Breaking the Rules

Posted: February 11, 2013 by kiryuzaki in Uncategorized
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Rules in a constructed environment are always an interesting concept. As a long-time GM myself, I am all too familiar with constructed rules and, more importantly, how players interact with them. For this reason I find the rules of a world in which every single little detail is constructed a fascinating study in rules vs. players. Salen and Zimmerman have three categories of rules, Operational, Constituative, and Implicit rules. The Operational rules in Mark of the Ninja are the stated rules of the game. As a stealth game, characters should not be spotted. While the latter will not result in a death, it will hurt the player’s final score. To accomplish this, players are told how to interact with their sprite by moving (traditional WASD), as well as how to grapple, distract guards, etc.


 The Constituative rules of the one must get from point A to point B without dying. If one dies, the player will return to a checkpoint. In addition, the player is limited to the space where the level is set. The Implicit rules are the basic rules of most games: a sprite will respond when commanded, playing the game will not alter anything not directly pertinent to the game, and all tools needed to progress in the game are readily available within the game, and typically in the GUI interface of the world, not the code or console. This is different from a game like Metal Gear Solid, in which very little of the game can be taken for granted. What’s really interesting though, are the ways players can interact with the rules. For example, there is an implicit rule that following the rules of the game will lead to progress in the game. However, at one point in my play, I tried to slip through the floor (a common mechanic in the game), found my character was stuck, and had to restart the level in order to resume play.


 This type of a bug is assumed to be ironed out by shipping, there is rigorous testing done to insure problems like this will not happen. This all feeds into trust, the trust of rules between the creator and player. Rules in games are a way for the creators and players to interact through a common ground. Yet, implicit in this common ground is the expectation that if one holds up their end of the bargain, the other will too. Often the player will break this agreement, as the creator can do little to retaliate. Yet, when the creators break the rules of clean code and functioning game, the players, far from being upset, occasionally embrace and pursue this. Below you can see several shots of ‘Game-Breaking.’




 Once I found the game is not fully complete, I felt compelled to keep trying to break it, timing jumps with grapples, then breaking. Attempting to overload the system lead to some interesting results, thought the main place I found it would work (especially ones that lasted long enough to grab a screenshot) was in grappling. So the rules of a game form a kind of trust in which we can play a game with implicit expectations across all games. Yet, sometimes, breaking those rules and violating that trust can from a new game, a competition with the developers and players. 


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