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Nov 03, 2007



As far as i know, there was/are two different models :
1- when God stays " out of Vegas " and in game are only the players - or , one could say , we, the Earth's inhabitants.None of us having any supernatural rights/powers , at least not accepted/acknowledged by the others.

2- when God/Deities are part of " Vegas ". As in the ancient Greece , where ppls where able not only to prey to a God but also to " punish " a God when that Deity ceased to do it's expected " job ". Or, as in the current VWs,where God is Creator, Ruler and active Player , the difference being : we may not / can not do anything against the Bad God ....unless you are Bragg, ofc.


Well, I found this incredibly interesting, Ren :). I think you're right that there is always a gap between the practical and the ideal, and I'd add that our understanding of games, until very recently, was deeply handicapped (much like Agassiz's biology, as I've said before) by a belief in the realness of the ideal at the expense of the game as constituted by its actual practice. The only thing I'd perhaps quibble over is the extent to which you may be reifying the ideal in the above. The ideal comes across as unchanging, while the practical is subject to emergent use, etc. While I think that the ideal of a game, as a cultural expectation held by different parties, *can* tend toward a certain conservatism -- a durability or non-negotiability through time -- especially for certain invested parties (the designers, perhaps), the ideal is not necessarily static. It too is recognizable as a moving target when we rightly see that there are multiple such idealizations of what games are by the parties associated with a game. To the degree there is a consensus, it is one that is cobbled together through competing representations.

A good example of what you're talking about, by the way, is the "tuck rule" controversy from the 2002 NFL season (and which I discuss in the Beyond Play article).

I'd also add that, while I'm wary as always of our speaking of games as if they were constituted by their rules -- even if we use a very broad definition of "rule" -- that it is certainly helpful to think about the different modes of governance that games, like *all* aspects of our experience, include. Salen & Zimmerman's terms map partially onto broader social theoretical understandings of governance. On that view, we first have material/architectural constraint (a better word than "rule", which suggests intentional contrivance, which may not always be the case). The digital version of this was made famous by Lawrence Lessig in his stuff on Code, of course, and it would seem to correspond with the "constitutive" in S&Z's attempt. Secondly, we have legalistic constraint; i.e., rules as we typically understand them -- this would be the "operational" for S&Z, as you note. Third we have social conventional constraints, the importance of which in the governance are persistently underestimated in a lot of writing on games -- this is the "implicit" for S&Z. Fourth (and note in S&Z's model) you could add market constraint, the governance that follows from the effects of the market (supply & demand, etc).

Of course, if all we talk about are rules when we talk about games, then we might as well be talking about bureaucracy. But games are different, and the reason is that the constraints are not in place to eliminate the indeterminate. Rather, they are there in balance with sources of open-endedness (contingency) in order to generate outcomes unknown ahead of time. As soon as we forget this (and there are a lot of reasons that we are prone to do so), we are no longer talking about games, in my opinion.

I think your post is a great example of why we should feel very excited about how the study of games can connect with social theory -- the ways in which games *share* so many things with our everyday experience elsewhere is a big part of the reason for games' power.

Great stuff, Ren.


Hey Ren --

I agree that game rules quite often seem to be striving toward certain ideals. You might analogize this to our ability to spot a typo in a text, even if the word is spelled right. We trip on the typo because we know, somehow, that what the words say is not what the author meant to say.

Game rules can produce the same kinds of moments because they are often tied to deeper game justifications (a la Frederick Schauer) that strive toward certain goals and make it clear when a certain rule constitutes a mistake (e.g. the tuck rule or a bug/exploit).

I don't know if I'd personally see the need to bring Plato into this, though you might take a look at MacKenzie Wark's Gamer Theory for some riffing on games and ideal forms.


@Greg --

Of course, what really gets interesting -- if we push further what you're saying -- is that games may be distinctive in the degree to which their goals are a bit different from the goals of most modernist human projects. What if all games are informed by a shared cultural commitment to let the indeterminate occur (within certain contrived bounds)? If that's the case, then such "mistakes" in them do not demand, as in other domains, the familiar interpretation -- that they signal an inefficency or imperfection in the procedure. Instead, they signal an altogether creative possibility: that of a new meaning, or practice.


This is an interesting alternate take, but I still feel like S&Z's layers of rules still do a clearer job of explaining the examples you give.

