Monday, August 18, 2014

Spirit v. Letter: The Eternal Struggle

Of all the ways in which people show flaws in their character, one of the most telling is the way in which they interpret rules and standards, both on the tabletop and in the wider world.


This is most obvious in gaming, of course. I still remember playing Battletech with a couple of friends in university and someone I hadn't met before. We introduced ourselves, decided on tonnages and set about choosing our 'mechs.


Battletech was a game we played a lot in the late 80s and early 90s, not just because it had a great science-fiction setting that made giant robots fighting each other seem entirely sensible, but because it was tremendously well balanced; the weight or tonnage of the 'mechs worked like currency, so as long as each side weighed the same, the forces could be considered even.


The four of us picked our vehicles, set up on the edges of the map board, rolled dice for initiative and got into it straight away. I can't recall what I was driving, something in the 50-60 ton range I think (perhaps a Griffon, as I had a decently painted miniature for that one), so I strode after the new guy's mech, a 30 ton Panther. It was more nimble than I, and packed a 2-shot short range missile launcher in addition to an arm-mounted particle cannon, but was very lightly armoured. It was worth over-extending myself in order to draw first blood, and if I didn't incapacitate him, I could probably survive long enough to disengage.

A turn later, I used my Griffon's jump jets to get the drop on him and unloaded my auto cannon and long range missiles. My accuracy was typically average, and although I damaged the Panther, it was all superficial, and after I was done rolling my dice, he returned fire.


I was prepared for the PPC, which stripped ten points of armor off my mech's torso, but as my new opponent prepared to roll the dice for his SRM-2, he casually announced that he was launching inferno missiles instead of regular munitions.


"Wait, inferno missiles?" I asked, confused.


"Yeah, they're like napalm and increase your heat-"


"I know what they are," I interrupted, "but they are an infantry weapon. There are no rules for using them in a 'mech."


"Sure," he rebutted, "but the infantry SRM-2 has the exact same stats."


My head spun. "Okay, but in the text where they introduced the infernos, they specifically mention how they are too dangerous and unstable to be packed around in a battlemech, and how it would almost never happen."


"Almost never..." he replied.


Clearly, this application of logic and sportsmanship was futile in the eyes of someone who would play for any advantage not explicitly prohibited in the rules. Rather than delay the game any further, we conceded the point, and the combination of my weapons fire, jump jets, and incendiary missiles pushed my Griffon's heat to a point where it impeded both my movement and aim. I don't actually recall which side actually won the game, but I do know it was the last time I ever played that particular individual.


Working for Games Workshop and adjudicating games of Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 at tournaments and game nights exposed me to still more people like this, immediately recognizable by their rallying cry of, "Well, the rules don't say I can't do it!"


In the long term though, at least in gaming, the problem tends to sort itself out, as the win-at-all-costs crew unerringly gravitate towards each other and commence alpha-nerding the living hell out of each other's armies while those of us who Iike to win but don't need to win have substantially more fun.


It's disappointing to see similar themes play out in arenas like politics, whether you are talking about attack ads running well before an election has even been called, or the recent issue with an Alberta PC leadership candidate buying party memberships on behalf of those who intend to vote for him.


Jim Prentice's campaign initially denied that this was happening, and then he himself later clarified that, yes, his campaign was in fact paying the $5 fee for party memberships for his supporters, and furthermore, there was nothing wrong with this.


Both of his opponents, Thomas Lukaszuk and Ric McIver took exception to this and got a couple of good sound bites out of it:

"If the price is simply incidental, and you can give them out for free, I might as well have a sale next week — Tuesday madness, PC memberships two for one. But that’s not the intention, that’s not what is supposed to be going on," he said.

"Let him do what he believes he can get away with. I will continue to do it the way I believe it was intended to be." - MLA and PC Leadership candidate Thomas Lukaszuk


In the end though, party officials shrugged their shoulders and admitted that there was nothing in the rules prohibiting such actions, although they are frowned upon, and historically have not been pursued because of this. It is likely that the next convention will introduce some new rule or bylaw to prohibit this in the future, but since it is not currently against the rules, Mr. Prentice will continue to extend his lead by purchasing his leadership votes for $5 a pop. It's a pretty good deal, when you stop to think about it, especIally when the winner of this particular game will be the next Premier of Alberta, even if he doesn't have a seat in the legislature to start out with!


Now, I should say here that I do not have a dog in this fight; I am not a member of any political party and don't have any particularly feelings, fair or foul, towards any of the three candidates. After all, it's not like there has been a televised debate, or public comparison of their various platforms and policies or anything like that to help me form an opinion.


I will say, though, that it makes a very poor impression on me to have the leading candidate's first real opportunity to display his character be the unfurling of a familiar banner that reads, "THE RULES DON'T SAY I CAN'T".


Could such a brazen assertion impede Mr. Prentice's slide into home plate and his anticipated coronation? Tough to say, but a bunch of political pundits and bloggers are speculating that way, and The Globe & Mail seems to think so too.


We will know in three weeks when the votes, free-range and paid for alike, get counted up. In the meantime, be choosy about who you play with, and you will be happier in the long run, I promise.



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