Railscamp Tanks

My Railscamp memories are a bit of a blur, but there’s one that’s stuck with me over the years. We were all engrossed in this web-based tank battle game, each of us trying to code our tanks to outmaneuver the others while adhering to the built-in limitations. I’m fairly hazy on the game itself now, but from memory the “radar” could only see so far.

After playing for a while I discovered that one team was “cheating”, I call it that loosely because it wasn’t a competition, just a fun shared battleground. Instead of working within the confines of the tank code, they had modified the game code itself, giving their tank access to more information than the rest of us. It was a clever workaround, but it fundamentally changed the nature of the challenge.

When I asked them about it, they said they were just trying to have more fun with the game, and the radar limitations were making it less enjoyable for them. While I can appreciate the desire to maximize enjoyment, it did shift the dynamics of our friendly competition. It’s hard to know if that was their true motivation or just a cover, but at the time I was angry enough that I just walked away from playing. Why should I if they were going to win by making the playing field uneven?

The limitations placed on the tanks weren’t arbitrary - they were part of the design, the puzzle we were all meant to solve. By circumventing those restrictions, it altered the shared experience we bought into.

It’s not a structured environment, so they were free to pursue what they found fun. Having a good time is what these events are all about. But in a collaborative environment, there’s an implicit trust. In violating that trust, even if unintentionally, they diminished the experience for everyone else.

Looking back, I don’t harbor any resentment towards that team, don’t even remember the names of the people. Assuming their explanation was genuine, they were just trying to have more fun with the game. But it does highlight the importance of clear communication and consensus in these shared spaces.

If the goal is to modify the game to make it more enjoyable, then that’s a conversation we should have as a group. We can redefine the challenge together, so everyone’s on the same page and no one feels like their approach is being undercut.

But if the agreed-upon task is to work within certain constraints, then there’s a collective responsibility to respect those boundaries. Because that’s what allows for a truly collaborative experience - knowing that we’re all tackling the same problem, even if we come at it from different angles.

In the end, that Railscamp moment has stuck with me not because of the specifics of the game or the code, but because of what it taught me about navigating shared creative spaces. It’s a balancing act, finding the middle ground between individual enjoyment and collective buy-in. Even when everyone’s goal is just to have a good time, it’s important to ensure that one person’s fun doesn’t come at the expense of someone else’s.