The example of a cash duping bug in an MMO is to me a strong example of violating an implicit rule. Even ignoring the idea that terms of service (which might be considered part of the operational rules) might explicitly forbid taking advantage of duping bugs, there's a much stronger reason why duping cash would immediately be considered "cheating": it makes the game unfair, unchallenging and reduces the value of rewards earned by other players. It wrecks the game, not only for the duper but for others who are now comparatively underpowered and unrewarded.

To contrast, think about the example of a bug which *doesn't* break the game in this way - say a world-geometry bug that allows someone to run around in an area which clearly wasn't intended to be accessible, but in a way which doesn't upset any power balances. In the "ideal" game that the designer was striving towards, the player would not have been able to run around in that area. The platonic game concept would seem to imply that this should then be seen as "cheating" or at least as a bad thing. But I'm sure that no one will be nearly as upset as in the case of knowing that someone else used a duping bug, because it doesn't affect their own enjoyment of the game. In fact, in some ways it might be seen as enhancing fun for the other players by playfully breaking their expectations of what the game allows (which is very different from greedily breaking expectations of what the game *should* allow). From S&Z's model, this makes sense because the buggy behavior doesn't really violate any implicit rules as to what constitutes fair play.

(There's also the danger of idealizing a platonic ideal game as being "perfectly balanced" when it's actually been suggested that a game, especially an MMO may not want to be *perfectly* balanced at all, as you might reduce all strategies to being equally effective and therefore uninteresting.)


Well, I think the problem with seeing an "implicit rule" in cases like these is that sometimes the implicit rule is in conflict with the "explicit rule," so it isn't clear what the advantage is to calling the thing an implicit "rule" -- though I'd agree that there is something implicit about it, to the extent that it has to be discovered through the play process.

Thomas -- I agree that the justifications in this sphere are often very different than the justifications that occur elsewhere. I agree that contrived contingency is a significant part of what games attempt to do in contradistinction from other types of rules. I think you could also find other deep rule-informing structures (justifications) in agonistic and mimetic games.


“The ideal comes across as unchanging…”

Yes it does. That’s not what I meant, thought I think I had to run without questioning that bit to be able to get to the end.

With any given MMO there are a set of ideals that have shadows in the world of the designer’s imagination and also the artefacts that are the game at any given state. Now I’m trying to think what the properties of the ideal game are.

- The ideal cannot be fully known by anyone
- Each individual accesses different aspects of the ideal dependent on what element of the game they are thinking of and when they are thinking of it

Thus this ideal is multiple and shifting. If only I’d paid more attention during classes on idealism as I’m sure someone must have a simple metaphysical typology. It seems to me that the type of ideal that games fall under is unlike that of circles – which tend to be more unitary and unlike that of social concepts such as justice – which seems broader in scope, more culturally tied etc. Here I need to be exact, I am distinguishing between the idea for a given game, rather than the ideal of what games are per se. Though I can see that any game entails notions such as fair-play which, ontologically seems to sit in the same category as things like justice, so maybe the idea of a game is difference from that of justice because it must include the former ideal.

Erm – anyone studied types of ideals recently?

I know this is noodly but it strike me as interesting to know what category of claim we make when we say that doing X is or is not part of the game.

More romantically we might think of these ideas as shifting trajectories that all actors involved with a game take in the practice of game making and participation.


Thanks for the references (you just made Amazon happy :)). I mentioned Plato as I think the forms are a nice way to get into any discussion about the use of ideal concepts in understanding the world. I've been thinking through whether Kant's idea of the nominal (and our lack of access to it) is useful here or maybe Wittgenstein's stuff on family resemblances - which philosophers such as Midgley have employed as a spring board to think about the meaning of games. I certainly think I need to focus on latter Wittgenstein for a while. But as I say above, I'm sure someone has done all the ground work on types of ideal and what results from the different properties and I'm sure some of that will give us an insight into propositions about games - more book work I guess.


Late Wittgenstein FTW, in my opinion, Ren. I have to say, though, that the ideal starts to sound a bit Hegelian in your response to me above; i.e., that the idea exists even though no one person knows it in its entirety. I think the late Wittgenstein was reacting pretty strongly against this very notion, actually, instead arguing for a primacy of practice in the ongoing formation of meaning and the spuriousness of any transcendent ideal. I'm sure you'll find that stuff very interesting and helpful.


