Gracious Living

October 26, 2010, 21:45
Filed under: Games | Tags: , , ,

I really wanted to say something about topology last night — maybe tonight.  I had a take-home midterm last night that I just barely got done.

The co-op house I live in is doing a reorganization of its library.  First of all, it’s awesome that we even have a library.  Second, this means more useless books for my private stash.  I’m not so much a bibliophile as an ideophile.  I’ve been tempted to pick up books whose subjects I already know thoroughly just to get a different perspective.  I don’t really have much time for personal reading at school, but whenever I see free books I have dreams that “well, I’ll get around to this someday” and “I can give it back when I’m done.”

This time around, picked up a physics textbook, a book on computability, and this crazy little thing called SIMSOC.  Created by the sociologist William Gamson, it looks to be a social experiment/role playing game/business retreat exercise focused around the challenges of maintaining a coherent society while trying to satisfy your individual goals.

SIMSOCIt’s dangerously dry at times (you stay alive by buying “subsistence tickets”) with a few moments of unexpected wackiness (Gamson suggests that the coordinator sell real-life “Munchies” for the game’s imaginary money) and an overall flavor of 1984 (the “Basic Groups” the players can work for are called BASIN, JUDCO, EMPIN, MASMED, etc. … what?).  But some of the gameplay touches look very interesting.  The industries of production are classified into BASIN (basic industry) and RETSIN (retail/sales industry).  Employees of the former are tasked with the grueling job of counting all the vowels in a passage of text; those of the latter have the more creative job of finding anagrams of words.  The two political parties (POP and SOP) and the employee interests (EMPIN) and human services (HUMSERVE) groups are given no explicit tasks, but are paid for each membership card they receive, suggesting that they have to find some way to make themselves useful to their members.  There’s also a media group (MASMED) that has the unique ability to communicate across the various “regions” without physically travelling there and incurring a fee.  Finally, there’s a judicial council (JUDCO) that is meant to arbitrate rules disputes, though it’s given no explicit power to enforce it.

Oh, but you are allowed to make private police forces and start riots.  And only the heads of the above groups are explicitly paid, so working for any given one implies a certain amount of trust, and it is equally possible to develop a communist society as a capitalist one.  Extending over the entire game are the National Indicators, measuring things like the happiness and standard of living of the society, and which also affect the income of all Basic Groups.  They are lowered by pretty much anything bad happening, and raised by investment in environmental or social programs.

Did I mention this was first created in 1966, eight years before D&D?  It could really be considered the first modern RPG, though it appears the conception of immersion or role-playing as such is mostly absent, replaced by an emphasis on interaction.

Another direct comparison is my favorite game, Nomic.  Both are “about” player-constructed rule systems.  But Nomic is more interested (in my view) in a Platonic system where the rules act on each other1 through the players’ agency.  SIMSOC, on the other hand, is concerned with rule enforcement: even a democratic, Nomic-like system of SIMSOC legislation is separate from the Official Rules put in place by the rulebook, and so players are free to disobey player-enacted rules.  I wonder how interesting a combination of the two would be.  Sadly, my attempts at playing Nomic long-term haven’t gone well, so I don’t feel like I can really answer this question yet.2

It’s recommended for 15-90 people.  If I can rassle up that many, and some sort of CCTV/intercom system for MASMED to weave its lies with, and a copy of the Coordinator’s Manual for $5 from Simon & Schuster, and a place to stand, I think it would be an either rollicking good, or THX-1138-like, time.

1 Writing this makes me think about group actions, a really concrete way of looking at groups and symmetry that we’ll get to when we talk about algebra. I wonder if there’s a way to talk about the algebraic action of a set of logical assertions on each other. This probably has something to do with model theory — I shall read more.

2 I really really love this stuff. The idea of gameplay as art is beginning to gain acceptance, and people are just starting to come up with ways of analyzing its aesthetics. By the way, if you’re interested in playing a game of e-mail Nomic, send me an e-mail or something. It would be cool to get something like that started. (I’ll talk about Nomic in another post.)

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