Fortune time
Image: Kate Gray

The God of Random Numbers is real, and he's in your house right now, sniffing all your dice. If you don't pray to him, you'll never see a natural 20 again, and all of your card decks will be stacked against you for the rest of time.

Or... RNG is exactly what it sounds like. Random. Mashing B, or A, or whatever button you fancy when the Poké Ball is tick-tocking to one side and another isn't going to influence the outcome in any way. It's a placebo, a meaningless ritual that keeps you busy while waiting for the game to arbitrarily decide the result.

Ooooorrr... it's somewhere in-between. Perhaps you don't believe in some kind of deity that oversees random outcomes, but all the same, you carry out those rituals just in case.

Mario Party
This is what the God of Random Numbers probably looks like. I bet he has a comedically-sized die in his hands. — Image: Nintendo

That's where I find myself. I'm not a particularly spiritual being, but I have a few nonsense superstitions all the same. I never tell anyone what I wish for on fountain-thrown coins or snuffed-out birthday candles, unless the wish has already come true. I also began wishing whenever the clock struck 11:11 as a teenager, which evolved into having to be sure to see the time change to 11:12, lest the wish not be counted. I don't care about black cats and ladders, or leaving shoes on the table, but I pick up every penny I see on the floor, germs be damned. One time, when I was a teenager, someone told me it was unlucky to walk over three drain covers in a row (why?) and now I feel weird whenever I do it, so I try not to.

And so, yes, I have silly little gaming rituals, too. The Poké Ball one was a particular favourite of mine, but Poké Balls have since evolved to not really need the button-mashing technique any more, since they're much faster and cheaper. When I'm diamond-hunting in Minecraft, I throw all tried-and-tested methods out the window in favour of intuition. In Stardew Valley, I dutifully hoe empty patches of land, convinced that any one of them might secretly hide a treasure trove of the exact material I'm looking for, and I make sure to wear the tiara so that any potentially-watching God of Random Numbers will see that I am deserving of fortune.

We're not alone in these silly little rituals. A psychological experiment done by B. F. Skinner — inventor of the Skinner Box, or the operant conditioning chamber — tested superstition in pigeons, which provided the birds with food at regular intervals. This had the effect of inducing what appeared to be superstitious behaviour in the hungry creatures, who would perform whatever action they were doing when the food first appeared in the hope that it would work again.

"One bird was conditioned to turn counter-clockwise about the cage, making two or three turns between reinforcements. Another repeatedly thrust its head into one of the upper corners of the cage. A third developed a 'tossing' response, as if placing its head beneath an invisible bar and lifting it repeatedly.

Two birds developed a pendulum motion of the head and body, in which the head was extended forward and swung from right to left with a sharp movement followed by a somewhat slower return."

Of course, that makes no sense. The food was delivered whether or not the pigeons did their little rituals. But we can't really judge them — even though we've performed that little Poké Ball button-mashing ritual hundreds of times and it hasn't worked, we still do it, don't we? Somehow we're convinced that maybe we just didn't execute it properly that time, and it can't possibly be true randomness.

Whatever you think about rituals, we all have them in one way or another. Perhaps we don't even realise it, or think about them too deeply. I like to have a cup of tea every morning, and if I forget, I end up feeling really grumpy for reasons I can't quite figure out, even though I've done this every day for at least 10 to 15 years. Some people can't bring themselves to wear mismatched socks, or wear underwear that says the wrong day on it (does day of the week underwear still exist, even?). My partner falls asleep every night while watching videos about old-timey computers (the channel is literally called that, don't come for me), and at this point, can't sleep without them.

My dice
I like to keep my D20 with the 20 facing up, on the off chance it learns what to do — Image: Kate Gray

Whether the rituals make a change or not, they're part of being human (and, apparently, pigeon) — they're a pattern that soothes our chaotic, anxious monkey brains. They make us feel safe and grounded, like we have some kind of control over... well, anything. Maybe they don't change the actual numbers, and maybe the God of Random Numbers is looking down at us and laughing at the futility of our actions, but I find myself being glad I at least tried to make a difference all the same.

Do you have gaming rituals and superstitions? Do you have any proof they work, or do you just like doing them? Tell us in the comments!