I’ve learned new aspects about my risk tolerance by playing perma-death games recently. In most games, when your character dies, it’s only a minor setback. Usually, you lose a little bit of progress and carry on as if nothing happened. In games with permanent death (or perma-death), your character doesn’t respawn, and you have to live with that loss. These mechanics make you play differently since every choice carries much more weight, and as you play, you’ll find you’re much more emotionally invested.

Right now, I am playing a hardcore Diablo 3 character with my wife. This means that each of our characters has the potential to be gone forever if things go south. We had done this once before and got to about level 22 before my wife’s character died in a fight we weren’t expecting. My wife was very sad, and I found myself feeling almost nihilist futility while finishing the fight. Our recent characters are at the maximum level and are tackling much greater challenges.

Because of that previous experience, we’re playing much more conservatively this time. Additionally, I am playing much more defensively to keep her alive, probably more so than I would while playing solo.

The interesting thing is that I can see direct parallels to this in the way I approach our investments. In my personal account, I’m willing to take greater risks and trade on margin in hopes of bigger wins, but in our joint account, I invest very conservatively in blue chip dividend growth stocks.

I’m also currently playing Pokemon on the 3DS with self-imposed rules from the Nuzlocke challenge, which basically applies perma-death rules to Pokemon who faint in battle. One special rule here is that you have to give nicknames to each Pokemon so that if they fall you feel a deeper loss. In this case, I still find myself playing much more defensively and conservatively than I would without those rules.

Instead of getting all “YOLO” here, I’d like you to think about this: At any moment, you could lose all of your money. It sounds pretty unlikely, especially if you’re diversified, but bad decisions can balloon to the point where the consequences are much greater than you planned for. Sure, we can comfort ourselves by saying “you can always make that dollar back,” but it won’t be the same dollar. You can only lose a specific dollar bill once.

The risk tolerance I’ve seen in my perma-death gaming is much lower than has been exhibited in my recent trading. I think everyone should try games like these to learn more about their own psychology and risk tolerance.

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