My response to the Chain World mutation

by Darius Kazemi on March 14, 2011

in rant

Note: this won’t make sense if you don’t know about Jason Rohrer’s entry to the Game Design Challenge and its subsequent mutation. Here is some background. Here is what is happening to it.

I left this as a comment here, but it is currently in moderation and I don’t know if it will ever be approved (it’s out of moderation). So I’m posting it here on my blog.

This is a load of bull. I presume that game designers are able to figure out the consequences of rule systems they design. Yet I wonder whether you realize what system you are setting up by grafting these rules onto Jason’s game/religion thing? You are doing two things:

1. Selling the right to play the game to the highest bidder

2. Somehow reserving the right for famous people to play the game

This is insane. You’re basically saying that the way to participate Jason’s in project is to have expendable cash, or be famous. There is absolutely nothing reverent about that. It is completely counter to the tone of the talk that Jason gave at GDC.

The fact that the money goes to charity is irrelevant: if you are trying to say that you want the game to go to the person who does the most “good” by donating money, that is such a myopic view of goodness that it makes me quake with anger. Have you considered that there are people who should play this game who maybe don’t have a bucket of expendable cash they are sitting on?

I understand that when you get something powerful in your hands, your next thought is “how can I put this toward some form of social good?” But you are subverting the intent of the original project, and doing it in a way that makes it an exclusionary practice, rather than a thing of beauty and grace that travels from hand to hand, building a rich lore that goes along with it.

Instead, you would like someone to say, “I won it in an auction so I could meet Will Wright.” Which is maybe the worst thing that could’ve happened to Chain World.

Addendum: I do see the irony of this. On some level I think it’s funny that this “game as religion” thing was immediately twisted into something stupid by its very first “disciple.” But please don’t mistake this for performance art: this is a very real instance of someone “crapping on a great idea”.


Martin Herink March 14, 2011 at 12:06 pm

To play the devil’s advocate: One might presume that Jason expected people to co-opt the mechanics of his game in some way, which is why he came up with a set of rules. To that end, nowhere in the rules does it qualify the criteria for passing the thumbdrive on to another player (see #7. Pass the USB stick to someone else who expresses interest.) How do we define interest? How do we define passing the usb stick?

The obvious parallel between the key-drive and the passing of “the keys” to Peter by Christ (and subsequent claim to such keys by the papacy) is self-evident. The arguments which are sure to follow this act are without a doubt a precise replica of those that have followed in every other such instance.

One gets the feeling that this turn of events, much like many others in a variety of religions is a part of this system’s natural evolution – a new interpretation of old rules bound to upset some and delight others.

Alas, disagreement with actions being taken by .. some.. is beyond the scope of the commandments.

Darius Kazemi March 14, 2011 at 12:11 pm

I agree that there is no rule-breaking here. My major issue with this is that it is limiting the people who can participate to people who have money or are famous enough to get on the list.

As a meta-commentary on religion, it is actually pretty awesome. But I don’t want to see yet another system twisted into something that benefits an anointed minority of people with money and power.

Martin Herink March 14, 2011 at 12:13 pm

that’s fair. I’m interested to hear what Jason has to say about it (if anything?). In this case silence is probably just as strong a message as action.

Ben Cummings March 14, 2011 at 12:46 pm

It’s interesting that the actions could at once be taken as in line with the design of the game, and at the same time harming it irrevocably. It’s interesting that the game could invite someone to do something which is not just morally wrong within its magic circle, but to actually damage something beautiful in the real world, while the game serves as a lens through which to view this action, specifically with parallels to the Catholic church.

I’m not saying Jason Rohrer did or did not intend for it to be this way, and I’m not saying this interpretation redeems these actions, but I find it to be a powerful and noteworthy outcome of the rules Rohrer laid out.

Bryant March 14, 2011 at 1:25 pm

The more I think about it, the more I realize that the differences between this and religion are also interesting: namely, no matter what Jia’s intention, he has no control once he gives up the USB stick. Control is in the hands of the person who has the token. So while anyone in the chain can try to set themselves up as a prophet, they are severely hampered from doing so in practice.

