Little Blog Adventure

A gaming "sketchblog"

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Calvinball: Game or Not?

I really don't recall Calvinball having this many rules! From what I remember of the comic strip, there was only one real rule: you can't play the game the same way twice. Heh. But even if we define the "game" by the rules on the link above, can it be considered an actual game? Well, there is a very clear creation of game-space by the very first rule of the game. You wear a mask to play the game. Anyone who isn't wearing a mask, isn't part of the game. That's a magic circle right there!

I'm going to ignore the rest of the rules(since the page says that's allowed :P) except for 1.2 , which seems essential to the concept of Calvinball in my mind. Rule 1.2 states that any player may declare a new rule at any point of the game. Why, that makes Calvinball sort of a nomic (a nomic being a game where changing the rules is considered a move in the game)! Or a very chaotic variant of a nomic (where player's usually vote on whether to accept a new rule or not), anyway. What's intiguing about Calvinball (and Nomic) is that the players design the game as they play it.

Whether Calvinball can be played as a game, or whether it's pure play, really depends on the players. It's very easy to "wreck" the game. Say, if Calvin were to yell out, "New Rule: everyone not named Calvin loses!" But there's an interesting point to be made here. While it would be all-too-easy for players to make up such arbitrary rules to ensure they win immediately, the fun of Calvinball is really in keeping the game going for as long as possible, making up increasingly more bizzare rules along the way.

Looking at Calvinball from a design perspective, it's simply too chaotic to be a game. But to a kid who doesn't think that way, maybe it is. A lot of the games I played as a kid were pretty similarly pointless and devoid of any form of scoring system or a way for players to actually win or lose (nobody really loses a game of catch, it just ends when the bell rings to signal the end of recess). But somehow, the kids playing the games were different from the other kids who were just mucking about the playground or eating or whatever else. There was a sense of game there somehow. Perhaps Calvinball has this sense of being a game, even if it isn't actually one?

It would be an interesting exercise to actually try and construct a workable game around the premise.


At 8:20 PM, Blogger alex said...

Very good analysis... I didn't come across the nomic game until Thursday - should have read your blog earlier! :P

Yeah, the interesting thing about games is that, like you said, kids don't care about definitions... and there's definitely a difference between kids just playing, and kids playing a game, even if it doesn't fit Zimmerman's strict definition.

Maybe you can try designing a nomic game for assignment 2? :)


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