Eight to ten years ago, I was passionately playing so-called ‘browser-games’. To explain it to today’s youth, it is something like farmville. The setting was the universe and all the players were battling against each other, organized in alliances, for resources and the highscore. Playing it passionately meant getting up every 2-3 hours (especially at night) to organize defense and safe resources and bail out on a lot of real life fun manifested in parties or other social events.
From the technical point people invested a lot of time. The most used medium is the Internet Relay Chat (IRC). It was not only used to communicate but also to program scripts which allow to organize groups, publish status and do other useful things in a jiffy by just pressing the right buttons. At the time where people started programing tools which helped you to estimate which resources to gather when in order to build the desired ship just in time – without wasting a minute – that was the time I stopped playing because it became to crazy (though I liked it).
What does it have to do with politics or especially diplomacy?
Well, let me first explain the game mechanisms. Apart from what I just explained, members are grouped into alliances. These alliances are then allied with others in so-called meta-alliances. Apart from that there are defense-treaties or just non-aggressive-pacts, well an even attack-treaties. Their aim: getting their best member on the first position of the highscore and keep him their until the end of the round which normally takes a couple of month and then everyone starts from the top. Within each ally there is the HC (High Commander), the FC (Fleet Commander) and depending on the game and size of the ally other different people such as the iHC (inner High Command for members) or Diplomat (if tasks not done by the HCs). I am talking here about some of the browser games which take place in a futuristic space setting. Others take place in the medieval ages or have a contemporary setting. Back to politics. Of course the members but more their representatives, the HCs make politics within the ally and as ally with other allies and groupes of allies. Even though the real life people live in democratic countries, the inner-ally politics are not dominated by democratic decisions. HCs are there because they founded the ally and others are put in place by them. If you don’t like it you can leave or – and now it gets interesting – you find enough people within your ally and try to de-throne the HC and put yourself in his place. This can for example happen by convincing a big part of the ally to join your new founded ally. Others will follow and the old HC is the only member left in his old ally – that is the theory. Of course there are other approaches but basically that shows the dynamics of inner-ally-politics. This complexity is multiplied by taking other alliances into account. Between allies there are negotiations, treaties, tensions due to single members not obeying rules and treaties or even betrayal of whole alliances. Apart from that a very interesting mechanism of the game was that it always ended in a Total War. Of course..if the top player has only two more days to last on rank one and then the round is over and his allies have won, everyone tries to not let that happen. Others, who are allied with this player want to celebrate their victory together with him and defend him, his ships and his planet. Some allies were promised a position in this ally if they help this round and so on and so far.
So far to the theory. Now let me share a short story of my past. I was member of a meta-alliance formed by three pretty good alliances. This one was called 3B. In the round before we lost miserably against only one ally, called -H-, and their daughter ally FG. They were less players but really good organized and played far away from fair. Later on a lot of accounts got hacked but if these stories are true or not and who ought to be blamed never became public. For the next round we decided to get me into their daughter ally FG. Only the five high-ranked ‘officials’ new that I was spying for them under a different name as the round before. For FG I was just a new member who played pretty well (had a lot of time). We had to take care because when you are logged on to IRC and the ‘rooms’ you are in are not ‘secured’ everyone can see in which room you are. Which means my new ‘home’ could see that I am hanging out with the ‘wrong’ guys. Good thing my brother was one of the HCs of 3B, so we could communicate in real life (and sorry to my friends back then we most of the time talked about it only about the game). Little did they know, they promoted me to FC. Why is that? Well, because I spied for 3B I was never attacked by them. And I was never attacked by my own meta. Together with other allies that made 8 out of the top10 allies did not attack me. From time to time 3B had to fake attacks on me so that -H- does not get the impression that there is something wrong with me. They did not until the end. They did not even wonder why all their secretly-planned attacks did not work out. First, I only shared the more important attacks, so that the unimportant attacks went through which made -H- not think that there is a spy. Second, by promoting me to FC, they automatically integrated me to 90% of the attack plannings. Bad for them. What can I say. I don’t remember who actually won this round but it was a lot of fun. The strategies and the politics between the allies were so much fun and very complex sometimes.
Why is that interesting? Before the Internet was developped and widely used by people all over the world, this kind of games were simply not possible. Of course board games or games within a bigger conference would have been possible. But games who are played 24/7 with hundreds of players for a couple of months? Not possible. Apart from fun, these games increase strategic thinking and problem solving. For a small group (the Hcs, FCs etc.) politics is also a very important issue. How to handle other people. How to react to certain events. How to follow a command chain without ruining the reputation of your whole group/ ally. Some games are already used for real-life purposes. America’s Army to recruit people to fight lost wars in Afghanistan and Iraque or Evoke to educate people in Africa in certain skill groups. Well, I personally would love to have a weekend class with an auditorium full of students, playing one of these browser games with me and simulating politics. It would be interesting how they would apply different approaches after for example reading Machiavelli. Would a class of political science students apply inner-ally democracy and try to prevent a World War (or for that matter an intergalactic war) because they should know better? Would love to see that…
Why not try a round? Keep your alarm set and your scripts running…