I've been reading with intense interest about Apocalypse World for a long time now, always wishing I could playtest it and find out what was so awesome about it. Now that it's finally been released, I've bought the pdf, and I finally get something from it that I've not gotten from any other game. Just by reading the rules I can see how they foster a sense of intense cooperation, where players' choices always lead to more interesting choices, and their actions always change something about the world they're in. I love poring over the rules and the advice to the MC and learning things that benefit me no matter what game I'm playing.
But there's something I don't love about the game, which makes me never want to play it as it is. The rules as written are all about brutality. Even though the principles of the game are honest and dignified with regard to the players, they are absolutely ruthless to the characters in the story. There are plenty of options for the players' characters to hurt and destroy other characters, but little to no option to try to make something good out of the remnants left over in the world after the apocalypse. The game's rules seem to say, "be nice in the real world -- but in Apocalypse World, nice guys always finish dead."
That's not to say that relationships don't mean anything in Apocalypse World -- relationships are everything. It's just that they're relationships of exploitation and brutality almost every time. A key example is in the game's mechanics related to sex: interesting little bonuses and changes you get when your character has sex with someone. But none of these mechanics have anything to do with love; each and every one of them has to do with using sex to get something else your character wants, or preventing your partner from getting what they want.
Most of the moves in the game are like that in one way or the other. Three of the main basic moves, Go Aggro, Seize by Force, and Seduce or Manipulate, are all about getting someone to do something you want them to do, which they wouldn't normally do on their own. Each one is basically a battle of your self interest versus someone else's. Even the investigative moves, Read a Sitch (or situation), and Read a Person, are all about discovering the weaknesses of your enemies and learning how to overcome them. There are moves for helping and healing, but these seem peripheral to the main core of selfishness, brutality, and manipulation.
Some might argue that this is just human nature, that all relationships in the world are based on exploitative self interest of one sort or another. If that's your view then you're welcome to it -- I'm not here to convince you otherwise. But that's not how I view the world. The Apocalypse World I want to play in is one in which honesty and fair play still mean something, because no matter how few people there are left in the world or how scarce the resources have become, human nature is fundamentally a nature of choices -- we can choose to be bad, but we can also choose to be good. And some people in the Apocalypse World are bound to try and build some sort of positive social system and recover the good things that were lost. These people wouldn't accept that everyone in the world was evil, and I think they'd fight for that. It would be nice if there were a place in the Apocalypse World rules and moves for people like that. But then, maybe Vincent Baker was deliberately going for that contrast between the real world and this imaginary one when he designed the game. Maybe this is the whole point he's trying to make in his design -- that you always have a choice, no matter what someone tells you the "rules of the game" are.
I'm glad that AW is so hackable, and Vincent encourages people to make it into their own thing. I'm having all kinds of fun throwing some things out and putting some things in, gaining insight and modifying everything to suit my particular taste. Just love it. :)