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"ignorance of, and insensitivity to, the tension between visible and invisible rules, has robbed TSO of part of its potential."
Our (almost) weekly installment commemorating Carmen Hermosillo (aka humdog). Read the original as printed on 08/07/2004 in The Alphaville Herald here.
rules seem easy enough for people to talk about — at first. everybody thinks they know what rules the rules are for a given game, and how they work. but rules are not that easy. the superficial simplicity of rules for gaming is a lie.
when most people think of rules what they think about are the rules that guide the operation of a game or a procedure. when people think of rules what they call to mind are the statements that say “do THIS!!!” “don’t do THAT!!”. these are nice rules and if that were all there was to rules, it would be easy and we could play our games in harmony and there would be no fights.
but rules, especially rules for MMORPGs are not like that. MMORPGs have multiple layers of rules and most of these rules are both unspoken and invisible to the naked eye.
i give an example: there is a layer of rules that has to do with the construction of the game. these are mathematical formulas and assumptions that guide the game, and that have to accounted for in order for the game to work. even as simple a game as tic tac toe, as katie salen and eric zimmerman have pointed out, is to one extent or another guided by the concept of the magic square.
another example: there is a layer of rules that are assumed to be there, but that nobody talks about or even thinks about or notices except when the invisible rules are broken. if you and i play checkers, i can make you impatient and upset and maybe even angry with me if i take too much time to make my move. there is a rule about how long i should wait between moves, and we don’t talk about it, but we know that its there. we know its there because if i take too long, you will get annoyed with me for breaking that rule.
on account of this we can easily see that the rules that many players cling to like life-rafts in a game are on one level only the tip of the iceberg relative to the rules of a given game. it could also be that maybe the written rules are even the least important of all of the rules that govern any game.
i think that these invisible and unspoken rules need to be brought up to the surface of gaming and discussed, particularly where they impact MMORPGs. the invisible rules need to be described and discussed because in some cases their invisibility creates difficulty particularly where the invisible rules of a game contradict the written rules of a game.
nowhere is the contradiction between written and unwritten rules more visible than in The Sims Online. There are people, including EA corporate representatives, who insist that the terms of service agreement (TOS) for TSO clearly describes the rules for TSO. i don’t think this is true. the TOS makes an attempt, in the most awkward and general language possible, to describe the operational rules for TSO. the TOS also describes in much more practiced language the various uses that electronic arts (EA) is happy to make of any personal information, conversation, behavior, and/or any other activities that an end user may say or perform or participate in while under the TSO roof. the TOS, however, does not address any of the invisible rules of this game.
the TOS will fall down eventually fall down because the document was written by corporate lawyers and not by gamers. because it was written by lawyers whose expertise is the law and not gaming, the document does not allow for the operation of the invisible rules of MMORPGs within TSO. one of these invisible rules is that the operational rules are also part of the active game, and are meant, as TSO designer will wright once put it, to be “played”. the operational rules are more paintbox than they are handcuffs. the operational rules of TSO were meant to be tools. they were not meant to be enforced like the california vehicle code. the operational rules of TSO were meant to be used to enrich play.
my thought is that EA ought to consider revising the TOS so that it openly accounts for the presence of the invisible rules of MMORPGs. ignorance of, and insensitivity to, the tension between visible and invisible rules, has robbed TSO of part of its potential.