There was a discussion on Twitter yesterday about narrative as story versus gameplay. in_orbit compiled the tweets into a thread-like style; you can read it here.
Additionally, I'm sure you've heard of Train by Brenda Brathwaite. There is an article written by Ian Bogost on Gamasutra which had some interesting input, namely how the ambiguity or open-endedness in the rules resulted in the players becoming more immersed. The player has to figure out how to jam the people into the trains. The player is confronted with the desire to neatly order the tokens in lines.
This ambiguity in rules reminded me of yet another major event in recent MMO news: the Dr. David "Twixt" Myers experiment in City of Heroes. A philosophical debate on social rules and games was waged on World of Discourse (check out the comments).
The gist is that Myers was playing by the rules of the game but disliked the social consequences of violating the social rules; he was griefing other players and was taken aback when they verbally threatened him--the player not the character. In the little pocket community of CoH, social norms of acceptable play grew out of a lack of game rules or rather a manipulation of those rules.
It is here, in the No man's land of ambiguous game rules, where the true power of emotional games arise. In Train, players made a choice of how to pack passengers in the cars, and that article by Bogost notes, "players seem to alter their gestures of passenger loading and unloading as they better understand their implications." I'm sure players in CoH got upset when they lost a "legit" PvP encounter, but did they send death threats to the victor as they did to Myers?
Designers like Brathwaite seem to be focused on creating drama. Instead of discomfort, sorrow, or rage is it possible to leverage ambiguous rules and create joy and pleasure? And can we do it in an MMO? Perhaps we are already doing this. Emergent gameplay and solutions allow the player to discover dynamics with the game rules, and this often feels rewarding. Is it euphoric though?