Friday, January 27, 2006


"Welcome folks... to....... CALVINBALL!!!... the weirdest, most chaotic ball game ever designed in history. For all you lay people out there, Calvinball is a game with...... no rules, except one, that is that no two games in Calvinball will ever, and i mean EVER be played in the same way (actually even this rule can be nullified), and the goal of the game is....well.... there is no goal...... "
[Abrupt Silence]

Before we start the game though, since we have quite a bit of free time for idle chatter before the game actually starts, let us talk about "game" Calvinball. Of course, the most impt question to ask, would be whether a "game" with practically no rules would actually be even considered a "game" in the first place. I would think that that would significantly depend on your definition of a "game."

Even though I have clearly stated the definition of a game in my last post, last week i learnt a more elaborate one from a wise, old sage. To quote (with a strong scent of curry flavour):

"A game is a voluntary interactive activity, in which one or more players follow rules that constrain their behavior, enacting an artificial conflict that ends in a quantifiable outcome"
- Alex Mitchell

Even though, the GREAT ONE's definition was quite spot on IMO, but for formality's sake, I will be using this given definition to dissect the game of Calvinball. Well, to me Calvinball seems like a really, really weird game that expands on some aspects of the definition of games given above but yet totally excludes some other aspects.

The two most obvious aspects to point out to show that Calvinball is a flawed game would be to pick on the two words, "rules" and "quantifiable outcome".......that's three, but WTH. If a circle would be used to define the frame of a game, which is the environment, in all aspects that the game is to be played within, and the rules are the boundaries of this circle, determining the play space, big or small, then the rules in Calvinball would be rather useless. I mean, not that there are no rules stated mind you, just that after reading the rules, you will find that the rules don't make much sense at all, and actually can be amended constantly, and by anyone.

In this sense, it becomes like a shape shifting circle, with the space changing shapes ever so consistently, into an oval, or square, or triangle, at anyone and everyones' whims and fancies. In short, the rules are just utterly chaotic and provide no sense of order at all. And they fail to make the second part of that segment in the definition come true. The use of the rules is so that it "constrain [the players'] behavior," and in this case, even though there are rules, they fail to constrain anyone's behaviour in anyway, since anyone can outrule anyone else's rule at almost anytime. So with this alone, it is already enough to undercut Calvinball as not a game.

However, THE GREAT ONE never rests at one, so he will take it one step further and break it down by the words, "quantifiable outcome." By common understanding, a quantifiable outcome is one in which there is a clear distinction between at least two outcomes, be it win, lose or draw, there must be numbers involved to differentiate wins and losses. However, in 1.8, it mentions a score system, but a nonsensical one. The rule of that is that the score system should not make any logical sense at all. So, technically, there is no way to differentiate the winners from the losers. With no outcome and no goal, would it still be a game? Like in my previous example of a soccer game without a goal, Calvinball would just seem like a bunch of mad people running around and just shouting weird things about rules and some type of singing involved (at least that's what the rules said.) So again, no rules, no game..... no goal, no game..... no rules and goal, NO GAME... Calvinball is not a game by logical standards.

However, I would like to point out some interesting (IMO at least, doesn't really matter what anyone else thinks) about this peculiar little game. One thing i feel about the game and the rules of the game, is that it takes the strecthes some aspects of the definition of games and take it to the extreme, it is as if the creators were taking the whole concept of "game" and spit right in the face of it, but at the same time, makes us all the more aware of what a game truly is and the elements necessary to make a game meaningful. I mean, I am sure there were a lot of times that we died fighting a boss or we got fouled in a sport and out of frustration thought to ourselves, ""Why did this !#$%^& constrain have to exist in the first place?"

In this sense, Calvinball actually highlights to us the importance of such restrictions. Another thing about it is that Calvinball takes interaction to a whole new level, its like a "what if" question taken to the extreme, and the creators thought to themselves, "what if we took the interaction in a game to a whole new level and allowed the player to not only interact with the given environment, but also alter the environment at the same time." I am sure to many of us, we would love to have this rule at some point of time in some of the games we played, and this disregard for the given environment only shows how it will actually destroy the entire frame if everyone had their own way.

Representational about the world, in a way I guess. Its like what if there was no order in this world, and everyone got what they wanted, i would guess that from a game of Calvinball, you would actually be able to see a glimpse of this scenario, and how humans being humans, would always use situations to their advantage if given the chance to. I mean I am all for freedom and all, but i guess just like a game, freedom should only be exercised within some sort of order, for perharps, just like Calvinball, absolute freedom will only bring about absolute chaos. Gues that the deeper lesson in this is that we cannot expect to play "Calvinball" all our lives and act like brats and hope to get everything that we want whenever we want... wondering if I have digressed too far... oh well.

Even though my general conclusion in regards to Calvinball is that it cannot be considered a game, but there are ways that it can actually be made one and provide "meaningful play." Since almost every rule in the game can be altered at any time, but imagine if players chose a set of rules before the game started, and all willingly decide not to exercise to change the rules of the play despite given the right to do so. And consider if they use a rule 1.1 to disregard rule 1.8, in the end, it would still follow all the rules of the game, but yet, be able to fit into the definition of a game. What I am saying is that, given human nature, Calvinball would end up not being a game, but rather a fight for wants and instantaneous desires. However, under the right circumstances, it can be made meaningful.

Another thought is to work the way around meaningful play. Like what if we bring down meaningful play to an individual level. And in the game of chaos, an individual actually sets a goal for himself, like to set himself to hit another player with the ball, or something like that, and the rule is not to let the ball out of his hands. In this sense, he/she can actually be setting a frame of a game for himself/herself, and play can actually be meaningful if you break it down to this level, similar to the example given to the Sims being NOT a game, in a general sense, but players often set their own goals.

So i guess, the conclusion of it is that, even with a clear definition of "game", it is still not easy to full break an activity down and compare its components to the elements that make up a game, cos ultimately, the definition can stand true or false if viewed from different levels. Enjoy the game ladies and gents....



Blogger alex said...

Its really all about perspective and framing, isn't it? I like your comment that its about taking interaction to a new level, and allowing the player to actually interact with their environment and change it. Its also about what can happen when you lose control -the shuttling back and forth between control and lose of control just spirals out in the wrong direction, leading to chaos. Or at least that's one way of looking at it... :)

11:38 AM  

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