For the terminally out of touch, Gnomic is a game of the type I call Rule-Playing Games. For the past seven months, it has been an ongoing experiment in self-modification. In the process of playing the game, the nature of the game itself is changed, according to the wishes of the players. It can become as interesting and fanciful and challenging as the people participating in it.
The past few issues of mathNEWS have contained articles covering various facets of the game as it is being played right now -- Gnomic. In this article, I will talk about Nomics in general, and some other self- modifying games which may be of interest to Nomicheads and like-minded individuals.
Part of what makes Suber's initial set interesting is its attempt to model legal and law-making systems of government. It was, originally, intended as an example to teach the concept of self-amendment in these systems to law students, and as an example in his book on self-amendment in law. Thus, the various tiers of mutability mimic constitution as compared with mere laws, or bylaws; judgement is available to interpret rules which are ambiguous or contradict other rules, and so forth.
Sometimes, though, the original Suber ruleset is not enough, or doesn't quite do what players want from their initial set: sometimes players don't want to spend the time to modify the game enough to provide the framework for play that they really really want. So a common pastime among Nomic players has been the creation of initial rulesets having various different philosophies from the original. There are minimal rulesets (with as few as 2 rules, or even 0 for the daring few), object-oriented rulesets for the sophisticate, legalistic rulesets for the aspiring lawyer in each of us, and more different types of initial set than you could shake a stick at. In my 3 years as a founding member of my high-school's Nomic Club, we went through about 5 initial sets, some quite close to Suber's concept, others not so close. One was a multi- tiered legalistic document that stretched to over 20 pages.
These kind of experiments show that the concept of a self-modifying game has some kind of intrinsic appeal. There is something about a game which changes during play that people find fascinating.
With these many Nomics in play, it was inevitable that someone should take the concept to the next step: Internomic. Internomic is a nomic in which the players are themselves nomics. It is intended to model the United Nations, whose members are countries with their own legal codes and systems of government. Internomic has not existed very long, but already it is beginning to explore some of the paradoxes implicit in its nature: it has joined itself as a member.
Another experiment with the concept of meta-nomics is the United Nomics -- so far nonexistent. Some of its interesting features are the ability to trade from one game to another ... even if the rule which makes an object meaningful in one game doesn't exist in another. The problems this creates will no doubt be vast: nomic is far more complex than almost any other game, once it has been in play for more than a few months, and the paradoxes of this trade are far more severe and difficult to resolve than getting a trump card from a bridge game in your poker hand.
As the Internet grows, and Nomics become more popular, we will probably see some very strange experiments in self-modifying games of all scales. Given Nomic's tendency to spread out and try to include everything it can find, we will probably see things I can't even begin to imagine now.
There is a bizarrely popular card-game in which the rules of the game are secret, and must be learned by each player by trial and error, and the winner of each hand can introduce a new rule, also secret. Some people find it infuriating and unplayable, but others have an incurable addiction to this puzzling game. Some see it as an almost total metaphor for life in general, in which the rules have to be learned, and in which mastery of those rules gives one power to change them. Some just find it frustrating and cruel.
However you see it, this game is an example of the fascination that self-modifying games have for some people, and also illustrates an interesting point about laws and social conventions. Quite often we follow rules or conventions which are never written down, or even if they are, are vague and unclear. No two interpretations of these rules will ever be exactly the same, and when we teach them to others -- as when the Game is taught by those who have learned it by their own experience -- they are often passed along in some distorted or mutated form. There are easily a few dozen different variations of the game, and even playing the same variant, players are often confronted by situations that challenge their understandings of what the rules actually are, and how they apply to situations they might never have foreseen. In this, the game is just like Nomic, and just like the legal system.
The Internomic home page is:
Some popular net-based nomics include Ackanomic at:
and Agora at:
while the local game of Gnomic has a web page at:
and you can find out how to join by mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 1997 mathNEWS