Paul March 15, 2011 at 4:41 pm

Unless the current holder encrypts the drive using a one-time pad. Then they become the perpetual root of power.

Bryant March 14, 2011 at 12:14 pm

Hm. So on the one hand, leaving the commandments open means that people can do really stupid stuff with Chain World, although it’s a shame it happened this early on. I agree with everything you said, but I think it’s an inevitable consequence. One of the interesting questions for me would be “how far does Chain World go before it stagnates”? In this case, the answer seems to be “1 person.”

On the other hand, Jia Ji is breaking the rules — I don’t think “Pass the USB stick to someone else who expresses interest” allows you to dictate who the next person in the chain should be. There is no enforcement mechanism, but the rules are clearly violated.

Ben Cummings March 14, 2011 at 12:30 pm

As one of the people whose response was to compare this to what usually happens with religions [1], I just want to state that I wasn’t trying to cast respect on the move as some sort of performance art. Instead, I think it was a highly likely outcome that I hope serves as a moment to reflect upon — how (presumably) good intentions can still serve to subvert the sacred and turn it into a system which generates power and money. It did happen pretty damn quickly, though.

I’m really not trying to make light of the situation. I just think it’s sadly predictable (which is not to say it’s not worth fighting against).


NordicNinja March 14, 2011 at 3:27 pm

I can’t help but wonder how things would have been if Chain World was made specifically for this purpose,and THEN some made the comment tying it to religion.

Spectator March 14, 2011 at 5:51 pm

Hopefully whoever gets it won’t pass it onto Jane. It angers me to see that someone is trying to guide how this will be passed around. Setting up a website? Contemplating adding to the rules? Are you serious?

Jia March 14, 2011 at 7:16 pm

I’m currently in post-tsunami rural Hawaii, with intermittent internet access, so I’ll try to keep this short. I appreciate the points everyone brought up, but there seems to be a few mis-communication/interpretations, which is why I just spoke with Darius directly on the phone to clear them up. Here’s a few to immediately clarify:
1. The first question asked during the Q&A following Jason presenting was somebody asking about auctioning off Chain World for personal benefit. I thought I’d just try to set a precedent for charitable auctions if people’s first thought is to auction it off anyway.
2. The auction system doesn’t run indefinitely. It’s just for the first few playthroughs and I thought people would appreciate the fact that Will Wright and other creative designers interacted with the cooperative world we’re building.
3. After talking with Darius, there’s a increasing likelihood of us creating a religious schism by forking Chain World into at least two sects. An orthodox sect similar to Darius’s set of beliefs and a “charitable works” sect similar to my set of beliefs. We’re trying to keep the holy war at a low boil :)
4. Speaking of which, I enjoy vigorous debate, but let’s try to keep things civil. Personal attacks, especially those directed to Jane, Jason, Will, etc are way out of line because I asked them to do me a favor, so any ill-will against this idea should be directed at me solely. However, I also don’t appreciate the hatemail (I don’t think anyone does) for trying to raise funds for children’s hospitals and other charities. So let’s try to keep the discourse civil, realize it’s just a game, and not have another dickwolves scenario. It’d also be nice to centralize all the discussion in one place, like the first post at where we ask for comments/suggestions.


P.S. I think one of the main points of Jason’s experimental game is to add your own rules/suggestions/commandments, thus creating a religious-style legacy/legend for future generations of players to make it interesting. It’s almost impossible to enforce any of these rules, so it relies entirely on the strength of your argument and persuasive ability. Which make founding a religion feel like a cooperative/competitive nomic building game :)

I appreciate the religious fervor of everyone’s convictions, but let’s try to cast stones relatively gently…also, I’m currently doing nonprofit fundraising and farm work in rural Hawaii, so I might be a bit slow on my replies.