In my beardy mind, what we are talking about here is, essentially, the overlap of different games. As Thomas has pointed out before, sometimes the "non-rules" part of a game (the social stuff, for example) is more important to the players than the explicit game-y rules. Which is fine. But there are very few instances (that I can think of) where what's happening at the social (for example) level doesn't have rules, too. Rules about how the explicit game-y rules can be bent, ignored, broken, not broken, etc.

If that's the case, then aren't we just talking about multiple games taking place in the same arena, at the same time? For example in professional sports, there are all kinds of levels of management/coach behavior that aren't necessarily obvious or important to a fan. And there may be fan-games that are important to a rabid fan that wouldn't be to a casual observer.

In MMOs, there are obviously very different games going on, even at the explicit levels, eh? I may want to play solo or with minimal contact with others. That game is going to overlap with the other players, but not in the same way it would if I were interested in PvP or PvE with groups. So my game(s) are going to (in some cases) have the same rules as yours, but in some cases, not. Especially since what we value as scoring or winning will be vastly different. Add the social and economic elements, and you have people using the same pieces and board to play a couple dozen different games simultaneously.

So, to me, it's not a case so much of what is the ideal (explicit) rule, but of which game you're playing.


"What if all games are informed by a shared cultural commitment to let the indeterminate occur..."

I rather think the opposite: All games are informed by a shared cultural commitment to PREVENT the indeterminate (at worst) and/or CONTROL the intdeterminate (at best). That's the whole point of a *rule*, isn't it?

We walk around with the indeterminate occurring all the time, while our culture and language and such do their little wiggle waggle and pull determinacy out of their hats/arses.

Games attempt to corral the wild horse of play prior breaking it, trap the spark prior to lighting the gas heater, prime the love pump before signing the prenuptial agreement -- stuff like that.

The "ultimate" rule of games is then simply the self-reflexive rule [Suber's Nomic, remember?] --> I doubt, therefore I am. The most revealing function of the game is to unravel itself.

What I think you may be referring to as the "ultimate game" is then most likely play, which is governed not by the rules of society but by the rules of biology. As long as the ultimate rule and the ultimate game are a social rule and a social game, bought and paid for in a social arena, designed and practiced by social studies, then you are spinning your wheels in the deep mud of power and empowering that grand scheme in which the sky would fall and cultural studies would be king.

Surely this must be other than the path of enlightenment.


@dmyers: Any game that sought to prevent *all* of the indeterminate would no longer be a game, it would be bureaucracy (in the classical sense). I agree with you about "control", though, as long as we don't mean that in the ultimate sense -- the array of constraint and indeterminacy is contrived to be balanced, but not perfectly controlled, in games.

The point is that everyday life is indeed indeterminate in an unbounded way (as Heidegger observed), but then it is of course filled with human projects that seek to eliminate (or deny) that contingent quality of our experience (the routinization that we can also find everywhere human societies are). Games as human artifacts evince an ethic that legitimates that indeterminacy, even though it is semi-bounded. What's interesting is that, even though the indeterminacy is "domesticated" in games, it is nonetheless legitimized (as it isn't in bureaucracy), and furthermore the indeterminacy of games always outpaces the attempts to control it and the meaning of outcomes that follow from it. This is where emergent meanings and new practices find a footing.

I would agree that, anthropologically speaking, there is something prior to culture in the way humans (and probably some other animals) find a balance of pattern and the unexpected compelling. Absolutely. This puts me in mind of Piaget, really, and ideas about human consciousness as fundamentally about developing a reliable picture of the world. This connects with what would be the best way to conceive of "play," in my opinion. As long as we're thinking of it as marking a disposition, or mode of experience, then I think we're on as solid a ground as we can be. If we start to talk about it as a category of activity, then we run into trouble again.


If the goal of game rules is to create a bounded indeterminancy and the game ideal is the set of rules that successfully attain that goal then the ideal depends on an agreement by some population on the bounds. The ideal, in turn, is increasingly indeterminate as population heterogeneity increases. Our challenge is to choose the depth of analysis of competing constituencies that brings us the greatest understanding of how rules, and conflicts over them, are formed.

To Ren's original post (And agreeing with Thomas) I'd suggest that there is no ideal except to the extent that a particular relatively homogenous group expresses it. Over time the group size and homogeneity relative to the ideal may increase or decrease. Multiple groups may form around alternative ideals. The ability of competing groups to exert power through adherents' activities becomes the "ideal definition" dynamic.

