Why people believe in scripting and handicapping


Why do some people chose beliefs like scripting, momentum and handicapping? As it turns out, there is some sort of reason behind it.

In this recent poll, my co-editor Coldspurs asked Reddit’s users to share their views on the relationship between a player’s success rate and his inclination to believe in scripting.


Why people believe in scripting according to Reddit

Results as per September 14th 2015Responses
Less successful players are more likely to believe in scripting228 (57 %)
There is no connection between success rate and inclination to believe in scripting127 (32 %)
More successful players are more likely to believe in scripting46 (11 %)


6 in 10 respondents thought that less successful players are more likely to believe in scripting, meaning that scripting is perceived as a way to explain lack of success.

My survey from 2014 largely supports this perception. I found that people observed “scripting” more frequently in the game modes that (at least according to my personal experience) were more difficult. As a rule of thump, online game modes were found to be more prone to scripting than their offline counterparts, meaning that the game mode where the player is able to set the difficulty himself was found to be less scripted than the game mode where the difficulty essentially depends on the opponent:

Game mode differences
Game mode differences: ‘How often do you experience that matches are manipulated?’

Although my survey definitely supports the assertion that scripting is a way of explaining your lack of success, that still doesn’t explain why people prefer to use that explanation rather than simply accepting that the opponent was better or more lucky. So, how come that an explanation like scripting is appealing to so many of us?

Order and an armchair

As I briefly touched upon in a previous article, the scripting narrative has many things in common with “classic” conspiracy theories. Authors Uscinski and Parent have studied why people believe in conspiracy theories. They point to that laboratory experiments have shown that “inducing anxiety or loss of control triggers respondents to see nonexistent patterns and evoke conspiratorial explanations.” 

The scripting narrative does without a question involve loss of control: All players experience that it in some situations is difficult or even impossible for them to obtain the desired result. Hence, we definitely have the ingredients needed to trigger conspiratorial thinking.

Why we see conspiracy when we lose control

But why does loss of control trigger conspiratorial thoughts and seeing non-existent patterns?

First, there is something comforting about an explanation which justifies that you don’t need to do anything, because it won’t matter anyway. Accepting that it is your own fault that you lose, and that you can change things, even though it will require hard work, i.e. practice, is not an equally convenient thought.

Second, humans are genetically predisposed to see patterns everywhere. This occasionally leads us to see patterns, which really are nothing but random, dissociated dots. The phenomenon is called pareidolia, and it essentially happens because our brains are trying to make sense of all input, no matter whether there is any sense to be made out of it or not. You can say that our brains by instinct will assume that [someone] meant it to happen, when we lost 2-1 due to a 90th minute goal or experience something unwanted which can be replicated over and over again. The thing about instincts is that it requires way more energy to fight them than to follow them. After all, the evolutionary purpose of instincts is to save energy.

Third, conspiracy theories offer something that humans are programmed to prefer: Order. A recurring element in most conspiracy theories is that bad things happen, because they are meant to happen. This idea is closely related to concepts such as “the will of God” and fate, which are part of just about any religious belief system ever invented by humans.

Humans are genetically predisposed to believe that God killed their goat on purpose rather than accepting that it was killed by an accident. In the same way, we as FIFA players are predisposed to think that we lost, because EA wanted them to lose, and not because they accidentally got matched against a better or perhaps luckier opponent.

Conspiracy theories are ways of dealing with the anxiety of not being able to predict or control the events ahead of you. As one blogger put it“We fear chaos. We are afraid of the uncontrollable, the untamable, and the unpredictable.” Indeed, scripting is a more pleasant explanation than the chaos offered by people like me, who will tell you that it’s a myth.

We like theories which confirm our over-optimistic beliefs

Another way to explain to why people like to believe in scripting is by looking at the endless number of cognitive biases that affect our ability to understand the world around us.

There is confirmation bias, i.e. our inherent preference for information and explanations, which confirms our existing beliefs. And there is optimism bias: Our inclination to believe that we are better off, luckier, healthier or less prone to get struck by accident than we really are. Both biases are confirmed by numerous studies, so the only remaining question is, how they influence our inclination to believe in scripting.

A hypothesis could be that optimism bias leads people to believe that they are better at FIFA than they really are, and that confirmation bias leads them to like scripting, because it can co-exist with that overly optimistic perception, even when the harsh reality – the results – tell the opposite story.

To support this hypothesis, I would like to point your attention to the strawpoll below posted on Reddit’s /r/FIFA . Coldspurs asked people to asses their own skill level compared to others players responding to the same poll. The purpose of this was of course not to measure the actual ability level of the participants, but to demonstrate, how people to a large extent exaggerate their own abilities. The individual player has no chance of knowing the correct response, meaning that he has to make a guess. Does he make an optimistic or a pessimistic guess? 70 % made the optimistic guess, which of course confirms that people are more likely to overassess than underassess their FIFA abilities.

How good are you compared to other people responding to this poll?

Above average70 %2457
Below average30 %1037

The results are by no means surprising. My survey from 2014, which targeted scripting / handicapping believers, yielded similar results. I asked the participants to assess their own skill level relative to other players. In addition to that, I also asked them to provide factual information about their actual Win / Loss ratio and XP level, meaning that I had the opportunity to compare their perceived skill level against their actual performance.

A few highlights from the survey:

  • Less than 2 % thought they were below average, while 75 % thought they were above average.
  • 18 % thought they were above average even though they were unable to win more often than they lost.
  • 9 %  thought they were significantly above average, despite winning as few as 2 in 3 games or less.

These facts seem to support the hypothesis that optimism bias leads people to believe that they are better at FIFA than they really are, and that confirmation bias leads them to like scripting as an idea, because it can co-exist with that perception.

Concluding remarks

I repeatedly ask scripting believers the ‘why’ question: Why would EA do something as apparently irrational as scripting the game? While this obviously is a fair question to ask, it’s fair to ask me the opposite question: Why would lots of people believe in something, if it didn’t make sense? In a nutshell, I think it can be boiled down to that people believe in scripting because it is easier than accepting the truth. Challenging your own beliefs is an energy-consuming process, which most people find repellent by instinct.

As neurologist Steven Novella puts it, “the default mode of human psychology is to grab onto comforting beliefs for purely emotional reasons, and then justify those beliefs to ourselves with post-hoc rationalizations”.

  • LarsonTheClown

    It was sad to see you go from futhead (where people continue to make fun of you) where you were banned for excessively promoting your propaganda blog and all the “studies” that have been conclusively proven to be nothing other than a poorly made compilation of opinions. But even more sad is to see you arguing your own ban from a Coldspurs’ account…lololol so pathetic, it’s actually funny! Justice was achieved and you were banned…leaving with your tail in between your leg.
    Just remember that you compared people who believe in scripting to ISIS and yourself as the speaker of truth…that shows exactly how self-diluted and delusional you are…poor Larson, humiliated everywhere, even on his own blog.
    Also, don’t forget that the truth won and your arrogant and disrespectful behavior, but most importantly, unsubstantiated and poorly made material, LOST! Lmao
    Anyway, this video sums up what I wanted to tell you 🙂

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