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What is SpyParty?

SpyParty is a spy game about human behavior, performance, perception, and deception. While most espionage games have you spend your time shooting stuff, blowing stuff up, and driving fast, SpyParty has you hide in plain sight, deceive your opponent, and detect subtle behavioral tells to achieve your objectives.

The Dialect Dialectic

Like many other players, there’s a piece of my brain that is slowly digesting thoughts about SpyParty nearly every day. During the last two years of interaction with the game I’ve approached the game more as an analyst/caster than a competitive player (where I’ve barely avoided relegation from SCL’s Platinum Division for two seasons); I’ve spent far more time describing SpyParty than playing it. As a result my unconscious SpyParty center has likewise shifted from conjuring personal strategies to attempts at categorizing observed play. Eventually, consistently, inevitably, I’ll run into a barrier; there’s not a quick word for what I want to say; I’m left reaching for a certain… je ne sais patois.

During casting, and even within my own mind, when I bump up against describing these common yet undefined situations, I’ll find myself either:

  • Using nebulous and inconsistent terms to describe an unconscious set of associations instead of a single term because I know what I mean and you probably do, too.
  • Hash out a sentence or two describing that vague concept.

A is frustrating because saying “you know what I mean” feels inherently lazy. B is frustrating because during a cast by the time you’ve described the situation the moment is likely gone. On a personal level the ambiguity is also disturbing because it feels like my unconscious is hiding information from my conscious mind and hiding it from analysis.

The simple solution is to make this information conscious, and the simple method to do so is name it; thus some of my favorite moments in SpyParty have been when an idea was given a name, and I could feel it move from my unconscious to conscious. My favorite SpyParty articles tend to leave me with a new word (or an old word whose currency in the community is reinvigorated). Each new word is a new form of clarity, and that new clarity can in turn be used to analyze the current knowledge base leading to new words and advancements; I consider this movement to be dialectical. You could also say it evolves, but dialectical is cooler.

I’m going to reference articles here for the dual purpose of A) collecting some of the terms I have found enriching in a single place and summarizing them and B) displaying the general movement of how the community has come to improve its use of terms.

With Summer Cup behind us and discussions around SCL heating up, we are in what I consider to be the most reflective part of the SpyParty cycle. This is when these sorts of terms will prove the most useful as we debate over how we want to move forward with the game. I’ve been in the process of writing additional articles that attempt to name gamespace in a similar fashion to the below, and I was doing a literature review in preparation. In my articles I had a prologue that argued the dialogue around terms matters, but as I re-read these articles I realized that they collectively made a better case for the dialogue’s importance than whatever I would have put in the preamble of my article.

The first article is more of a display of the movement from unconscious to conscious than it is describing a specific term, though I also find the term to be valuable.

The Average Game Of Balcony


This article describes how over 5 thousand games on Balcony, Drawn unconsciously collected data, then consciously started crafting several rules to describe how the typical spy plays balcony (they talk only when necessary, they prefer not to move, and they are impatient). Even more specifically, it mentions a general flow of Flirt, Contact, Flirt, Flirt (it also goes out of its way to carve out exceptions, but one of the most fascinating things is that 5 years later, if you go find a replay, it’s more likely to follow this order than not). While this does not directly relate to jargon, it does describe the process that I find so interesting.

You can watch for flirts at certain timings (first 15 seconds, around 1:10-0:55 mark, and 0:20-0:00 respectively), especially if no real movement happens, and eventually catch the Spy flirting at the proper time. Characters who do not talk ~45 seconds after their previous one are unlikely to be our Spy, and if they are the Spy odds are that you are not playing The Average Game of Balcony.

Jargon Contribution: The Average Game Of Balcony gives a default to players to compare and contrast strategy to, a foothold in an often disorienting mode.

The next two form articles form a lovely contrasting diptych. They account for two known psychological biases; each tending to prey on one role more than the other.

SpyParty and the Dunning-Kruger Effect


There are many fascinating essays about individual psychology in the Spyparty community, and perhaps I’ll do a meta-essay on those someday as well, but I’m singling out this article because it gave rise to a term that I use often when considering SpyParty: humility.

The essay relies on research on the Dunning-Kruger effect, and as Track describes this is a bias in meta-cognition, or being unaware of our own awareness. Applied to spyparty, Track describes how humility (the intentional lowering of our self-estimations) can benefit sniper play by more accurately accounting for our own possibility of error.

In order to take these shots, and salvage games after mistakes, the Sniper needs a general sense of not just their opponent’s abilities, but their own. This leads to a paradox where not being that good, but knowing you’re not that good and making decisions as a consequence of that, is what makes you good.

