It would be nice if we had a good and thorough description of Twixt’s behavior. But, however I describe that behavior, I don’t think that description is going to be believable — or, more importantly, persuasive — at this point. I can, however, certainly call bs on various posts I’ve seen floating around — most of all the long post by “CoH player” that appears, quoted verbatim, inside this Broken Toys entry, and which has been sent widely and energetically around the web. I’ve already, long ago inside the CoH forums, addressed and refuted most of these absurd template claims [and, once again, here], but that, of course, means nothing to an anonymous wall of mob.
I can only note that all the things Twixt is accused of doing in descriptions like the above are simple, mundane, and easily mimicked in-game things that really aren’t much fun and really aren’t in the spirit of the game rules at all – game rules that Twixt championed and for which he was universally reviled; one can only wonder, if doing such simple and mundane things indeed encompasses the Twixt story, why is there a Twixt story at all?
But lets talk about something else. Let’s talk about the game.
There are a number of definitions of games floating around. I’m working on a paper now that summarizes several of these, in a manner similar to how Juul described and summarized these same game definitions in his keynote address to the 2003 DiGRA conference.
The above is taken from here.
Later, in Half-Real (2005), Juul extended and refined his summary to emphasize rules as integral to all games. Other game definitions emphasize the importance of rules as well – as you can see in the insert above.
What makes rules so important? I like best the way Bernard Suits explains things: Game rules are prohibitive. Game rules establish game goals and, simultaneously, game rules deny the most efficient means of achieving those goals. Without waiting for your opponent’s turn, for instance, you could easily win TicTacToe. But this then would be avoiding the obstacle to that goal (waiting your turn) established by the rules. It would be cheating.
More complex games have more complex rules, but the essential characteristics remain: Game rules are prohibitive; and these prohibitive rules assert and, simultaneously, deny game goals. This puts game goals and game rules in an odd, even paradoxical relationship. Because of the uneasy tension between – and within — rules and goals, game play occurs in a peculiarly in-between, liminal state. And, therein, game play is distinct from other aesthetic experiences.
What if this rules-goals relationship is tampered with? If rules and goals become too rigid, then the game becomes a simulation – something like a game, but not really a game. And if rules and goals become too loose and flexible, the game becomes free play – again, something like a game, but different, and with a different set of consequences.
Likewise, when social rules substitute for or replace game rules, they do so at the expense of the game’s liminal properties. Game rules are prohibitive and paradoxical; social rules – most particularly the ones I observed in CoH — are authoritarian and static, inhibiting game play. With social rules in effect, the CoH game becomes less a game and more a society. There is less play and more politics.
The CoH game designers – and other MMO designers — seem to have largely abdicated their responsibility to design a game in favor of providing a “sandbox” for players to use as they wish. This may be good for game designer jobs, their blog readers, and their pocketbooks, but it is not particularly good for their games.
Many have commented that the Twixt results are trivial and that I should not have been surprised things turned out the way they did. One would have to be very cynical indeed – even more cynical than I am, for instance – to believe that the death of games and gaming is trivial.
That drastically overstates the point, of course, but I do think that social rules and social pressures have, within online communities, already transformed our notion of what a game is and isn’t. My goodness, without even touching on the details of Twixt’s behavior, look at the response to the Twixt paper — and to me. Notice how little that response references game play and how adamantly that response references and reinforces a social order peripheral to game play.
Most surprisingly of all (maybe only to me), game designers themselves seem no longer interested in their rules. They seem to focus increasingly less on game rules and increasingly more on game rulers. Rulers don’t like the game rules? No problem. Eliminate those rules.
And then, as I’ve said before…
Of course, in order for all this to work, not only do the game rules have to be deprioritized, but so too must the players who play by those game rules be deprioritized, marginalized, and, if at all possible, eliminated.
And it’s not so much fun to be eliminated.
***note: I've closed comments here, too many to handle. See here.