallacies are the additions of logical rules that don’t actually reflect reality, like assuming that one false statement can invalidate an entire argument regardless of its relation to the argument.
Often, fallacies are just categories of ways people misinterpret and misrepresent arguments and their component bits, where some are common mistakes people tend to make and others are intentional acts of sabotage or subterfuge.
Many of the fallacies with catchy names are actually a combination of all three. For example, the particular fallacy that came to mind when writing this is the confusion between correlation and causation, which is very similar to the example I gave on ordering propositions. A proposition is something of the form “if A, then B,” and it only forbids the case where A is true and B is not. If A isn’t true, B can still be true or false; we just don’t know.
Correlation is when A and B are both true: it doesn’t mean that our proposition is true or false, but it’s nice to know. A correlation can happen in an “if A, then B” situation, but it can also happen in an “if B, then A” situation. We just don’t have enough information. If B must be true whenever A is true, then we know that A causes B. This distinction underlies basically all of scientific research and is the way we connect logic to reality.
Earlier, we were talking about swords that break for what I’m told is a very good reason. One of the core elements of the two latest Zelda games is exploration, and another is swinging pointy sticks around. The game basically has to have players wandering around aimlessly, and it uses the promise of finding more pointy sticks as one of the many rewards for doing so. However, this leads to an issue: you really only need one pointy stick. The kingdom of Hyrule has thousands of little nooks and crannies to explore, and the idea of exploring those nooks to find a thousand-and-first pointy stick isn’t super appealing.
So, the development team at Nintendo decided that in order to ensure that players continue exploring for more, they shouldn’t be able to hold onto their pointy sticks indefinitely; you’ve got to keep getting new ones. Given the arguments that lead to this point, it felt pretty logical that a good way to prevent players from hoarding their sticks was to make them break, shattering and returning their cosmic dust back to the universe.
The appeal and premise of exploration for the game isn’t really negotiable, but this whole cosmic dust thing isn’t. Loads of folks really don’t mind; they like being pushed to try out all the differently pointed sticks lying around, and don’t mind that these sticks occasionally and often disintegrate in their virtual hands, never to be seen again. Other people feel genuinely upset that their pointy sticks are just another hit away from slipping through their virtual fingers and evaporating into a cloud of Aonuma’s magic pixie dust.
Plenty of arguments are presented on how the game’s love of exploration simply demands the existence of the magic pixie dust, since it’s what compels them to explore further. Because these two exist at the same time it clearly begs the fact that one leads to the other. Exploration is core, and the special smoke is correlated to—
The premise, or cause, of the entire argument. Oh. In defence of this argument, even with the addition of several other bits of evidence that imply some kind of causal relationship, just at this surface level, it’s already missed the point.
You see, an extremely important, but here neglected aspect of games is framing. It doesn’t matter whether something in a game is realistic, but whenever possible, it should be fun. Finding new goodies around the kingdom is fun. The power fantasy of overcoming swarms of silly monsters is fun. The pointy sticks that fuel that power fantasy disintegrating into dust, slipping through your fingers, is not fun. It’s a purely negative mechanic with no positive aspects whatsoever, and while some players can do the mental gymnastics of framing this as the reason why they’re able to have fun in other aspects of games, that’s not exactly good framing.
You see, Nintendo already found a way to use framing to their advantage in the sequel. In the original game, Breath of the Wild, people were already exploiting the game’s mechanics to effectively break the game, skipping the fun exploration mechanics in favour of literally catapulting themselves across the map. Nintendo saw this, patched the exploits out, and replaced them with genuine mechanics that let you do this more easily. But people don’t use them most of the time, because they’re boring.
The Ascend mechanic lets you fly through ceilings and teleport up mountains instead of climbing them. The Fuse mechanic lets you attach a rocket to your shield to jump to a massive height. The Ultrahand mechanic lets you build machines that let you fly over any obstacle you want. You could just fly over the map, but you don’t want to because then you’d miss the journey along the way.
Nothing is framed as positive with the durability mechanic. If there were a reward for breaking or even just using weak weapons, you could have every player fighting an army with a spoon and a pot lid, but they don’t. If the spoon is ultimately just as brittle as the all-powerful sacred sword that you worked so hard to get, it’s no wonder it hurts the experience for some folks.
By actively choosing to keep this system in place, Nintendo have decided that their arguments for the system’s inclusion are more important than its negative framing. They act like feeling bad about a broken sword is just something players need to get over with, when the entire point of a game is having fun. They’ve missed the point.
It’s finally time to circle back to logic. As I said, logic and reason are how we convince people of things without our mushy brains getting in the way. Logic is just one of many things that maths has created, and I think that it’s put on an excessively tall pedestal. You see, we act like mathematics is the highest tier of truth, that doing some maths on it is the ultimate mic-drop argument-ender moment.
However, ultimately, an entire half of maths is just making shit up. Legitimately. One of the things I’ve been deliberating over for months is how to properly convey this, because I feel like it’s genuinely one of the reasons why so many people hate maths. The foundation of mathematics is just suspension of disbelief.
The other half is genuine, real stuff. The main purpose of logic is to help reduce the amount of weird, fuzzy things we say and provide the mechanical steps of building arguments up. Anyone can follow a list of steps, or for the truly posh folks out there, anyone can follow an algorithm. But at the absolute very beginning, the first step is giving something a name.
The two halves of mathematics, according to my infallible methodology, are naming and building. A lot of things in maths can result from combining bits and pieces together in an objective way, but in order to combine those things, you have to give them a name. And at some point, there’s not going to be anything else you can point to for guidance; you just say “if you get it, you get it” and move on.
Numbers, for example, are entirely made up. Sure, you can connect the pieces to actual reality, and we all can count physical things, but that only goes so far. Like, zero is the concept of nothing. What is nothing? It’s zero things. You can’t really do much with these kinds of definitions, and mathematically, the only thing we’ve done is just give zero a name. Pulled from the cosmic ass of the universe. From nothing.
Now, obviously, mathematics has done wonders for everyone. Lots of things wouldn’t exist without maths, and it helps us accomplish so much in our everyday lives. But being mathematical means nothing, because it comes from nothing. The only way to give mathematics meaning is to connect it somehow to reality, and that connection can still be abstract, but it has to exist.
And this is why I wanted to talk about logical fallacy, arsenal durability, and mathematical accuracy. People put so much faith in logic and reason, they negate the actual purpose of logic and reason: to stop our slimy brains from making silly mistakes. Logic is already hard to mess up, and that’s why we have to be so careful using it. It’s easy to give faith to a rational argument, but it’s hard to connect that argument to what’s actually being argued about. Without that connection, an argument vapourises into magic, cosmic, pixie dust, never to bat a hog ever again.