Jargon Contribution: While sniping, humility is the necessary inclusion of the probability of your own error into your calculation of the optimal moment to shoot.

Spies, Narcissism, Egocentrism, and Solipsism


Here Checker describes a parallel struggle: the fear of spies that they are always being watched by sniper. Checker describes it as a combination of Narcissism, Egocentrism, and Solipsism; but this bias has a specific name: The Spotlight Effect.

The general lesson is familiar to nearly all seasoned players as one of the very first lessons new spies are to be taught. That said, I think we’ve relegated this concept to new players too readily, and I’m going to try to use spotlight more often as terminology because it’s highly leverageable even in the analysis of expert play.

As Spy, you have to decide to do something (accomplish missions), and then what to do (which mission), even though you don’t really know if you’re a suspect or not. How you go about this “doing” is obviously very important, but just the act of overcoming your confirmation bias and starting at all is something you can feel when playing.

Jargon Contribution: While spying, disregard the sense of a spotlight on you, as we all have an outsized sense of how noticeable we are which can cause us to become too cautious.

Want To Be a Better Spy? Be Infamous


There was a window of time after Steam Early Access that we had a high number of players that were only identifiable by a string of numbers. Some observed that playing them was a sort of approximate anonymity. This allowed testing of what has been somewhat of a community axiom: the less your opponent knows about you the better. Opi offers a rebuttal to that notion in this essay, describing a way to use the weight of your reputation to your advantage.

To maintain your reputation as a certain type of player, you must usually play the game in that style, or at least appear to….You can’t switch strategies constantly, but you can play unexpectedly on occasion to increase your odds of victory against an opponent who thinks they know how you’re going to play.

Jargon Contribution: As either role, you can abuse your reputation for certain playstyles in order to gain advantages unexpectedly; to be useful for counterplay your reputation must be known by both you and your opponent, and maintained by you.

Threat vs. Suspicion


Some of my favorite moments in the growth of the dialect is when there’s an inconsistently or vaguely used term and then a community member draws a new distinction in that term, shifting the meaning. Since the beginning of the game ‘suspicion’ has been in common use, but has had extremely subjective meanings. This article clarifies a large chunk of that inconsistent use into a new (but not mutually exclusive) category; threat, which describes how many possible missions a guest could have completed. Now having been freed from the weight of the separate category, suspicion now means actions that are spy-like; it retains a subjective character but the term as a whole becomes much more meaningful.

A partygoer has reached 100% threat if they could have completed the number of required missions…Snipers may feel something is suspicious because it looks “non-AI like” or “human-like” or “Like something my opponent would do.”… The interesting decision, for the sniper, is how to deal with people who are Suspicious or Threatening, but not both. That’s the kind of ambiguity that gives snipers headaches.

Jargon Contribution: Threat is how close a guest is to plausibly completing missions. Suspicion is acting in a spy-like manner.

On Aggressive Idling


In the article Pwndnoob makes the distinction of “Passive idling is doing nothing and not gaining attention. Active idling is moving around and gaining attention, but not completing missions”. Which filled a very particular niche in describing spy behavior, especially given that the concept itself seemed to contain the internal contradiction of simultaneously ‘obvious’ and ‘unsuspicious.’

In particular it also gave me some archetypes of spy mission win outcomes: the highlight win (commonly mission count being off), the neutral light win (commonly blending into the party), and the lowlight win (commonly active lowlight into rush).

“Sometimes the only reason [the sniper] would be watching you closely enough to be confident about all these things is if you’re already highlit, which is hard to shake. Active idling, then, is risky for the spy, but that’s precisely what tempts a sniper to reward it.”

Jargon Contribution: As spy, actively idling is attempting to be noticeably non-threatening in order to receive a lowlight.

Had Pwndnoob written his Idling article after his Threat article, he may have added in “Passive idling and Active idling are equally non-threatening but unequally noticeable,” or possibly added in a section that since the writing of the article (and Opi’s), Pwndnoob’s reputation may cause snipers playing him to consider guests that appear to be aggressively idling to be suspicious. Here we observe the additional clarity afforded and gain a new perspective. Another step in the dialectic.

For these articles as a whole, they exemplify different key aspects of the progression of communal knowledge:

  • Drawn’s article is empirical research; he takes in a large number of observations, notes trends, makes hypotheses, and tests the hypotheses via using it in play.
  • Track and Checker both find concepts that exist outside of SpyParty and fruitfully apply them to the game via reasoning.
  • Opi and Noob take a more analytical approach and dissect concepts we are already aware of within the game to gain new insights.

To put it another way: they represent three paths for any player to contribute to the dialectic.


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