18

For those who don't play video games, there's a growing trend in the industry called "Microtransactions" - a small fee the player can pay for certain things in game. Usually something small, such as a cosmetic item to change the color of their equipment, or a fancy Mount to ride on. Usually, these convey no actual benefit to the player aside from looking cool and unique. But there are games that abuse this (especially on mobile devices) where you can pay for convenience; get experience faster, objectively better items or other advantages, pay now for extra Lives or whatever.

Having defined that term, I had a discussion recently about the trend of Microtransactions and how so long as a game doesn't implement them in a manner that gives paying players an objective advantage over other players I think they're perfectly fine. I cited a game as an example of one that I was told implements these microtransactions unfairly, and I was apparently misinformed.

The other person in the discussion then went on a tangent about how the example game is totally fine and how wrong I was, completely ignoring my initial statement that the discussion is actually about and discrediting everything I said because of a poor example.

Is there a phrase, term, or something to describe the train of thought where a person "pokes holes" in a specific example and overlooks the greater picture like this?

  • 13
    Sadly, I'd have to call that person "normal". – Hot Licks Jan 21 '15 at 18:43
  • 2
    This would be less gripe-sounding if you put the example in the third person. // As Hot Licks says, many people tend to attack the obvious weak point in a structure (think of barristers) without looking at the morality of possibly throwing out the baby with the bathwater. – Edwin Ashworth Jan 21 '15 at 19:08
  • 2
    @EdwinAshworth - Actually, "baby with the bathwater" isn't a bad term here. (Well, yes it's bad, but it fits pretty well.) – Hot Licks Jan 21 '15 at 19:54
  • 3
    I thought this was called "missing the point" (period removed) – BrianH Jan 21 '15 at 22:29
  • 2
    I think if some presenter gives a single example of something and it turns out that single example is wrong, then I would argue about that too. It makes your whole presentation look weak if you couldn't even find one actual example of what you're arguing against (although in this case I know they exist). – RemcoGerlich Jan 22 '15 at 14:22

15 Answers 15

31

Argument from fallacy could work. (It's also called argumentum ad logicam or fallacy fallacy, among other things.) Logically Fallacious, a database of logical fallacies, describes it this way:

Description: Concluding that the truth value of an argument is false based on the fact that the argument contains a fallacy.

Logical form: Argument X is fallacious. Therefore, the conclusion or truth claim or argument X is false.

In your case, then, your argument that Example Game used microtransactions unfairly was false, while your conclusion may or may not have been false. However, the other person used this fallacy to claim that because one of your arguments was false, your entire conclusion was false.

  • 1
    Perfect! This is actually exactly what I was looking for. Thank you. – sab669 Jan 21 '15 at 20:49
  • 1
    @sab669 The specific fallacy is the straw man fallacy. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Straw_man – Nick2253 Jan 23 '15 at 20:17
  • @Nick2253 No, the straw man fallacy is something a bit different. That's when you simplify or misstate your opponent's argument in order to more easily refute it. For example, if someone says "We don't need such strict gun control laws," a straw man fallacy response would be, "Unlimited access to guns would be a disaster." You're misstating their original argument (We should have slightly less strict gun control laws) as something that's easier to argue against (We should have no gun control laws). – Nicole Jan 23 '15 at 20:59
  • 1
    @Nicole Which is exactly what's happening here. The other person is using a particular example as a straw man to refute the original argument. He's using the deficiencies of the (false) example as reasons why mictotransactions don't work. This is textbook straw man. – Nick2253 Jan 23 '15 at 21:03
  • 1
    @Nick2253 I'd say a "textbook" straw man occurs when the "con" side devises the straw man simply in order to knock it down. In this case the "pro" side inadvertently handed the straw man (if you can still call it that) to the "con" side. That's an unfortunate misstep in making an argument, but you can't blame it all on the "con" side as you can with a classic straw man. – David K Jan 24 '15 at 13:26
52

There is an idiomatic phrase that describes the situation

He can't see the forest for the trees.

Dictionary.com defines it as

An expression used of someone who is too involved in the details of a problem to look at the situation as a whole: “The congressman became so involved in the wording of his bill that he couldn't see the forest for the trees; he did not realize that the bill could never pass.”

The thefreedictionary.com concurs and gives a reference back to 1546.