Ren says...
"So when a producer talks about the game, I believe that the they are often making an appeal to a quintessential notion of game that can, in fact, never exist; but operates as a crucial concept in the way that we think about game and the way that norms are brought into operation. Thus any reference to a rule is potentially a reference to a highly abstract object and an appeal to an ideal."

The notion of a single ideal clouds our understanding of what's going on. Andy's point about multiple games gets at that. The producers may set the domain of discourse by creating a game within some recognizable genera -- motivated by their own objectives. But when the game gets into the wild their interpretation of the ideal comes in competition with others. They hope to convince or coerce others to accept their ideals and other groups are doing the same -- because they have differing objectives. The evolving game ideal is more the product of this political activity than an approach to the Platonic ideal of the game.

Dmyers' comment sets a bound at the other end of the analysis. As we move out from the game in our analysis of how it's ideals are formed we expose ourselves to more complex analysis with decreasing returns of understanding.

Just the enumeration of the tree of interest groups may be illuminating... Producers:Grand Theft Auto/Creative Intent-Profit, Players:Grand Theft Auto/ Fun-Tension Release, Child Safety Groups: Grand Theft Auto/Psychological Damage to Youth, Religious Groups: Grand Theft Auto/Moral Decay in Population...


Andy made the same point I'd have made: an individual designer may have a single, particular ideal game in mind, but no one else (whether we're talking other developers or end users) will have the exact same paradigmatic game in their minds. There's never just one game; there are always multiple games. In that sense, no artifact created by or used by more than one person can ever be fully satisfactory because there can never be just one idealized concept of that artifact.

That doesn't mean no level of satisfaction is possible. Although human-to-human communication can never be 100% (at least with today's technology), the artifacts of technology and art all around us prove that some functional degree of communication can be achieved. We can communicate well enough to create things that to some reasonable amount match the idealized needs of other people.

This practical need to commmunicate in order to translate idealized visions into concrete artifacts that satisfy the needs of others is why anyone who builds things -- from MMORPGs to business apps to houses to aircraft carriers -- uses expressive tools for talking about the form and function of the thing to be constructed. Design documents, flowcharts, blueprints, concept art, schematics, entity/relationship diagrams -- we use all these tools and many more to try to minimize the differences between each person's idealized concept of the artifact to be created. And the more complex the artifact, the more (and better) communication tools are needed to achieve a minimum level of satisfaction with the final product.

MMORPGs are examples of such complex artifacts. They have so many rules that observers like S&Z can actually point to multiple types or levels of rules. The complexity of these games is why it's sometimes said of exploiters and "metagamers" that they're "not playing the same game" as everyone else... because they're not! There's such a large gap between their idealized concept of the game and everyone else's (including the developers) that they're seen as disruptive.

So here's the question I have about the rules of a game, especially a complex game like a MMORPG: would the dissonance between the ideal game as jointly imagined and realized by its developers and the idealized conception of the game as held by the many different players of that game be minimized by giving the players more and better maps of the game as a rule-system?

Are there any tools existing now that could minimize the dissonances between the "correct" rules of a game as seen by its developers and the rules as understood by players of that game?

If not, what might such tools look like?

Would having really good maps help if for a lot of gamers rules are best figured out not by study but through direct experience?



@C-Park: Well put indeed.

@Bart: It's a good question. To a great extent, the "tutorials" at the beginning of many games are as much about inculcating a particular disposition toward the game in the ideal sense as they are about teaching mechanical "how-to"s. Such experiential or learning-based approaches to narrowing the cultural gap between designer and user that you identify are ones we should probably expect to be more successful -- after all, one doesn't learn a language (or a culture!) nearly as well when presented with a structured representation of it as one would by actually being thrown into acting with and through it. That's part of the reason why learning is such a powerful phenomenon in these games -- they accommodate learning in the pragmatic sense.

Regarding Andy's point about multiple games -- sure, that's another way to make the same point. A game's existence is in large part determined socially -- is it seen as a legitimate semi-bounded domain, etc. To the extent that different individuals and groups start to cultivate different constellations of arenas, practices, and meanings as *a game to them*, then it might make sense to see the games as multiplying. It becomes an empirical question, really -- whose ideas about what the game is (or games are) take root and become durable?


One thing to always keep in mind about MMORPGs is that while they are games, they exist primarily and somewhat independently as platforms. The games take place on these platforms, but you can use the platform for purposes other than gaming. (Richard makes this point in his book.)

