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. Continue reading “Rules and Limitations: Spartan Madball”

Taking the New Model for a Spin

Yesterday I discussed converting the competition model in the tournament simulator to use Gaussian factors rather than uniform factors. Today I’ll show the results for eight versions of the 16-team double elimination tournament.

As predicted, this has so far yielded results comparable to the old model. And tweaking the new parameters for luck and the elite entry cutoff have yielded results in the expected direction.  Continue reading “Taking the New Model for a Spin”

Retooling the Simulator

Tourneygeek has now gone Gaussian.

I’ve had some misgivings about my initial efforts on the tournament simulator. The individual match model simply added a uniformly-distributed random number representing the skill of the player (which didn’t change over the course of each iteration of the tournament) to another uniformly-distributed random number (fresh each time) for each of the two players.

But uniform distributions are rare in the real world. Continue reading “Retooling the Simulator”

Kissing and Contract Bridge

Today I’ll elaborate on yesterday’s suggestion that by thinking clearly about the way the arbitrary values of game playing interact with the real values of the players we can understand why some games are good, and others are bad.

I’ll consider two games: the hypothetical kissing game described in yesterday’s post, and contract bridge. Continue reading “Kissing and Contract Bridge”

Playing Games

In his Philosophical Investigations, Ludwig Wittgenstein famously argued that the word “game” defies definition. “Game”, for Wittgenstein, is used to describe a family of different human activities that have a certain family resemblance, but for which there are no definitive rules for including some activities and excluding others.

Nothing daunted, I’d like to offer a definition of game playing that I’ve found useful. Games are, for me, not so much things as activities, so I’ll define “game play”:

Game play is the pursuit of arbitrarily-assigned value. Continue reading “Playing Games”

A Nation of Losers


Elimination tournaments of various kinds have been the subject of most of the posts here, and that might make it appear that I’m a big fan of elimination formats. But I’m not. In fact, I really dislike elimination tournaments, and I’ll take time out to explain why.

The one distinctive thing about elimination tournaments is that they’re ruthlessly efficient in eliminating people, and that, to my mind, is not necessarily good. Continue reading “A Nation of Losers”