Rule Layering

Part 2 of 2 of the Modding on the Social Level blogchain

Thinking further, the game of Cops and Robbers in Halo operates on a layer of rules.

On the fundamental layer we were in a server that was set up for Capture the Flag. Both teams had flags at their base. Our goal was to capture their flag, bring it back to our base, and do this 3 times before the other team did. But we disregarded these rules entirely, vouching for Cops and Robbers, a game that had a set of rules but no endgame. There was no winner or loser like in CTF. We just wanted to keep the game going for as long as people were in the server.

This calls to mind a dichotomy popularized by James Carse – finite and infinite games. The game modes in multiplayer shooters like Halo are built on finite games. Rules are in place for a game where there is a winner and a loser. Capture the Flag fits this category. One team wins, the other loses, the game stops. Cops and Robbers, on the other hand, is an infinite game. Rules are in place for the game to continue indefinitely. There are no winners and losers, only cops and robbers. And maybe most of this (in)finite game theory is already familiar to you.

What I am interested is how games operate and transform along this spectrum. For example, we see infinite games become finite games all the time in sports. Skateboarding could be such an example – an outcast endeavor turned mainstream with competitions ranging from local contests to the X-games.

But what about the reverse operation? How does a finite game blossom into an infinite game? Is it a transformation or is it simply a layer on top of the finite game? This is a compelling question on multiple levels. For one, web interactions have been given metrics that resemble finite games. Views and likes become the score we keep. Add money to the equation and it becomes a full-blown competition. There is a want to reduce these characteristics in order to make the web a more welcoming place. In short, we want to make the web more of an infinite game than a finite game. Understanding how this process works could help us achieve the desired outcome of a better web.

However, it will take more than removing notifications and likes. A layer beneath the UX/UI needs to be dealt with – the rules we make on top of the game we are playing. Because you could technically be playing on a Capture the Flag server but choose to play Cops and Robbers instead. The CTF server, a place for a finite game, becomes a place to instate your own rules – an infinite game. And perhaps that is what we need on the web more than ever. The infrastructure is there. We need to realign what game and, fundamentally, what rules, that infrastructure serves.