While the software and the tutorials and the community of the MMORPG in various ways channel the behavior of players toward game play, they can't require that the platform be used for play. People are free to be spoilsports if they want and just use WoW as if it were Second Life. All MMORPGs have this, so maybe it is safe to say that it is part of the "game" of MMORPGs to have a kind of sideline activity of OOC chat, etc. It's also part of the MMORPG tradition, perhaps resulting from the above, to include mini-games (e.g. WoW fishing) and emergent/semi-emergent play (e.g. WoW cliff jumping).

So the rule set of your average MMORPG is going to look different from the rule sets of offline games, because despite the primary game of acquisition/coordination, there are other things going on are inevitably regulated in multiple modalities.


Agreed, Greg, although it's not a structural difference, right? Offline games can also serve as platforms for other games and non-gamey actions. It seems to me to be more common in MMORPGs because of their scale and the breadth of the affordances in them; that is, their complexity, along with the fact that regulation of behaviors can't happen in the same way as you approach having thousands of people in a game arena.


Yes, I think in offline games, though, the "platform" is often just traditional space or matter. So on an athletic field, players chat, trash talk, twirl the game ball, etc. I think with MMORPGs we often think of "playing" as any form of engagement with the game interface, which fails to spot that some forms of engagement aren't actually within the game.

I'm not sure online spaces have more affordances, but I think the affordances are different in their nature and the way they are approached and used.

I agree completely that one of the strangest things about MMORPGs as games is the size and nature of the participation. An MMORPG is a game, I think, but it seems to me less like a classic Olympic competition or a modern team sport and more like... (analogies are dangerous, but...) a mass marathon/migration with various groups banding together to travel in herds (or alone together) toward a game goal that entails the acquisition of certain things. Kind of like a group exercise in virtual manifest destiny -- an odd game. :-)


I’ve actually been thinking a lot about what constitutes a video game – but that’s a post to come in the next week or so. However part of that thinking applies here I think.

I think we have a too monolithic view of what an MMO is. Framing an MMO just as a game seems problematic. Let’s think of a cricket club. The structure of the grounds, buildings etc. is predicated on the game, even the business model of the bar is based on people using that site to play a game. But this wider social structure while needing a game to exist is not itself the game.

I wonder if we can make the same argument for an MMO. While the very structure of the code, unlike say second life, is designed for ludic purposes, thus toons have characterizes such as levels that are bound to them. The MMO is like the cricket club – where lots of things that go on are either directly the game, or parts of the meta-game (politics of team selection that occur in the bar etc) but we can differentiate between the practice of the game and these broader necessarily related structural features and associated practice, and those practices that associated with but not necessary to the game e.g. talking about ones day at work.


“Are there any tools existing now that could minimize the dissonances between the "correct" rules of a game as seen by its developers and the rules as understood by players of that game?”

I think this is a community of practice thing. As the practice of MMO use develops over time then they will norm just as sports, the use of technological artefacts etc do. I think the best way to look at this in operation is to take an Actor Network approach.

Right now, I like and am very passionate about the openness and heterogeneity of practices within MMOs as I think that it leaves open a whole range of ways that we can interact. The pessimist in me thinks that they will norm to they physical world – I think I’m with Ted on the optimist / pessimist view of the potential of virtual spaces in this regard.


@Greg: Agreed on all counts -- and you're certainly right about the affordances.

@Ren: Completely agree. If we make the mistake of holding too fast to hard boundaries for game/not-game we'll shoot ourselves in the foot. MMOGs have (via architecture, rules, and social convention) established and shared game objectives, and SL does not have them (at least at the moment), but that doesn't mean that they aren't very much alike. We'll be in a better position to talk about all of them to the extent we think of gameness as a quality, rather than an exclusive condition.


Well, most of the time here I really don’t know what everybody is talking about, since it seems pretty obvious that the rules of the videogame, whatever those might be, are much clearer to find and objectify -- and, in that process isolate from all associated social rigamarole and related exploitations – in the game code. Maybe that’s because games used to come with actual rules booklets and manuals and such up until the point where everyone forgot how to read and write and began to spam the gawdawful substitute of tutorials, which correctly emphasize the visceral components of play but also fail to clarify either rules or what they are not – which also seems the common and unfortunate function of our currently cancerous bloggy mass.