Also, can't see the wood for the trees. Focus only on small details and fail to understand larger plans or principles, as in Alex argues about petty cash and overlooks the budget-he can't see the forest for the trees. This expression was already a proverb in John Heywood's 1546 collection.

Supplement: An individual who deliberately exhibited such a pattern could be called a nit-picker

a concern with insignificant details, esp with the intention of finding fault

Collins

Supplement II: In light of several comments that seek more focus on the tangential nature of the objector's comments, also consider red herring

a seemingly plausible, though ultimately irrelevant, diversionary tactic.3 According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a red herring may be intentional, or unintentional; it does not necessarily mean a conscious intent to mislead.

The expression is mainly used to assert that an argument [the red herring] is not relevant to the issue being discussed. For example, "I think that we should make the academic requirements stricter for students. I recommend that you support this because we are in a budget crisis and we do not want our salaries affected." The second sentence, though used to support the first sentence, does not address that topic.

Wikipedia

  • 1
    I'm not sure if that's 100% what I'm aiming for, but it's certainly very close. I would have sworn there was an actual term, possibly used in psychology, to describe this behavior. – sab669 Jan 21 '15 at 18:40
  • 11
    My upvote is specifically for the term nit-picking. People who can't see the forest for the trees may simply be failing to understand the bigger picture (with no implications regarding acceptance, objections, etc.). But nit-pickers are exactly and only those people who raise trivial objections which (in the context of that "bigger picture") are irrelevant to the overall acceptance or rejection of whatever is being proposed. – FumbleFingers Jan 21 '15 at 19:10
  • 1
    I again, am not so sure about “nit-picker”. As I see it from the discussion the person got hung up in a erroneous example. But: It has nothing to do with the subject of the discussion. If one are nit-picking I have always thought of that as one have to be within the same domain. He diverged to give an example and they got stuck in the forest. If it was an insignificant detail about the term or concept Microtransactions; then I would say nit-picking, but not here. I might be wrong (as the foreigner and English learner I am). +1 :) – user367890 Jan 21 '15 at 20:45
  • 2
    I believe both suggestions miss the essence of the OP's query. "can't (cannot) see..." posits an inability; nit-picking, a distinction without actual significance. Whereas the question, as I interpret it, pertains to a conscious, and all too common (but effective), "tactical" device of polemics. – user98990 Jan 22 '15 at 20:31
  • 2
    I think @user367890 and LittleEva are right. A nitpicker, I think, makes an objection that is (at least in the eyes of their interlocutor) very minor but nevertheless logically relevant to the question at issue, which in this case is "Are games with certain types of microtransactions fair?". In contrast, the point made by the OP's "other person" has no bearing on this question at all. It's arguably an attempt to shift the question at issue to something else, namely "Is the OP a liar?" – j_random_hacker Jan 23 '15 at 14:31
11

You could say he has tunnel vision, in the metaphorical sense, or that this person is missing the point of your argument.

10

You could call them a pedant - "a person who annoys other people by correcting small errors and giving too much attention to minor details" from the Merriam Webster online dictionary.

9

There's myopic (adj): lacking foresight or discernment; having a narrow view of something (M-W), but it feels like that's not quite it.

8

Is there a phrase, term, or something to describe the train of thought where a person "pokes holes" in a specific example and overlooks the greater picture...?

Yes, and with precision. In the legal arena what you describe is termed a straw man argument.

2. Straw man:

A 'straw man' is a common type of argument and is an informal fallacy based on the misrepresentation of an opponent's argument.

[1] To be successful, a straw man argument requires that the audience be ignorant or uninformed of the original argument.

  • The so-called typical "attacking a straw man" argument creates the illusion of having completely refuted or defeated an opponent's proposition by covertly replacing it with a different proposition (i.e., "stand up a straw man") and then to refute or defeat that false argument ("knock down a straw man") instead of the original proposition

  • This technique has been used throughout history in polemical debate, particularly in arguments about highly charged emotional issues where a fiery, entertaining "battle" and the defeat of an "enemy" may be more valued than critical thinking or understanding both sides of the issue.