Mike March 14, 2011 at 8:54 pm

I wondered how long it’d take for someone to auction off the key. I didn’t expect it to happen right away, and pondered bidding to break Jia’s chain. I was happy to see Jason tweet on this a little while ago, saying that whoever wins the auction should not pass the key to Jane.

Interesting that of the three, this one has already started a holy war. :)

Jonathon Myers March 15, 2011 at 10:14 am

I think that the discourse is a much more crucial aspect of the game than the actual game on the USB and the provided rules. Didn’t Rohrer point that out — “passing along” in language is central? We’re already discussing his work and intentions the same way the town did with his grandfather, right? In my opinion, this is also much more interesting because everyone can participate in this aspect of the game with social roles in the game/religion. Any myth or religion is inherently social and/or cultural and grows in and through language. In a way, what is explored here isn’t so much “games as art” and a study of expression but “social games as religion” in the sense that the rules dictate player behavior and become a discourse on ethics, etiquette and law. We’re not participating in performance art; we’re participating in “performance theology” via acts of communication.

Kristina March 15, 2011 at 9:31 pm

Darius, you are so cool.

I wonder if Jia Ji will put as much time into affecting the Chain World as he is trying to control it?

Jonathon Myers March 16, 2011 at 9:53 am

To play the devil’s advocate in a less literal role than on the other blog: Isn’t Jia’s control affecting the Chain World, and perhaps even more so than tinkering around in it? Regardless of how much or little he does or doesn’t do in the actual game/world on the USB stick, isn’t it true that his efforts to control the path of the chain will impact the changes that take place on the stick for generations to come? This seems at the heart of many concerns I’m observing in others, that a world constructed by those who earn that right by money or social fame is not a good choice. They’re criticizing Jia’s present control and his handling of the artifact with their arguments.

“He who controls the present, controls the past. He who controls the past, controls the future.” (Orwell) In other words, many feel Jia is taking more than one turn with his influence by precedent setting and new rules. So I really wonder if the question has become the opposite of the one you posed: should Jia put so much time into affecting Chain World however he chooses? I assume your answer is no, correct?

I do agree that Darius is cool. I’ll take a stance on that, for sure.

Kristiina March 16, 2011 at 1:54 pm

I simply posed a question that time will determine. I did not provide an answer, and the question you posed isn’t an opposite question.

As for my response to your question, my answer is not ‘no.’ Scandal and controversy is one of the best things that could happen to chainworld. Now we all have something to debate and talk about. Chainworld won’t fade into a GDC memory, at least not yet.

Jia Ji can do whatever he wants with Chainworld, that is what makes this so interesting.

Jonathon Myers March 16, 2011 at 2:20 pm

Good points. Sorry about my misinterpretation. I stand corrected on what you meant and the opposite thing. Also, I completely agree about how interesting this has become.

Jesse May 25, 2011 at 10:33 am

You guys do realize that this is just a Minecraft Mod – if you don’t like the way the chain works, all you have to do is load up Minecraft on your own USB stick and do the same exact thing. Just start your own. There’s no need to get bent out of shape over something so easily replicated. You’re acting like this is some sacred chalice that should be freed to the masses, but you could just make your own.

The White August 17, 2011 at 1:59 pm

I admit to empathizing with Darius’ frustrations. I’ve traveled to India and have seen so much commerce outside the temples- same for Thailand and other asian countries that when I returned to europe I was struck by some thoughts vis-a-vis chainworld… commerce and religion have always gone together! The idea that religion should be non-commercial is very new and very North Atlantic. No one else makes such distinction that they be separate.

Ben Cummings August 17, 2011 at 2:38 pm

I’m not familiar enough with this topic in other religions and traditions, but calling it “very new” seems like a bit of hyperbole:

The idea’s been around for a while. How well people have stuck to it is another matter.

A. David Lewis August 30, 2011 at 10:25 am

I wonder: Would you consider our project, bringing the Chain World idea (at Rohrer’s okay) to comics, a further mutation? Or a return to basic form, just in another medium?

Darius Kazemi August 30, 2011 at 10:51 am

I would consider it a new project.

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