Players have to hold MMO designers with a noose at the neck to pry any actual rules from them, to be sure, but those same designers sit entirely inside their spreadsheets and data mines and flow charts with their well formed, plotted, and constantly tweaked mechanics: i. e., the rules. Youre saying that the designers don’t have control over or full knowledge of their rules in terms of how those rules affect player behavior, which is, of course, right on, but I don’t see how that changes a whit what the rules actually are.

Take Magic the Gathering. There’s an interesting paper to be written on how the introduction of Magic Online helps standardize previously (and perhaps largely still) brazenly chaotic MtG social gatherings. This paper would proceed from a formal comparison of the differences between the two games – online and offline -- with appendices examining MtG floor rules, tournament rules, and, importantly, those MtG rules that currently remain most loosey goosey and unstandardizable.

Some here might assume that these yet loosey goosey rules are the social sort that point somewhere in the general direction of something ideal: a communitas. But no, social rules seem to boil basically down to where and when to whack the solo playing moles. The more interesting rules are never the rules of society but always the rules of form and, therein, the True and Ideal rules of play. These rules are, inevitably always, the self-reference rules, which in MtG map closely to the copy cards.

see, for instance, http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=mtgcom/daily/af136.

For these reasons, when I read “It seems to me that the argument against this [following the game code to the detriment of other players, e. g. griefing] has to appeal outside any practical instantiation of the game and reach to some paradigm game” I read “…has to appeal outside the game and reach to some paradigm.” And I say yes.

So, if a “paradigm game” is not really a game but really a paradigm, then I say yes. But if we are turning a game into a paradigm game and then a paradigm game into King Game, mostly by just by alluding to it as such, then I say no, probably not. That would be against the rules -- and a good example, now that I consider it as such, of group griefing.


@dmyers: Assuming I'm understanding you, jibes and all, I'm not quite sure where you got this impression that I (or anyone else that I can see here) is valorizing social convention over other kinds of governance.

In my opinion me nothing makes rule-like social conventions surrounding games more "ideal" or special, or in any way normatively better, nor even more "interesting."

But neither are the bureaucratic rules (which themselves are usefully distinct from architectural "rules") more pure, or ideal, or interesting or better, as I see it. I don't see why any of these kinds of governance of games should be seen as having any priority.

After all, if you *really* want to get back to the way games *used* to be, we would in virtually all those cases *not* be talking about legalistic rules codified somewhere *at all*. In the vast sweep of human history and its games, I'd venture to say that the majority (if not the vast majority) of those games were learned, played, and governed according to social convention. An even worse mistake (which I'm not saying you're arguing) would be to believe that each of those games had some ideal and implicit rules, that actually existed even though no one actually knew them as such. At that point, if we take that view, we've mistaken the model for the reality.

Legalistic rules are of course a big part of games today, but there's no reason to reify them as somehow more important than the rest of the ways that games can be governed.


Erk. Second para should begin "In my opinion nothing..."

Oh, for an edit button...


Cricket is the best example of a game which clearly has platonic rules, breaches of which are said to be "not cricket".


I'm worried to even post this, because I don't want to be seen as hijacking this topic in any way. I've been a long-time TerraNova reader, and occasionally, I post in response to a topic, if I feel I have something useful to add.

Games within games. Unwritten rules. What if one of these relates to real world activity unrelated to the game, such as defamation and dissemination of hate propaganda? What if some of the players want to play that "metagame", and what if the game staff decides to manage it a bit, add some disclaimers, but to basically let the gamers have their say?

Too bizarre, abstract, and theoretical?

If you visit:


you are presented with what appears to be a harmless, low-budget, Canadian (B.C.) video game.

Click on the "Forums" link, and you are brought to:


These are the official forums, and they appear at first to be relatively normal.

But, dig a little deeper; use the Search button to get hits on Holocaust, Hitler, Nazi, Jews, Nigger, Wetback, etc. The fact that you are even getting such hits should strike you as immediately odd. Go to some other game forums and try the same thing. Normally, searches like these will come up nearly empty (or tangential in content), because such things are usually detected, erased, and the offenders banned.

Here are some SoM hits that I picked out; the worst of them seem to deal with anti-semitic hate propaganda (or perhaps that is just my personal bias):






For bonus points, let's try a hit with Montreal, to discover a writer sympathetic to the Dawson shooter:


Read the post by "Aeneas" that was in response to one by "Scorpio" (the game and forum owner) regarding the Montreal shooter.

