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My Favorite Microcosm

Well, it’s been quite the post-exam-ish weekend. Definitely, it hasn’t been productive, although the word (productive) is beginning to acquire a rather sinister connotation, what with the frequency with which it’s so casually phonated. Maybe it’s the spirit of the (exam-)times, which could be the opposite of animating.

I’ve failed at working on stuff like IAs and EE. (What onerous acronyms.) On the other hand, I’ve picked up my bass again for the first time in 2(?) weeks. Other than this blog, one of the diversions I’ve picked up, or rather returned to, is Star Kingdoms. (For those acquainted, click at your peril!)

It’s basically a strategy game where players build kingdoms (ah! another no-brainer!) and involves the usual stuff like resource and military management. One part of the game which was fascinating from the outset was the political aspect of it. Alliances, agreements, history, honor… Perhaps things that would be unremarkable in a war game.

Although I was by no means in the pioneering generation of players, I was around during some of the times when alliances and community were still going strong, or at least being maintained. (Perhaps post-pioneers?) I’d decided to return to SK to see what the game, or more honestly the community, had become. Call it nostalgia.

The nature of the reminiscence of older generations (“Hrm.”) seems to conform to a general trend, so perhaps it’s unsurprising that I was disappointed. This was despite me being aware that any expectations would have only one likely ending.

One of the situations is domination of the game by three major alliances (cartel!), although the roots of this were already growing when I left. There are effectively neither wars to be fought nor fun to be had, just the mechanics of culturing kingdoms. In my opinion, that’s 80% of the fun gone, or perhaps less if I were one prone to calculating growth formulas. Perhaps it might be amusing if I were one of the cartel leaders, although I’d wager even this would evaporate pretty quickly. Most of the fun was in the alliances, honor, coups, even backstabbing. The community even tended towards disorder (second law of thermodynamics, anyone?), when alliances would go to war to take down anyone dominating.

The current situation could possibly be viewed as a victory for the forces of order, in that conflict is absent. The universe (that’s a technical term as much as a general one in SK) is stable. From time spent (admittedly limited) in the SFs and AFs, however, it seems bullying and oppression is not uncommon. This is not at all unexpected, considering three alliances dominate. Anyone caught in the ‘wrong’ alliance would find it extremely difficult to grow, especially considering the dynamics of target-finding. (I won’t try to explain here.)

Another major reason why inter-alliance conflict occured was enforcement of code of conduct. While ‘code of conduct’ was never a cohesive set of agreements per se, there were acknowledged conventions. A case in point would be ‘bashes’, generally defined as making an attack on a kingdom less than three times your land size. Such attack would be easy, but wouldn’t result in a large land gain. While have totally no knowledge of the process of the development of this principle and am unable to evaluate the integrity of its logic, there were merits observable, including, but not exclusive to:

  1. Providing a benchmark for new players to peg their defence per land ratio.
  2. Preventing the deliberate limitation of growth of smaller kingdoms, just because a larger kingdom can afford to.
  3. Correcting the time lag: kingdoms joining mid-game will almost invariably have comparatively weak defences for a period, and the preventions against bashes translates to time spent where growth and defence can be accomplished simultaneously.
  4. Encouraging growing kingdoms to improve the quality of their attacks, in terms of land/in-game time.

If the factor of time in Real Life was brought in, though, bashes might arguably be efficient. Less time would be spent looking for targets that cost less resources per land, the level of defence required per land tends to increase with size. (This could also be due in part to the rule, but I shall not attempt to explain here.) A result of this convention, and maybe other similar ones, was that in general, the more RL time spent, the better the quality of targets and thus the more efficient the use of resources.

Right now, the tendency in SK seems to be toward RL efficiency, rather than abstract in-game efficiency.

So what’s interesting about this case of ‘bashes’? The matter at hand is not about whether or not this rule was beneficial to the universe or no. Rather, it is about this rule being enforced. It was essentially a convention. It was not enforced by any administrative authority, and there were no penalties other than any retribution that individual kingdoms or alliances were willing to render. This would generally be in the form of attacks made, which of course cost the enforcing kingdoms their own resources and resource/land efficiency.

Two prerequisites in enforcing conventions like these are willingness and ability. Conventions like these could only be enforced by kingdoms and alliances big enough to take down possible exploiters. As the universe grew, alliance leadership had to agree on these.

Although I cannot say this with certainty, it appears the early successful implementation generated momentum. It was a testament to the strength of the community. Also, potential leaders benefiting from the protections of the system would have a motivation to uphold the convention as they gained experience and skill.

It might be pertinent to add here that SK is a flawed game, and in my opinion, without enforced corrections to the system like this, it could never have been enjoyable for so many. It is a freely playable game, and there is virtually no provision for administrators or designers who could regulate gameplay, like in other MMORPGs. (WoW, anyone?) Another closely related issue would be cheating, since ‘justice’ was mainly meted out by alliances. It is very costly to take down kingdoms larger than yourself, and it involves the concerted efforts and sacrifice of many, but it yields substantial if intangible dividends in terms of morale.

The alliance I identified most with was Fenris, and from the following:
“Posted on October 6, 9:27 PM
Lol, are you Fenris or why do you feel you have to take the fate of the world upon you?”

Perhaps its role as the main enforcer is made evident. As might also be evident, enforcing also generates a significant amount of resentment. Like the U.S.

The will to enforce is the community’s.

But SK is essentially role-play, and if that factor is neglected, it has little value. I quote an oft-repeated mantra:
“Posted on October 7, 10:05 AM
SK is dead.”

Communities move, rather than die, I think.

Tangent: Perhaps Facebook, etc. are others? Of course, in the case of Facebook, it’s formally administered, and networks are based on existing RL relations. While RL relations are present in SK, their importance was diminished. Skill and ‘functional networks’ mattered more. Not to mention, role-playing and issues of honor added to the experience. Treason was of course a capital crime. (It might be interesting to note that the attempt to quantify ‘honor’ was an absolute failure. Admittedly, it was a half-hearted attempt by an apathetic administrator.)

Even so, the memories of being a part of a community like that are precious. Its dissolution is a matter of more than ‘regret’. Economics, history, community, ethics, along with the pathos and plain fun of serious role-play combined in a remarkably real way.

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