Saturday, October 6, 2007

Why Is Werewolf So Popular?

Werewolf is the big obsession at Ruby conferences. It's kind of getting out of hand. Some people are definitely getting tired of Werewolf, but I'm still hooked on it, and to me, the interesting question is why the game is so popular. Chad Fowler and Marcel Molina are the big Werewolf evangelists in the Ruby community, so social proof and authority might have something to do with it, except it's not just Rubyists - people were "getting their wolf on" at ETech over a year and a half ago.

There's basically three explanations: it's a silly ice-breaker, it's a fad, or it means something. The first two explanations are the most likely, but the third is more interesting to think about. What could this game mean?

It could be that, since the game is entirely about human factors like eye contact, facial expressions, and body language, Werewolf provides an important counterpoint to the largely faceless nature of distributed programming. There are projects where you never work together in the same physical room, or even the same physical timezone. I've had projects where I never met my colleagues until the project was underway, projects where I didn't meet them until the project was over, and projects where I never met them in person at all. I think this isn't unusual, and lots of other programmers have had the same experience.

But we still remain human. We still have entire sections of our brains which can only process facial expressions, and which can at any time override the focus and attention of other parts of our brains. So the idea would be that Werewolf basically brings us back down to earth. However, although I think that's a good thing about the game, I don't think that really explains its appeal. The appeal of Werewolf is that it's addictive and you think you're getting better every time you play. In its aspect as self-reinforcing behavior, Werewolf is basically poker, plus rationalization, minus cards and betting.

Anyway, like many, I'm hooked. I haven't been able to find any really good resources on Werewolf strategy yet, but I did find a great short presentation with a few slides on strategy:


  1. Not to sound corny but, after discovering the game, for me, it's a great way to meet and get to know new people.

    I don't know just how much you travel, Giles, but I know you a whole hell of a lot better after eviscerating you a few times in Werewolf. ;)

    No, seriously.

    As software developers, we spend a lot of time in front of computers. Some of us, or at least myself, don't socialize as much as we'd like. For me, in part, that is because of career. Whereas other developers who play Werewolf may rarely socialize at all.

    Chad Fowler remarked at some point, during my first time playing Werewolf, that he feels a sense fo connectedness to people with whom he has played. I don't believe that phenomenon is limited to Chad.

    For instance, I dragged a colleague of mine along to Ruby East. We've worked together on two separate projects now for a total span of perhaps going on a year now. Yet, after Werewolf, I feel as though I know my colleague far better than I had before.

    With playing a game such as Werewolf, where the only "pieces" are the other players and the only "scoring" mechanism is who is alive, who is dead, what people say, how they say it, and how they move, every player who is trying to playing worth a damn is forced to intensely focus on every other.

    Color me an idealist but, for me, it's not "social proof and authority" but just a great way to connect with new people, who have some interests in common, in a world where connection is all too rare.

    And it's damn fun eviscerating and lynching friends (old and new) repeatedly. ;)

  2. Evan - if you're at RubyConf, you're going to see something pretty cool. I'm printing up a custom set of Werewolf cards.

    Anyway, I think your comment lends a lot of credence to the "brings techies down to earth" argument.

  3. I'll be at RubyConf and agreed WRT bringing techies down to Earth (or back to humanity, if you will).

  4. Doh. Should have proofread my first comment. That's what I get for replying late at night. Evan reads like Borat.


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