In the United Kingdom the argument is also known as an Aunt Sally, after the pub game of the same name where patrons throw sticks or battens at a model of an old woman's head

Wikipedia

  • But in this case it is the opponent who (unintentionally, and to his regret) misrepresented his own argument. – David K Jan 24 '15 at 13:28
  • @DavidK - The Moral of the Story: Know your Argument. Its strengths. Its weaknesses. :-) – user98990 Jan 24 '15 at 19:53
  • Yes, indeed. From the definition of strawman you offered: "by covertly replacing it with a different proposition" (emphasis mine). Replacing implies that you have introduced something that was not present in the opponent's argument, not that you have identified a weakness already present in that argument. – David K Jan 24 '15 at 20:06
  • @David K re-positions (not replaces) that weak point (props-up the SM) to represent the "pro" side's actual proposition. – user98990 Jan 24 '15 at 20:45
  • The word was "replacing" (not "repositioning"); in fact, "replacing it with a different proposition". On the other hand, in favor of classifying the OP's opponent's counterargument as a strawman, it appears that the OP said something like, "Games that let you buy an advantage, such as X, are bad", and the opponent countered with, "Game X, where you can't buy an advantage, is OK, so you're wrong." This is in fact misrepresenting the OP's position, one might even say replacing it with a different one (referring to one actual game rather than an abstract category of games). – David K Jan 24 '15 at 21:35
8

There's actually a great term for this that's generally applied to legal or political issues, but it can be applied elsewhere that's called "pettifogging". It means to purposely draw attention to minor or petty details in order to distract from the larger matter at hand.

5

Also, parochial adj.

. . .

  1. Narrowly restricted in scope or outlook; provincial: parochial attitudes.

{AHDEL}

Collins puts this sense first; it's probably the commonest.

Hot Licks has graciously reminded me that suggestions in comments are snafflable, so I'll promote

throw[ing] out the baby with the bathwater

which does fit nicely for the 'majoring on a minor fault' sense.

Notice that most answers here address the wrong focusing on particulars rather than the problem as a whole. There are times when it's definitely best to concentrate on analysing / correcting details. That's the scientific method.

3

Quibble - an instance of the use of ambiguous, prevaricating, or irrelevant language or arguments to evade a point at issue.

2

Missing the wood for the trees

is a good phrase. The viewer fails or refuses to elevate him/her self to see the big picture.

I would like to coin a new phrase to serve as a fit appellation for this new breed:

Big-picture blind

To generalize one needs vision or imagination and lack of it is myopia, if not total blindness.

1

"concrete" - you are make a point that is more abstract.

1

The thought that springs to my mind in this case is that the person you were trying to convince fixated upon a flaw in the example you presented. (I have the impression from the tone of your displeasure with this development that after they found this flaw it became very difficult to redirect their attention to any other point in the discussion or to any new argument.)

If you had been able to bring the other person back to the main point quickly, then I would have said they were merely distracted by the bad example.

0

While not directly referring to a person with tunnel vision like you describe, there are many phrases that come to mind related to someone that is oblivious to the task as hand. One example:

You wouldn't know [subject] unless it jumped up and bit you.

0

I am curious if "anecdotal" would be pertinent. In scientific research we refer to "anecdotal evidence" to indicate that some research work focuses on specific examples rather than showing that an hypothesis is generally true.

  • 1
    Hi, mig, and welcome. I don't think anecdotal can be used in the context of the OP's question. Anecdotal evidence is really more "casual observations", not focusing on the unimportant. "There's anecdotal evidence that drug x causes hair regrowth, but studies are lacking." – anongoodnurse Jan 23 '15 at 22:05
0

I think this word fits your situation, esp. using the second definition.

British Dictionary definitions for perseveration Expand perseveration /pɜːˌsɛvəˈreɪʃən/

noun (psychol) 1. the tendency for an impression, idea, or feeling to dissipate only slowly and to recur during subsequent experiences 2. an inability to change one's method of working when transferred from one task to another

  • I'm not really seeing how it fits well... Could you expand on how it would be used in a relevant fashion? – Hellion Jan 23 '15 at 22:55
  • 1
    +1 for introucing me to a new word. But Merriam-Webster gives this definition: PERSEVERATION: continuation of something (as repetition of a word) usually to an exceptional degree or beyond a desired point — per·sev·er·ate intransitive verb — per·sev·er·a·tive adjective How does perseveration fit here? – user98990 Jan 24 '15 at 3:11

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.