Sunday, August 20, 2006

Why Game Rules are Better than Laws

In a previous post I ruminated about the inherent problem with law making. I postulated that all laws invariably error on the side of forbidding that which should be permitted, or permitting that which should be forbidden. In this way, laws are like wild shots trying to bring order into our lives, but doomed to imperfection at any fine level of analysis.

Nevertheless, I admit that, as they say about Democracy, it may not be perfect but it's the best system we've got. Laws substantially help society to achieve the results of the principles that they want to enforce, and this is despite the fact that the laws will never do so 100%.

One of the funny things we have noticed about the Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club is that so many of us are "yekke"s, which is the word we use for Jews of German descent. This group is noted for its strict adherence to punctuality and formality. In other words, rules are a big part of life.

None of us think that it is coincidental that these type of people are drawn to a game group.

Where else but a game group can you find relief from the messy nature of the rest of life? The rules of games are printed in black and white. Along with commonly agreed upon ethical principles and sportsmanship, these rules are limited and clear. While the game is in session, no one adds more rules to the game or changes them.

Of course, we all know that this is a load of crap. Rules problems occur during games, especially rules heavy games like Magic: the Gathering or chaotic games like Cosmic Encounter. And we love these games just as much as any other games, maybe even more.

Even so, games provide a safe and comfortable platform for rules discussions, so long as we are all of good will and the discussions are limited in length. They can be enforced for a limited duration, such as one game, or set as house rules that will be used for all of our game sessions.

In fact, discussing rules is something we like a lot, so long as it doesn't take over the game play, lead to senseless circular discussions, or grate on anybody. Similarly, once a great game system is in place, creating variants and seeing them work is like a happy drug to the rules-oriented mind.

Contrast this to the rules of social conversation, or politics, or copyrights. These rules are endless, change constantly, and make no basic sense at any fine level. Even the "right" way to talk about these rules is never agreed upon. We all know that we're right, and the other person just doesn't get it. What's wrong with you people?

Entering a game, entering a game group - or a sports group, or a book club, or any other defined social gathering, but especially games and sports - is a soothing balm to lovers of rules and rationality, like relaxing with a fine wine.


P.S. Gerald Cameron continues the search for elegance in games.


Anonymous said...

well, I guess that in most cases, for the in-game world game rules are more like laws of physics than a code of conduct.

They state what you can, and can't do. Not what you will get punished for doing.

Yehuda Berlinger said...

TalDa - Yes, excellent comment. In games, you get punished for your poor achievements, not for violating rules.


Jackson Pope said...

I wonder if this is why games are so popular amongst Germans? Stereotypically (at least in England), Germans are thought to be very organised and like a sense of order.

Unlike laws of physics, you can break the rules of the game. Either unintentionally (through lack of knowledge or forgetfulness) or intentionally (through cheating). In this case, punishment (if caught) happens more like criminal law - you get docked any illegally obtained advantage, taught the error of your ways and possibly banned from playing again.

Yehuda Berlinger said...

Technically, you can't break the laws of the game. You can only break the laws of the game group.

Cheating is a violation against the laws of the game group. Punishment for cheating, again, is dealt out by the game group, not the game.

You have to invoke rules such as mispelled words in Scrabble, or unfilled colonists in Puerto Rico, to find laws that you can break inside the game itself.