Friday, April 27, 2012

Introducing needless complexity into Nomic

For those who are keeping track of these things, we continued to play Nomic today at our homeschooling logic club.

Nomic is a game of self-governance, created in 1982 by philosopher Peter Suber. Like any other folk game, there are a number of variants, but the version I am most familiar with and taught to the children begins with exactly one rule: that it takes a two-thirds majority to change the rules. We played the game last week, and even though I was introducing it to a group of preteens, the game was very well received.

We continued our previous session, and though we passed fewer rules this time than previously, we still had a good time. The new rules passed are as follows.

21. Firstly, if Billy is not present, then the writer must go first. For purposes of Rule 11, the computer counts as paper and the person operating the computer counts as the writer. Secondly, if a rule is proposed, it must be voted on unless the person proposing the rule decides to withdraw it. Thirdly, the turn changes to the next person once the vote has been cast. (This rule represents an interesting development in how the kids were viewing the game. They realized that, according to Rule 5, Billy should go first -- but Billy was absent that day. Additionally, since I had transcribed the rules to the computer and they weren't using pen and ink, they had to confront an unexpected shortcoming of their rules by redefining their terms. But most significantly, this is a rule that addresses multiple, unrelated problems at the same time. That's a huge leap in complexity.)

22. Rules pass by a simple majority. (They were doing the math and realized three-fifths might not always be easy if we didn't have five players.)

23. Turn passes by the roll of a die, rather than to the next person in the circle. (My idea. I keep trying to give the game more unexpected twists and changes, to keep people on their toes.)

24. You cannot have a turn three times in a row, no matter how the die rolls. (Oldest Daughter's suggestion. She had proposed the turn limit last week, but her effort failed when everyone favored the idea of turns rotating clockwise instead.)

25. Rules 2 5, and 7 do not go into effect until quarter past three. (I inject more chaos. Note that only two rules have been passed since my last turn. This is due in part to the X factor introduced by the roll of the die, but also because it was becoming harder to reach consensus on what rules to make, now that the basic fairness issues had been resolved.)

26. E____'s father does not have to vote on any of her rules. (There were a couple failed efforts to pass rules between Rule 25 and this one. Ironically, I was able to get my daughter's blank-check support for this rule by telling her I would support the next rule she proposed.)

27. David Diez and Mary (Joe's mother) may join the game; also, Rule 25 is no longer in effect. (The kids all thought Rule 26 was funny, but they also agreed with my daughter that it was a sneaky sort of thing to do.)

28. (I called for a vote on this rule before Joe could propose anything. The vote passed 5-1.)

The game was a hit the second week in a row, but at this point, I have no plans to continue it. Next time we meet, we will play a similar game a friend of mine in California has introduced me to, called 1,000 Blank White Cards. It looks interesting.

Copyright © 2012 by David Learn. Used with permission.

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