CJ Eller


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.


Part 1 of 2 of the Modding on the Social Level blogchain

It was middle school, playing Halo on the PC. I joined a server playing “Capture the Flag.” But it wasn't “Capture the Flag” at all. Someone in the game chat told me that we were playing another game – “Cops & Robbers.” The blue team were the “Cops” and the red team were the “Robbers”.

“So how does a robber get arrested?” I asked. Just hold crouch to signal to the cop you've given up. The cop would escort you back to the blue team base. The arrested could then wait for their team to break them out or they could try to escape themselves. Hell, they could even just do the time, chatting with the cop on guard. The simplicity of the rules amazed me.

Everything held together miraculously. Sure, some people disregarded the rules or just attempted to play “Capture the Flag” anyway, but these people were in the minority. Everyone was engaged in the game, creating fictional scenarios around the maps and taking on identities like police commander and hitman. A community formed around the game that lasted for years.

I used to look back on those years of playing Halo “Cops & Robbers” with embarrassment. It took up a lot of time that could've been spent elsewhere. Hindsight isn't 20/20 from the start though. Only now do I see how formative this early experience was. Sure, there were early examples of web community building, but something else rises to the top of my mind.

Modding has been a popular form of giving a game new life. It is an involved process, adding or modifying assets that change the core game. Programming and game engine knowhow is a minimum requirement.

But something else was happening when we played “Cops & Robbers” in Halo. It wasn't modding in the traditional sense. Nothing in the core game was changed. Instead, we were playing on top of the game infrastructure, creating a new set of rules that were to be abided by. These mods were not operating on the software level but on the social level. Anyone could have created them (and many people did C&R offshoots). It was just a matter of creating the right conditions for the rules to be maintained over time.

These kind of social-level mods give me optimism for new forms of writing on the web. Perhaps we don't need to reinvent things on the software level. Perhaps we should focus our attention on the social level. Take shared blogchains for instance. They take the traditional form of a blog but add another twist – there is a series where multiple people can contribute to it, linking to previous entries in their post. Shared blogchains work upon rules that are built upon the established infrastructure of blogs. Its novelty does not register on a software level but on a social level – “Oh, I didn't think of organizing writing between people in that way.”

To me this all hits at a simple but powerful principle echoed by Darius Kazemi in his guide Run Your Own Social:

Social solutions for social problems