I've heard of similar racial and ethnic "battles" that had little to do with the official game being played, specifically on Ultima Online servers, but that was before my time, and is only hearsay (for me, at least). Something about players dropping crafting goods in colours and patterns matching their flags, and waging war on other ethnic groups with flags that they were warring with in the real world.

Perhaps this is part of what my memory recalled of the story:


Using the game itself, or the official forums, to spread real world racial or ethnic hate is a new, and very unpleasant, metagame experience for me. I figured I should add it to the list of "games played whilst the game is played".


"Using the game itself, or the official forums, to spread real world racial or ethnic hate is a new, and very unpleasant, metagame experience for me. I figured I should add it to the list of "games played whilst the game is played"."

Then try SoMtInG more pleasant : hate the Saudi Arabians, or the muslims, or Blackwater, or Pervers Musharraf,or Putin ,or prick Cheney, or the green color or the rock music. In my country, if i doubt/discuss the so-called " holocaust " you put me in jail, but i may deny Jesus and God's existence. I believe we are not born equals, we do not develop equals and we are not living as equals. The differences include the race, sex, religion,nationality,social class, political opinions and pretty much everything . SoM things i hate , some i don't.Games are part of the real world. If you play on real world, only God and the nature's constraints are above , and that levels and makes the real world a fair game as fair as it can be : noone can cheat or bribe God or the nature or the physical laws of Universe.In this world, we play each against the other. If you play a virtual world game, you play against the actually play against the House . One must be really dumb to do that and to ignore the larger picture.


From a designer perspective I read this type of thing like:

Physics: How things fit within the logic of the system.

Mechanics: How things work when interacting within the physics of the game.

Broken Mechanics: Things that dont do what they should, this needs to be managed by something else.

When going from a single player game to an mmorpg you add a whole lot of strange physics in the form of human behaviour. Its not a fully understood bunch of physics, but neither is everything understood about particle physics.

You also add human mechanics, like social structures and reward schedules which the players embed within the physical reality of the game. A lot of those ideals about whats right or wrong is a human mechanic.

Then you got the broken mechanics, these may be things like the "Shartuul incident" in WoW, dupe bugs or obvious optimization paths. (The Shartuul incident is interesting as a case because it was only a little broken bit of physics which the players attempted to patch through social mechanics but Blizzard's policy broke it a whole lot more when they said it was allowed within the rules. Thats when it became really controversial.)


I think that's a fine design perspective, but what I'm asking is what at a metaphysical level do we mean by: "Things that dont do what they should"

What is the nature of this 'should', what is practice being measured against and are there limits to what we can ever know about this standard, can it ever be singular etc.


“I'd venture to say that the majority (if not the vast majority) of those games were learned, played, and governed according to social convention.”

Okay with learned and governed. Played? Very most likely not. This claim must assume that play somehow serves social fabric. This in turn requires assigning a value (like, say, the value of power) to social fabric prior to/beyond that of play. If play is the value-giver/constructor/generator, then social fabric has to stand in line like everything else. Thus the pointless of Ren’s question about what sort of “should-ness” should govern play: you don’t shudda-cudda play; play shudda-cuddas you.

Play-doh’s game, resistance is feudal, and like that.


Im not sure I understand the full scope of this interesting topic, but with my somewhat narrow perspective it boils down to being profitable or not.

Similar to what Damion said about griefing, something along the lines of: any player that costs more than they pay is a griefer.

Any feature, physical or mechanical (or even broken) "should" have a positive ROI in the end. Mostly you dont go that straight at the target when designing them, the path towards making money goes through delivering towards some visionary design goals first.

So the 'should' part becomes a matter of money. The hard part is to get a feel for what the real cost of something is.

I think the art of making music present these patterns in an less fudgy manner, but thats a different topic. ^^

~its expensive to add much loud flute when you make death metal...


"Ren Reynolds says:

I think that's a fine design perspective, but what I'm asking is what at a metaphysical level do we mean by: "Things that dont do what they should"

What is the nature of this 'should', what is practice being measured against and are there limits to what we can ever know about this standard, can it ever be singular etc."

Nobody knows what " should " , for a simple reason : we don't know who we are , what we are, where from are we comming and where are we going.

Some guys, like Moses or the Pope or Buddha or Dalai Lama or Darwin pretend they know the answers. I doubt they do.

