The only rule you may be told is this one.
Image: AP Photo/Andy Wong. Lightly edited
That's the premise of r/MaoGame, a new subreddit loosely based on the frustratingly secretive card game of the same name. But without playing cards to divest, the goal instead appears to be avoiding a ban.
I remember playing Mao in summer camp as a kid. The point is to get rid of your cards, but new rules were made silently by more experienced players, and in my first round I ended up with half a deck's worth of cards, each laminated piece of cardboard handed out for an infraction I couldn't quite figure out. Because the rules of Mao can basically be anything. Anything. What you say. How you say it. Unconscious actions like yawning or humming can all be the basis for a penalty. When each round's rules become clear, the fun lies in watching someone else experience the same confusion — in much the same way I'd imagine the mid tier sales position of a multi-level marketing scheme is fun. It's an ode to the smart mark.
In its digital incarnation, there aren't any cards to get rid of, so the cost of breaking a rule is a 24-hour ban handed out by one of the subreddit's moderators. Even bots are not safe. Users are throwing everything at r/MaoGame to figure out what constitutes an acceptable post, with speculation that adding some variation of "hail to the chairman" to posts will make them acceptable by default (it doesn't). To put it bluntly: No one has a goddamn clue.
Unlike the card game, positive distinctions are handed out seemingly at random:
Some threads have bans on every single comment. Others are completely untouched by the moderators. I tried out a kosher phrase and haven't received a ban yet, so the subreddit at least appears to be internally consistent, for now. The rules of Mao are always subject to change.
A moderator for MaoGame spoke to us over Reddit PM to clarify a bit about how the subreddit works. "So far the process is that we have a set of "unknown" rules. These rules will not change until the users figure out all of the rules. Users will go into r/MaoGameMeta and from there they will work on finding them out," The_Yakuza wrote. "Once the users have figured out all the rules we the moderators will make a whole new set of rules. The old rules will then cease."
He or she also noted that they may need to employ bots to hand out bans in the future if they sub grows too big to handle. Considering r/MaoGame is on both r/trendingsubreddits and r/wowthissubexists today, it's more than likely.
The possibility has been raised that this whole thing is a troll. There may not be any rules at all, and r/MaoGame's commenters are looking like total dunces for the amusement of a bored teenager in some sleepy suburb.
But I choose to believe. If you do too, help us figure out how this thing works.