Swarmnation is a neat game, but I'm not sure if it's for the reasons its authors intended. It may be interesting mostly because of its bugs. Read on for spoilers and the story that developed from an apparently abstract time waster game.
When I first saw the game, I saw a grid of squares moving around. I was obviously one: A (Blue) Square. There seemed to be no pattern to the movements. So, it seemed the game represented random passers-in-the-night on the net, unable to communicate except by dashing back and forth.
Then after a few minutes, a geometric shape was highlighted in yellow from out of the mass of squares. Woah! I'd been missing something here. It turned out my display was too small, and I had not noticed that the gameboard scolled over to show a tetris-style "next shape" display. Which the other squares had been busily trying to make before time ran out.
Now all their movements made sense. Now with a shared goal, we could communicate. Some of us were trolls and blocked shapes from forming. A few of us became leaders, boldly taking that center position in the hollow-square-with-spot-in-the-middle shape. Most of us herded into place as soon as a shape began to form, and stayed there, frantically hoping our neighbors would also conform and keep property values high. We were playing the game. We were accumulating scores.
We split into two groups, both playing the game, and then some of us defected from one group to the other, which seemed to be doing better at making a particular shape, and there was no reason to go back to that first group, I felt strongly that I was part of the second, better, group.
Then, as I was getting bored and feeling the neighbors all around stifling, I noticed my square highlighted yellow for a shape that I was not currently part of. Oh, this must be a bug I thought. I hacked around, and got it to happen again. I thought maybe it was just being a bit fuzzy in accepting shapes, but no, it turned out to be more interesting.
The game didn't care if we stayed in the shape. Just being part of the shape for an instant was enough. With this realization, whole new ways to play the game opened up. Dash left and right, near a forming shape, and you'll probably, for an instant, be part of it. Hang back and have your fun, spot an instant to plug a hole, and then get out and let someone else also take part. Try to form the same shape in both groups. And so on.
So a grid of squares hooked up to keyboards on the net has let me watch the invention of politics, rebel from conformity and hack the system, in an hour? That's what games are about!