So : until we know the answer to at least one of the basic questions of life , the only " should " is : follow your instinct and manage your own interests. Nobody else will pay for your mistakes but yourself , but the same time everybody want a share from your earnings/achievements.

Really, is meaningless to talk about ideals : sure, one can have a lot of ideals or at least few strong ones : then what next ? Do you know of anybody living longer or better it's life , from following it's ideals ? I know of a lot of ppls living a much worse/shorter life exactely because of following " ideals ". This remainds me of that guy who said : " whatever comes after * virtual* , basically means : it is not real ".


@dmyers: If your point is that the practice of playing a game can also remake social fabric, then I don't disagree. They can both be true -- the game reflects the accumulated and shared meanings and practices of a given context, but also is a means by which such practices and meanings become transformed. That's what Giddens' notion of structuration, as one well-known example, recognizes for social processes generally. It's not an either/or.


Actually, things do have to be either/or.

In this case, for instance, things have to be either [either/or] or [both].
You want to argue [both]; I want to argue [either/or].
And, in this formal context, I win either way.

Point is, then, this formal context is the context of play.
And play wins either way.

A game binds play, but only by and within the rules of the game.

When you say:
o, play is not really bound by the rules of the game
AND THEREFORE, play must be bound by rules outside the game,
like (wink, wink) social rules.

I say, no,
play isn’t bound by any rules but its own.
And, by the rules of play,
Play wins
Either way.

So, if and when social rules attempt to bind play
As they do all the time
The result is either boo hoo and shudda-cudda
Or, maybe in pvp:
“If you kill me one more time,
I am going to find you and kill you in real life and I am not kidding.”

Which is sort of a typical quote
From a [both] bot
Just before it dies
One more time.


I agree that there is a fundamental open-endedness to games which make them potentially a threat to all sorts of social orderings. I see this as a feature of the human quality we both referenced far above. So I don't think we disagree very much, except in so much as you appear to want to leap from that fact to a romanticization or idealization of "play" as a transcendent concept not only beyond history, but beyond experience (there's that Platonic ideal again).


And, furthermore, I never said that play is "not really bound by the rules of the game." Far from it. I said only that the rules are not the only way by which games are ordered. They are also ordered by the material/architectural circumstances in which they are played (the rocky field, the cracked sidewalk, the temperamental parquet of the Boston Garden, the number of spaces on a Monopoly board, the lag in World of Warcraft), and by social expectations which are either imposed on them or emerge from within them (such as the convention in soccer of kicking the ball out when the opposing team has an injured player, with that team then kicking it out again after play resumes). Notice that here I am including social conventions that have no other meaningful context in which to operate -- i.e., those that are only of the game in practice.

Earlier on, you seemed to want to argue that these are all best understood as "rules." But I'm saying there is no primacy of one kind of governance over the other -- they all govern games to a certain extent. That they also happen to be the same kinds of governance we encounter elsewhere in our lives strikes me as no accident, but it doesn't rob games of their distinctiveness as social artifacts, ones that have the subversive potential noted above.

But, of course, this potential doesn't come from the rules, or the architecture, or the conventions. It comes from a shared commitment to balancing those kinds of constraints with certain possibilities so as to create a domain in which indeterminate outcomes unfold, outcomes which are then interpreted and which, just possibly, can subvert other social orderings. That this is possible also testifies to the fact that games are not perfectly set apart, but only ever semi-bounded from other domains of our lives. I reiterate: this does not mean that they are just yet another social domain -- they do merit special attention, and they are powerful. We don't need to romanticize either rules or play to recognize how this is so.


My apologies for the triple post, but there really is a panoply of things to respond to here, dmyers.

To suggest (as you do in your final, um, stanza I guess) that social rules attempts to bind play are always unsuccessful strikes me as, well, naive. I do think, as I just said, that play can be quite subversive, and (to put it less politically) it can be a source of new meanings, but there are also plenty of cases of games that are so deeply colonized and structured by social conventions that they pretty much cease to be games at all. Instead, they become a kind of ritual, one that merely confirms the social order. Trobriand Cricket is one example, fox hunting may be another. Nothing immunizes games (or play) in any case from being overrun by established interests.


" Nothing immunizes games (or play) in any case from being overrun by established interests."

At that point, them are no longer games, anymore.
And we were talking about games and play .

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