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Everything Is WIFOM

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An answer to a buzzword.

Part of Mastin Academy.

Original Lecture.

The Lecture

Everyone knows what WIFOM is, right? "Scum wouldn't do that because that's what they want you to think!" Simultaneously, it is a logical fallacy--something to which a player can correctly call bullshit on--and yet also a buzzword, something which is an overused easy accusation to make against almost any argument. These two ideas exist in conflict, so which one can you trust to be accurate? Is WIFOM a legitimate accusation, or is WIFOM a ridiculous defense attempting to shut down a perfectly-reasonable view?


...As it turns out, the answer is both.


The reason for this is that the game of mafia in of itself is at its core a game of wifom. EVERY action in a game, you play the wifom game. "That post looks like it was made by town. The question is, was it made by scum who wanted it to look like town, or is it actually town?" "That post looks like it was made by scum. The question is, was it made by scum who couldn't help but make a scummy post, made by scummy town, or made by scum who wants us to think it's too scummy to be scum?" "That nightkill obviously incriminates this player. The question is, was it done by scum wanting to frame that player, or is that player simply scum?"


Each and every one of those can enter into a never-ending loop. "Scum could make this town-looking post and expect to be townread. But maybe they would expect us to think this, so they wouldn't make it if they were actually scum. But maybe that's what they WANT us to think, so they would make it." "Scum could make this scum-looking post. But maybe they knew that and wouldn't make it, thus it must be town. But maybe they would make it, relying on us thinking that." "This player is incriminated by the nightkill. But maybe that's what scum want us to think. Yet maybe because scum know we'd think that, they would do it anyway." And so on and so forth.


You can make anything into a wifom argument. Does this mean that WIFOM is inherently useless? Not necessarily. But for me, I separate WIFOM out into "good wifom" and "bad wifom".


Good WIFOM is thinking critically about the circumstances to figure out which action in the situation is more likely to apply. An easy way to think about this is to look at the player(s) in question; does it look like they are actively trying to manipulate thoughts into one half in particular of the wifom argument, especially if that half is the one less likely to be by default true?

Bad WIFOM is violating Ockham's Razor to dismiss an argument because scum COULD do something, ignoring whether they would.


Perhaps an easy way of comparing bad wifom versus good wifom is to look at the classical example of a criminal being chased by a cop. The criminal has a choice in paths between a dark alleyway where they have a 50% chance of escape and a lit passage where they will 100% be caught. If the cop chooses wrong, the criminal escapes. Good wifom would work by critically analyzing what the panicked crook is likely to think of in the heat of the situation.


Is it more likely for the crook to think, "Oh! Light! I should go that way in spite of it being more of a risk, because the cop will think I'll go into the dark and that means I can get a clean getaway!"

...Or is it more likely for the crook to think, "Oh! Darkness! Safety! If I go into the dark, then the cop won't be able to reliably pinpoint me!"


The answer in most situations will be the latter, because it is simpler and more primal. Most criminals are not masterminds who think of complicated, contrived plots which twist the boundaries of logic. They are driven by the easiest, most direct path. Bad wifom in that situation could be assuming the criminal will go into light to mess with probability, but in my experience is actually more something akin to, "I can't know which way the crook went, so I might as well not try": the cop stopping and deciding not to even bother.


It's impossible to not play the wifom game because everything you evaluate is off of assumptions. You assume players are confirmed town. You assume events happen in certain ways. You assume motives behind actions. You assume certain things to be true, and others to not be true. Even after a player's alignment has flipped, you still make assumptions. You assume that town players flipped told the truth unless you have evidence to the contrary, and if you have that evidence to the contrary, everything said evidence means is an assumption on your part. You assume mafia mostly lie but with some inherent element of truth.


And when assumptions are present, interpretation enters the equation. With interpretation present, alternative interpretations are possible. With alternative interpretations possible, guesses as to what scum did and are doing must be made. And with guesswork comes the "what it means" and "what to do" elements of wifom. Because of situation A, scum have choice B. Choice B leads to either C or D. And therefore, we must figure out whether it is C or D we're dealing with.


If someone is making an argument that C is the logical choice but because of weird reasoning E the scum chose D, they are employing bad wifom, the logical fallacy. If someone is making an argument that because both C and D are possible, situation A cannot be analyzed, they are using bad wifom in the form of wifom as a buzzword. But if someone is making an argument weighing the pros and cons of C and D and explains why they think C is overwhelmingly the more likely of the two, that is good wifom, and thus, not something to be ignored.

Conclusion

Because everything could be done by scum, the job of a town player is to figure out what the scum did do and why they did it.

Further Reading

Let's talk about WIFOM, an older article following a similar principle to what I've outlined here.