House Rules: variations of rules to a game, that are intended to make a game more fun. ‘Fun’ could mean making the game easier, more challenging, or equitable etc. Sometimes these rules are decided by the person running the game (Game Master or, GM), sometimes they are agreed upon by all players. The quote on the left is in reference to an answer Matt Mercer, a GM for a game on Geek and Sundry, gave in a Q&A, where he discusses the reservations he had about how people might react to their ‘home brewed’ game once it was stream to the internet. Changing the rules of a game could have many outcomes.
One Monday a few months ago my gaming group of 5 of friends had a discussion about house rules. As we prepared to play our RPG set in Star Wars, my friends discussed the various table top RPG’s (role playing games) they have played in the past, and the various issues they had with game mechanics. For example, the overall balance of powers and abilities; some rpgs made to too easy for player to become OP (overpowered), some games made it almost impossible to progress. There were even concerns expressed about how easy, or difficulty it was for GMs (game masters) and players to manipulate the rules, and/or game design to their own benefit, possibly at the cost of playability.
It was a fascinating discussion that I mostly just listened too. Other than this current system we are play testing, I have only really played the fifth edition Dungeon & Dragons RPG, so I could not fully participate, and like any teacher, I couldn’t help but relate this discussion to my practice in the classroom: How might I intentionally engage students in conversations about rules and when and/or how can we change them?
In Math, there are a number of grades that can touch on home rules through probability and ratios etc. A Math inquiry on how players can use math to justify/argue for changing rules in a game might be a cool thing to explore. I can already see sub questions relating to the inquiry that would get students to calculate and communicate mathematically the reasoning behind how they could gradually increase and decrease the difficulty of games, or change a game from unfair to fair. I know there are a ton of game design projects out there, so I am not reinventing the wheel here; but I don’t know that I am actually advocating designing a game so much as justifying the math behind it and influence game design changes. There might also be some interesting connections in creating ‘house rules’ for Social Studies eg. roles and responsibilities and government; how might we influence changes that reflect our community and meet our needs?
Beyond direct curriculum connections, what kinds of conversations could we have about equity through the lens of ‘house rules’? Could conversations of game mechanics lead to building frameworks for discussions of equity in our community/government/world?
As I write this I am working with a group of teachers who are currently starting an inquiry in Game Based Learning somewhat related to this. In a nutshell, they are looking at how student voice in gaming (creating and modifying rules) might lead to more student engagement, building of community, and wellbeing in the classroom. One of the hopes is that by increasing engagement, sense of belonging, and wellbeing, academics might also be impacted.
And again house rules in school is not new. Whether we realize it or not, we have house rules for all sorts of games and behaviours in our school. For example I do not know of many schools that have the exact same rules for dodgeball, there always seems to be small variances in local rules. Whether it has to do with how low the ball must hit before you are out (middle, or below the waist) or if a player is ‘out’ when the ball bounces once before hitting, games vary from place to place. Generally speaking, these rules are established by teachers and staff in the interest of student safety and class management, but how might the experience of students change if they were included in these decisions?
What might happen if we were more intentional about how we address and introduce opportunities to create ‘house rules’ with our students?
Below is a timestamped link to the video that, in part, helped start the idea for this post to grow.