... so much for giving it up…
Here’s an idea: a game system represents an economy. An economy can be designed to be stable or unstable. By unstable I mean something similar to the idea of ‘zero-sum’ but a little fuzzier: that disparities in the success metric lead to accelerating feedback mechanisms that favour successful players and penalise the others (not necessarily in exact proportion to the metric though which is what I mean by ‘fuzzy’). In the long run, playing in such an economy means that there can be only a vanishingly small number of ‘winners’ and a near-infinite number of ‘losers’. Attempting to achieve a ‘win’ state is the same as survival. All players play for growth and survival but due to the structure of the economy, the only way to achieve guaranteed survival is to eliminate rivals.
The idea is to look at this another way: design a game economy which reflects an alternate system also present in nature: a chaotic system which requires active balancing. The point of playing is to achieve balance, not asymmetry, between players. The nature of the economy may or may not reward balance (my feeling is that the balance point must be a dynamic equilibrium which requires constant adjusting, otherwise there’s no point to playing) but it strongly penalises asymmetry. The fewer players remain in the game the less viable it becomes for the survivors. This seems more like how an actual ecology (and economy) functions.
To restate: by ‘nonviolent’ I think I mean ‘dynamically balance-seeking’ and by ‘game’ I think I mean a ruleset that revolves around the challenge of constructing and maintaining equilibrium in a complex multiactor economy where both personal and group survival are important.
I’m sure there’s a whole class of games that fall into this category, but they’re under-represented in gaming as a rule. The idea is that each individual score / survival metric is influenced by both personal achievements and by the actions of others, but not in a simplistic way.