Making the rules; the case of Halo (ver. 3.0)

This is a preliminary version of my research design for the course game studies.

“…one of the sweetest pleasures as a game designer is seeing your game played in ways that you did not anticipate.” (Salen & Zimmerman, 2003 p. 540).


Introducing the research

The cause for this research is my personal experience with the First-Person Shooter (FPS) game Halo on the Xbox console platform in a social group. The research is about the social renegotiation of the game rules. The research restricts itself to a specific way the game Halo can be played, namely multiplayer competitive gameplay. More specifically, the team-based Capture The Flag (CTF) gametype within a Local Area Network (LAN) context. Furthermore, the research only considers gameplay in the map ‘Sidewinder’.

The design of the game offers users the possibility to adapt the game rules. However, not al elements of the game are modifiable. This means that users would like to change them but are unable, which leads them to other creative solutions. This was the case with the group of people who are interviewed for this research. Thus, this research is about the motivation of the game players in changing the game rules without actually changing game elements.

Defining game concepts

The paragraphs above contain terms, such as FPS, CTF and LAN, some of which may seem rather exotic to the reader who is unfamiliar with them. Basic knowledge about these concepts is required for the reader in order to understand this paper. However, it is beyond the scope of this paper to review these concepts extensively. Therefore, I refer the reader who is unfamiliar with a concept to the Appendix, where I provide a short description of each term.

Research Design

In this section the research question, the research method and the theoretical framework will be described.

Research question

The research answers the following research question:

1. What is the motivation of game players in redefining the rules of the game Halo?

The question is broken down in the following sub-questions:

1a. Why were the game rules offered by the designers not followed?

1b. What was the goal of changing the rules?

1c. What did the process of changing the rules look like?

1d. What was the result of changing the rules?

Theoretical framework

The research can be classified as participation research. It concerns two concepts, namely game ‘design’ and ‘games as a social phenomenon’, after two chapter titles in the “Handbook of Computer Game Studies” by Raessens & Goldstein (2005).

Within ‘games as a social phenomenon’ the concept of participatory culture is relevant for this research. Thus, I will employ the framework of “participation” (Raessens & Goldstein, 2005 pp. 378-381). This framework consists of three domains, namely; interpretation, reconfiguration and construction. Game rules are related to the construction part of the framework. Within ‘construction’ one can discern ‘modification’ and ‘creation’. The phenomenon of changing the rules is best described using ‘modification’.

Raessens says that he adheres to “technological interactionism” (p. 379) and I follow him in this regard. Here, social processes are influenced by technological developments as well as human negotations. This means that I will take into account both the negotiation of rules in a group setting, as well as the (re)configuration of the game elements.

Game elements concern game design. Here, I will employ the book “Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals” (Salen and Zimmerman) and

Game Design and Meangingful Play (Salen & Zimmerman)

Besides Raessens I consider the following texts useful;
“Half-Real: Video Games between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds” (Juul)

“Creative Player Actions in FPS Online Video Games” (Wright).

Game reconstruction workshop (Schleiner)

Research method

The research concerns a case study. The research method used in this study is qualitative fieldresearch. More specifically, participatory ethnography, since the researcher participated in the group himself. The analysis is based on semi-structured interviews with a sample of respondents from the group of players. The interviews were conducted by means of Skype voice-over-IP telephony. The answers provided form the basis on which I can answer the research question.


The respondents were selected from the group in question. This group varied in size between 12 and 16 people who played together on a regular basis. The sample size is [n=???????]. The respondents were sampled based on their frequency of play, i.e. they were the most frequent players of the group.

Value of the research

Scientific value

The research is valuable for both academics as well as game designers, because it provides insights into what game players demand from the rules of the game and the opportunity to change these rules. The goal is to produce games that appeal even more to game players.The FPS-genre is at this time still very popular, with recent releases regarding the Call of Duty and Medal of Honor franchises. Although the research concerns a case study, Halo can be considered a typical FPS game. This speaks in favor of the generalizability of the research within the FPS-genre.

Societal value

[Not yet written]

Limitations of the research

The research provides in-depth insights on a relatively ‘small’ area, since it concerns a very specific combination of peripherals, software and people. Thus, the results might be hard to generalise, at least beyond the FPS-genre. This is due to the unicity and specificity of the case and its situation within the context.

It can be argued that the participation of the researcher in the group is a weakness, because it may cause bias. Therefore, issues such as interpretation and personal factors may lead to different results when replicating the research. To complicate matters, replicating this type of research is difficult in itself, due to situational circumstances.

The group in which the researcher participated played together between 2003 and 2006. At this the researcher had no intent of doing research, so he participated on an equal basis with the other participants. Therefore, there was no role stress of being participant and researcher at the same time. However, this brings the potential disadvantage of ‘going native’. Furthermore, data collection took place in 2010, about four years after the group stopped playing on a regular basis. This period between the events and the collection and analysis may have negative effects, such as respondent’s diminished ability to recall events from their memory.




in-text citing:

Academic sources

Half-Real: Video Games between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds. Jesper Juul

Games as participatory culture. Raessens, 2005
Handbook of Computer Game Studies. Raessens & Goldstein

Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals by Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, U.S.A., 2003. 670 pp., illus. Trade. ISBN: 0-262-24045-9.

Creative Player Actions in FPS Online Video Games. Wright.

