Wednesday, July 11, 2007

It Takes More Then Valeria Golino

For a long time I've been fascinated with Asperger Syndrome and Autism. A recent post by LJ on Faceblindness has prompted this rather lengthy thought from me.

There's Wikipedia to fill you in on the details of these things. But in short, Asperger syndrome is essentially a form of high-functioning autism. Those with the disorder seem fairly average, if sometimes anti-social. It's often characterized with an intense focus on specific subjects (often maths or sciences), but a lack of social aptitude. A difficulty on picking up on nonverbal cues (body language, sarcasm, etc.), clumsiness, and repetitive behaviours are also hallmarks of Asperger's.

I'm not sure when I first learned about autism and Asperger's, but they've always held my attention for some reason. I don't personally know anyone who's been diagnosed with either. I know at least one person with an autistic brother, and wouldn't be surprised if I've met many undiagnosed people with Asperger's. I think it's the fact that the brain seems to get crosswired that interests me the most.

Anyway, this isn't a post about the details.

One striking statistic in recent years has been the incredibly sharp increase in cases of autism in children in and around Silicon Valley. One theory is that the abnormally high concentration of Engineers, techies, etc., has lead to this. Why? Because Asperger sufferers are usually excellent candidates for technical disciplines. You know that strange kid who knew all kinds of math, could do anything with a computer, but couldn't hold a conversation, look you in the eye or realize you were joking? Good chance this was their problem. So they go into computer science, or computer engineering, or just walk into an office and say, "I'm awesome at computers. Give me a job." They get a sweet job in California, where they don't have to deal with anyone if they don't want to, and they end up meeting someone else who understands them because they've got Asperger's too. Love, marriage, and kids with two parents carrying autistic genes.

So... what am I getting at? Why, poker of course. Shall we look at the standard online poker player? Yes, we shall.

Live poker is a social game. In contrast, online poker is a solitary endeavour. You sit alone in front of your computer, playing anonymous avatars over bits of information. It's faster than a live game, and you can play as many games as you can handle at once. A game is always running, and nobody at your table questions why you are there. Obviously, the blogger and other "home" games are an attempt to recreate a live experience online, but they make up a small fraction of the total activity on any given day. One can play, by oneself, without judgement or social interaction, whenever one wants. Plus, you can drop your cards, and if you trip on your way to get a drink, nobody knows.

In order to succeed in poker, one needs to focus. This is easier live than online because you are often in a poker room, facing poker players, with concrete materials, tactile sensations, and minimal distractions surrounding you. Many have lamented their inability to focus online. TVs get turned on, web pages browsed, blogs read, games played, music blaring, etc.. If you have the ability to focus solely on the game at hand, then your results will be greatly improved.

And there are instant rewards. The thrill of winning a big hand or knocking out an opponent. The joy that comes with executing a well-laid trap or bluff to perfection. Then there's the money. You win, and you get more ammunition to fire. You are constantly proving you're better than someone else.

Plus, it's online. Computers, networks, and algorithms are all you're dealing with. Everything is 1's and 0's - the cards, the money, the interface. None if it is "real". If you're a wizard with programs and hardware, then you are completely in your element. Let's not forget that poker is a game of odds. A fun and practical application of a variety of mathematics for a math whiz. Can you think of a more appealing game for a geek?

This brings us back to the social aspect. How many times have you seen someone "yell" after a bad beat - "I hope your entire family dies a horrible death!" (I have seen this phrase more than once). Endless rants about how horrible a player someone is when they make a bad call on the flop that turns into a great hand on the flop. Baseless bombast and conceit are the norm. Those of us who have some sense of maturity sit there and wonder, "how the hell can anyone think this is acceptable?" Well, I've mentioned one possibility.

So... minimal social interaction, no physical skills required, anonymous opponents, statistical math, technological skills, instant positive reinforcement, and a situation where intense focus is rewarded. Sounds like an all-you-can-eat buffet for someone with Asperger's. Take a look at some of the "Internet Pros" who make it into the sun for the WSOP. Be amazed by the guy who can play 16 tables at once and NOT just be playing aces and kings. Revaluate that guy who's stalking you from table to table ranting about how you called his push when he had a set and you had 15 outs twice. Your perspective might shift just a little bit.


Alan aka RecessRampage said...

LOL - I found that post strangely amusing...

I will say though... I think a lot of the ranters aren't socially inept but just immature... tons of kids playing these days.

Astin said...

I agree to a point. I think most of the ranters are just immature donkeys with some severe self-esteem issues. I feel like asking if they're mom knows they talk like that.

But occasionally you get someone who blurts out something so unexepected or out there that I just have to wonder if they're a bit... off.

And I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to learn that there are a lot players with Asperger's out there, but they probably just make a ton of money and keep to themselves.