On the role of Argumentation in Nomic

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By Josh

The purpose of this essay is, straightforwardly, to contextualise the role of direct interpersonal debate, including "poor faith" argumentation aimed at bolstering ones own position, within the tradition of Nomic generally and BlogNomic specifically. It is inspired by a personal belief that provocative and zealous debate has gone out of fashion in the game, and that, as an essential element of the concept of Nomic, that leaves BlogNomic a flatter experience, and in the hope that it will inspire readers to take a more critical view of each others' posts and comments, and find a collective vernacular by which opposition can be expressed and mediated fully within the walled garden of the game.

Nomic is a metaphor of law and politics, and as such it is intrinsically a game about arguments. The word 'nomic' derives from the Classical Greek word for 'law', and the process of the amendment of the ruleset simulates a small-scale democratic political system. The intent of the game was to demonstrate the limitations of codified law, and to create situations in which the inherent contradictions or faulty premises of the written law are exposed by circumstances, and need to be resolved through player-defined mediation processes.

It is sometimes said that the fundamental move of a Nomic is to propose, or vote. On the basis of the above, I would assert that the fundamental move of a Nomic is an argument, put forward respectfully but passionately, and then robustly defended. It is through that non-codified but nevertheless essential game action that coalitions can be built, plans can be broken or made, and the principle of the Golden Rule is made real in the game.

A brief argument about the history of argumentation in BlogNomic

BlogNomic is a game that has just entered its third decade. Over that period, it has gone through distinct eras with their own unique cultural approaches to the game and how it is played.

Sadly, a lot of the records of the game's very first incarnation are lost. The period in which the game was played on a Blogspot blog used a plugin for commenting that was not scraped and so the contents have long since been lost, and an IRC channel for informal chat would not be established until much later (it was formalised in the ruleset in 2010 but certainly existed much earlier than that).

The second incarnation is perhaps the most interesting for the purposes of this essay, though, as it concerns the period somewhat after the first switch, at which BlogNomic's activity was at its historical highest. I have elsewhere referred to this as the 'wild west' period, but I have never thought that it deserved that title purely for its frothy turnover of posts and comments. No, it deserves that title because of the anything-goes approach to debate, argumentation and - at times - sincerely felt interpersonal conflict.

This Declaration of Victory, from the First Dynasty of Wakukee, gives some sense of the flavour of the time: someone chancing their arm on an interpretation of the rules, followed by a lengthy discussion amongst their competitors as to the validity or otherwise of that action, with votes changing as arguments are made and interests are reconsidered. This wasn't a golden age - many of the players commenting in that thread actively tried to ban others at various points, for no better reason that personal irritation. But it did provoke the frequent intellectual stimulation of fifteen minds scouring the ruleset for narrow interpretations and implications that could support their position, and that had a lot of satisfaction to it.

When that generation of players retired, their style of play largely went with them. In the intervening years, with the exception of interventions from the likes of Cuddlebeam, the impulse towards experimental gameplay approaches driving an acquisitive analysis of the ruleset has largely fallen away.

What's different

Here are some ideas about which elements of the culture have specifically changed:

  • A growing deference towards "what the rule means" rather than what it says and a reduced patience for implicatory or linguistic long-shots
  • A tendency to insist that rules be iron-clad to be worth enacting, brought about by the length of the edit window and a shift away from pass-and-fix as the default response to mild proposal loopholes
  • The strengthening Fair Play and the prohibition on core rule scams indicating to new players that gameplay should be confined to the terms set out in the dynastic rules
  • The rise of Slack and Discord removing the blog as the primary venue for discussion of gameplay events
  • A culture of conflict aversion
  • The rise of pooling as a definitive mechanic meaning that voting blocks are often less flexible and less susceptible to persuasion
  • A trend towards 'Fire and Forget' voting in which players tend to vote and then not return to the proposal to review arguments and consider their position
    • The same players also tend to be more easily swayed by emotive arguments that appeal towards natural justice rather than pursuing their own self-interest
  • The consolidation of the definition of "action" in the ruleset

Why should the game involve argument

Players should have interests

In no game is any player expected to prioritise equality of outcome over their own self interest. In Nomic, self-interest is primarily served through argumentation.

When you notice that a player is tilting the gamestate or ruleset towards themselves, you should be able to say so and have a reasonably high level of confidence that other players will take notice. Retaliatory proposals are a legitimate way to reign in a frontrunner who started their run too early; they can be fair but should not have to masquerade as a patch or an unrelated mechanic to be noticed.

There has been some discussion about whether BlogNomic is best played as a game in which the player is a relatively relaxed co-creator of a coherent set of game rules or a self-interested gameplayer whose primary motivation should be to win. Argumentation is the point at which you no longer have to choose between those impulses - and, in fact, where maintaining them in balanced measure becomes an effective game strategy. But it is perfectly viable to propose for game balance and argue for game advantage.

Designing a game which no-one is playing with the zealous intent to win is a futile exercise; the act of playing it will reveal nothing about its inherent qualities.

Argument reveals the ruleset and the gamestate

You will never understand the ruleset as well as you do when you have had to attack or defend a position that required a complete master of its contents.

Argument can also be used to draw information from other players, or rhetorically make it clear to bystanders what subtext should really be made text. Argument forces both the antagonists and the bystanders to make statements on their intentions - statements that may be obfuscatory but which are usually not boring.

It's fun, I promise

Matching wits with a competitor to try to force them to reveal their intention or defend their position is intellectually challenging, motivating, enjoyably stressful, and highly rewarding.

This game attracts, on the whole, intelligent, engaged people who are capable of close reads of the ruleset and creative interpretations when offered the opportunity. These are the types of people who one should be most keen to match intellects against.


Some of these will be controversial but I hope that they generate some discussion. They are not presented in any prioritised order.

  • Repeal the Fair Play prohibition on non-dynastic scams
Some strengthening language may replace it, enhancing the immutability of the core rules and including protections to prevent the soft-locking of the game.
  • Amend the Appendix definitions of all named Action types
The principle should be that, if the ruleset says you can do something, then you can do it. "A Player may, as an Action" has never been a necessary formulation - the second half is tautological - but it becomes a measure by which the game is tamed, as nothing that doesn't include an Action keyword is deemed permissible to undertake, even if the ruleset does allow it.
  • Review the Community Guidelines to set some clear, measurable limits and guidelines on the appropriate conduct of in-game debate
This could include something like the X Card sometimes used in tabletop roleplaying games - allowing players the absolute right to tap out of discussions that they're finding difficult or oppressive without necessarily conceding a point.
  • Remove the edit window
I have long been an advocate for the idea that sloppier rules make for a better game. Players have to use their slots fixing holes, close readers and skilled writers are rewarded, and proposals actually have to be discussed before being gut-check voted on.
  • Establish a culture of moving discussions from Discord to the Blog when they develop significant game relevance