Rules and Limitations: Spartan Madball

Let’s build on our definition of game playing to define some related terms. Today we’ll talk about rules and other limitations.

By our previous definition, game playing is the pursuit of arbitrarily assigned value. In almost all cases there are, in addition to the assigned values, constraints on the way the arbitrary value can be earned. These constraints are of two kinds – limitations that the player is welcome to strive against and overcome, and rules that (usually) need to be observed.

At my undergraduate school, St. John’s College in Santa Fe, there was an end-of-the-year festival we called the “Real Olympics”, or simply “Reality” for short. One of the activities in the Real Olympics was a game called Spartan madball. It was played on a soccer field. There was a ball, and two goals. But there were no other rules.

Now, Spartan madball was not really totally unconstrained by rule. The organizers of the Real Olympics did not have the authority to suspend the criminal laws of New Mexico, so some actions that might assist a team in putting the ball into the goal were proscribed because they were illegal.

And, while madball was a notoriously violent game, and minor injuries were not uncommon, no one in my experience played without some nod to conventional morality. One year, I foolishly decided that I was going to stand in my team’s goal so that any opponent attempting to carry the ball into the goal would have to do it over me. I don’t recall that I prevented any goals from being scored, but my opponents didn’t hit me as hard as they might have.

Some years after I graduated, the game acquired its first rule: no motor vehicles. Even Spartan madball cannot do entirely without rules. Other rules that have been imposed on at least some madball games include no shoes, no weapons, and no animals.

All games, even including Spartan madball, have constraints of four types:

Explicit rules, like no motor vehicles;

Implicit rules implied by the equipment or the venue, like the ball and the goals;

Background rules, like the laws of the state, traditions of the game, or principles of sportsmanship; and

Natural limitations, like no flying.

The character of the game depends, to some extent, on how these various rules and limitations are combined.


2 thoughts on “Rules and Limitations: Spartan Madball”

  1. Pingback: Ins and Outs

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