Transneptune Games

warm games, cold nights

Rules and Techniques

At Ryan Macklin’s suggestion, I listened to the Jennisodes interview with Bill White. You should too—Bill’s an interesting guy, Jenn’s a good interviewer, and it will make you full of warm fuzzies. What struck me particularly in the interview, though, was Bill’s explanation of Jeepform. For those who don’t know, Jeepform is a Scandinavian form of role-playing that, in Bill’s words, puts technique before rules. I’ve never had direct experience with it, only with people talking about it, and until Bill put it that way, I found it somewhat inscrutable.

I just have a few quick thoughts on the matter that I wanted to air.

Every game, to be a game, has a set of things you do that constitute the play of that game.1 Those things will be both codified things and more flexible ad-hoc behaviors. So, rules and technique. Every game has both.

Jeepform, like everyone else in this field, agrees that restrictions foster creativity, but techniques and rules are, I think, different kinds of restriction. It’s the difference, you might say, between lines in the dirt and fence-posts in the field. So, maybe, the difference between the two emphases is a soft one. In both cases, the constraints should be buttresses rather than ceilings, of course.

But there are some qualities about techniques, rather than rules, that make them better-suited to buttress-style constraints. Techniques are things that you use when you need them to attain a goal, whereas rules are things that you may or may not transgress in the course of attempting to get to a goal. Can you be said to cheat when you “break” a technique? I do not think so.

So can you straight-up write a game as “here are the tools you can use to get this sort of aim”? And can you do so while still re-aligning players’ incentives such that they will use those techniques to attain ends that they would otherwise reject, but which are too compelling to avoid?

I hope and think so.

  1. Some people have argued that games need a goal, but I do not entirely agree. I think that they only require some codified procedures, which may or may not include an end state. []