modular rules

January 1, 2016 - workbook

Just before Christmas I met with some colleagues at Bath Spa who have an interest in games. We’re beginning to do some work together, bringing together disciplinary interests in psychology, education, gaming cultures and creative computing. At the end of our last meeting I asked if anyone had some recommendations for good family games as something normally appears under the tree each year. We’ve got some good euro games and enjoy things like Carcassonne and Ticket to Ride, as well as more interactive/argumentative games like Chain Reaction or Balderdash, but I was looking for something new. Pete Etchells suggested a few good games, and in the end I went for Fluxx as it looked like it was quick to learn, didn’t need a lot of setup, and could be quite quick to play. Magically, Father Christmas duly delivered it and I’ve been trying it out with the children mostly. It’s a lovely card game, with players trying to satisfy a particular winning condition by laying cards. The interesting thing though is the way cards modify the rules and change the current winning goal at a fast pace. It can get very confusing though as a lot of the rules contradict or overwrite each other, but quick discussion generally resolves any confusion. It’s a lot of fun.

So the experience of playing the game suggested, or at least solidified, an idea for a modular rule-based piece. I’ve worked with both these elements for a while: modularity in #[unassigned] and most pieces since, and rules since about 2011. So it seems a natural combination. I’m currently thinking through some possibilities for a piece commissioned by Lutherie Urbaine in Paris for next year that will be performed by children in a local primary school. Thierry Madiot has been developing work with them over the past few years, bringing in composers to make new pieces. I met them in December and was amazed by the level of control and concentration they showed when working on with paper and things whole and not whole. Their response in the last piece in particular was astonishing, and so the new piece will involve interpersonal cueing given the skill they showed. And it will use a modular rule system.

At the moment I’m working through a framework for the rules so that they can be combined to create different types of interaction. I learnt that modular systems need an interface in order to plug the modules together when working on #[unassigned], so I’m developing that at the moment. I don’t think the piece will be as dynamic as Fluxx yet as this might be overly complex for this context, but as with all good games, there could be a later expansion. Essentially the piece will involve choosing a group of rules that frame player behaviour, and then this is articulated by the choices they make. It may end up as a meta-piece for everything I’ve made over the past four years, but I’m not sure yet.

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