Nomic and OxNomic

OxNomic: Rules were meant for changing - Owen Massey

Nomic is a game in which the play consists of changing the rules of the game. It was invented by Peter Suber to illustrate the idea of self-reference in legal systems. (And, since every legal system is part of the society which it governs, none can avoid the problems which such self-reference generates.)

What is Nomic?

To give a definition of Nomic is difficult, since, by its very nature, every game of Nomic is constantly changing. However, the basic structure tends to be fairly similar between the games which I have seen. (It is possible to imagine a game of Nomic which, by having its rules changed sufficiently, ended up as chess, but it would rather lose the "spirit" of Nomic in the process.) Play often consists of players making proposals to change the current ruleset (by enacting new rules, amending existing ones, or repealing ones), and the players then voting on whether to adopt the rule change. Scoring systems of some sort are common, as are mechanisms to resolve disputes over the interpretation or application of a rule.

The Nomic FAQ list provides more detailed information about Nomic. Peter Suber maintains an informative page about the game, including the initial ruleset which he wrote to allow each game to get off the ground.


OxNomic is a game of Nomic being played via e-mail and the local Oxford University newsgroup

Late on the night of 28 April 1996, a conversation between Daniel Bor, Damien Smith and myself turned to the subject of Nomic, which we had played briefly face-to-face while at school together: the idea arose of playing a game by e-mail game in Oxford. However, little came of it for six months until Owen Massey nobly agreed to set things up and act as the game's first Speaker.

On 29 October 1996, the game began, running on a rather makeshift mailing list. Because of high traffic, play soon moved to the new local newsgroup, where it thrived until the following Easter vacation. However, Trinity (summer) Term 1997 was very quiet, at least partly because of the distractions of exams. We are still to see if the game revives in the autumn.

Owen Massey is the current Speaker of OxNomic, and maintains the official OxNomic site.

A Record of a Face-to-Face Nomic

A game of Nomic was played at St Albans School on 22 November 1991. Recently I found the records from that game, and have produced a transcription of them on this site.

Return home. This page is maintained by Terry Boon. It was last updated on 10 February 1998.