Non-academic sources


Game dictionary:
Sidewinder bird’s eye view, by Esemono:
Typical FPS screenshot, here in Halo Sidewinder:
Campen en base-campen en acceptability:
First Person:
Warthog battles:


Description of game concepts in alphabetical order

Camping, Camper, Camp

Camping is the action of staying in the same place (the camp) for long periods of time, usually in hiding, and just waiting for the an enemy to come by. (Gaming Dictionary, 2011).
To camp is to stay in the same spot for a long time (the camp) in order to attack the enemy when they come by.
– A camper is someone who stays in the same spot for a long time (the camp) in order to attack the enemy when they come by. A camper is usually frowned upon in the FPS community.

Capture The Flag (CTF)

Capture the Flag is ”…a special mode usually found in multiplayer games, where two teams will engage in battle and try to take the opponent’s flag in order to bring it back to their own base, while protecting their own flag.” (Gaming Dictionary, 2011).


The console is “…an entertainment system, portable or not, which lets you play video games.” . This research concerns the Xbox console.

First Person Shooter (FPS)

A First Person Shooter is “…a game which puts you in the driver’s (or killer) seat. You will indeed be seeing all the action through the eyes of the character you are playing…” (Gaming Dictionary, 2011). The first person game player sees “…through the eyes of the protagonist.” (Gaming Dictionary, 2011).

This type of interface in Halo looks like:

Halo: Combat Evolved

Halo is “…a first-person shooter with considerable driving elements and the first game in the popular Halo series… Halo also has a significant multiplayer component with …capture the flag with the unusual addition that the flag takes your weapon spot while you are holding it, so shooting your way in and out of the base on your own is not an option … There is also a game editor which allows you to set custom rules for all the basic game types. All the playable weapons and vehicles from the campaign mode are available in the multiplayer maps with the ability for members of the same team to share the game’s distinctive Warthog vehicle, which is essentially a small truck with a mounted gun on the back.” (MobyGames, 2011).

Local Area Network (LAN)

LAN abbreviates the descriptive term Local Area Network. Such as network connects computers in a common location (Gaming Dictionary, 2011). Here, the network consists of four Xbox consoles located in a house, often in two rooms due to the divide of the group into two competing teams.


The map is the “…game universe you are in when you play a game.” (Gaming Dictionary, 2011). This research is limited to one specific map called ‘Sidewinder’.


This research concerns multiplayer gameplay. This means “…a video game that can be played by a few players … over a network, over the Internet, or in a LAN.” (Gaming Dictionary, 2011). Halo allows a total number of 16 players to play at the same time in the map Sidewinder.


Peripherals are “…hardware (as opposed to software) extension … device[s] used in computer science, like a mouse…” (Gaming Dictionary, 2011). Example of peripheral devices in relation to the Xbox console are the controller, network cables and the network hub/switch.


Health Pack

Active Camouflage



Sidewinder is one of the 13 available multiplayer maps of the game Halo. From a bird’s eye perspective the map resembles a horseshoe. “The main feature of this map is the ice patches on the front of the horseshoe in between the bases… On the outer edge of the map are two large cliffs that are connected to each base with teleporters. … On the inner edge, there is a network of tunnels which lead to the opposing bases. Four power-ups can be found in the lower section of the tunnel. There is a Sniper Rifle, two Shotguns, Health Pack, Plasma Pistol, Pistol and an Assault Rifle inside each base.” (Halopedia, 2011).

From a bird’s eye perspective, the map Sidewinder looks like this:

Interview transcipts

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3 Responses to Making the rules; the case of Halo (ver. 3.0)

  1. Ryanne schreef:

    Hey Mark!

    Sorry voor mijn late feedback, ik hoop dat je er nog wat aan hebt!

    Ten eerste, Word geeft nog wel wat spelfouten en grammatica fouten aan. Woorden zoals generalizability, generalise en unicity worden als fout aangegeven. Ook zag ik groene strepen voor grammatica/zin volgorde fouten. Kijk dus nog even goed naar de afwerking.

    Bij het theoretisch raamwerk, kan je Bruno Latour ook onder ‘technological interactionism’ scharen? Misschien wel de moeite waard om daar ook naar te kijken. Een andere suggestie, in het boek Filosofie in cyberspace van Jos de Mul, hoofdstuk 1, p. 29-39 wordt er ook gesproken/gediscuseerd over technologisch interactionisme. Die tekst heb ik wel voor je als je hem wil hebben. Verder nog deze zin “The research can be classified as participation research”. Bedoel je daarmee dat je een participerend onderzoek doet, of dat je onderzoek valt in de categorie van ‘participatie(cultuur) binnen game studies’. Verder zou ik de termen construction, modification en creation wat uitschrijven.

    Over je onderzoeks methode heb je goed nagedacht! Ik wilde net wat zeggen over dat je participatie in de groep een zwakte kan zijn maar daar heb je al een mooie disclaimer voor in de ‘limitations of the research’.

    Let er ook op dat je de regels van het spel goed uitlegd aan de lezers (in de paper zelf dan). Bij deelvraag 1a ‘Why were the game rules offered by the designers not followed?’ Maar wat zijn deze regels nu precies?

    Je gekozen teksten heb ik niets op aan te merken, ze passen er goed bij. Zorg wel voor een consistentie in de notatie van de literatuur (MLA of Chicago etc.). Verder is het een zeer goed uitgewerkte en afgebakend opzet, ga zo door!


  2. http://www./ schreef:

    I know this if off topic but I’m looking into starting my own blog and was wondering what all is required to get setup? I’m assuming having a blog like yours would cost a pretty penny? I’m not very web savvy so I’m not 100% sure. Any recommendations or advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks

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