Political Gameplay

Talk about regional management and politics, raider/defender gameplay, and other game-related matters.
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Founded: Aug 02, 2006
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Political Gameplay

Postby Naivetry » Mon Jun 01, 2009 4:49 pm


This is an essay on one element of political gameplay in NS. I wrote this portion some time ago, intending to follow it up with a discussion of feeders vs. UCRs, what constitutes political currency or power, and so forth, but the level of complexity involved in any such discussion is astonishing. Unlike military gameplay, which has a finite number of tricks and loopholes for players to exploit in game code, political gameplay is limited only by the skill of the players, the tools they have to use, and the environment they are given to manipulate.

Not everything I say is going to apply to all political gameplay groups. My experience is in Equilism, a region intimately connected for years with the defender vs. raider conflict and all the politics that resulted from it, and so my analysis is based heavily on the concerns of that group of players.

If you have any questions, please feel free to ask them here - hearing questions from others about what doesn't make sense may help me figure out how to talk about the rest of it.

A. IC/OOC: an explanation

Because this is the internet, political gameplay involves playing a role - but in a different sense than we usually think of role-playing. RP in the NationStates or International Incidents forum, or in similar venues on the off-site forums, involves the collaborative creation of a story wherein all participants are aware that they as players are separate from their characters. This results in in-character and out-of-character posts, where the OOC posts are presumed to reflect directly the sentiments of the player.

In regional politics of a certain variety, the distinction between IC and OOC becomes a difference between one's public (IC) and private (OOC) persona. The public persona, although not usually identified as such, is that which acts in accordance with political exigencies. The private persona is identified with the "real" beliefs, attitudes, or preferences of the player in question.

There is obviously the potential here for overlap. People argue over whether one can ever truly separate the things that you may do as a regional politician from who you really are as a person. Those who do not believe you can separate the two (or who have never been taught that such separation is even possible) tend to be the majority, especially among newer players. It seems perfectly natural, after all, to express your honest opinions when you interact with other people online, and in fact it may seem dishonest not to.

For some people, however, the separation between public and private personas is a strictly held belief that allows them to feel free to adopt tactics and ideological positions that they would normally disavow. Such players feel that they are truly playing a role in their every interaction within the game environment - they may not mark their posts as IC or OOC, but they maintain that who they are in real life cannot be judged by the way they behave in the game. Personally, I find this a dangerous line to walk - to quote Vonnegut, "We become what we pretend to be, so we must be very careful about what we pretend to be." In the end, this may be an issue each player must come to terms with him or herself.

B. Duality

The belief in a separation between an IC and an OOC persona naturally led to the adoption of multiple IC personae, each built around a new nation. This multiplicity of IC identities is known as "duality." Those who believe in duality claim that a single player may take on different (even conflicting) roles in multiple regions, while separating their OOC knowledge as a player from their IC behavior as a nation/character in each region. Even those who most enjoy the adoption of multiple personae, however, tend to feel that it becomes tricky to achieve duality the more one's different roles come into conflict. At some point, you must decide where your priorities truly lie.

C. Historical development

Much of this philosophy probably developed out of the Intel (intelligence) game. Intel agents (spies) would be equipped with new nations and sent to other off-site forums. They would then participate in the activities of that forum, both those involved in military or political gameplay and the more casual chat and forum games, under the pretense of being someone else entirely. The goal was to build trust within the target region by deceiving everyone around you until you were given a position of confidence. In some cases this was achieved so thoroughly that the spy would become a leader of the forum in question - as for instance, when a raider spy became head of The North Pacific's army (a defender organization) in a two-year long operation. The moral dilemmas involved in such deception are obvious, and have motivated many of the people involved in the Intel or political game to distinguish between their actions as highly skilled and dedicated players from their beliefs as people in real life.

D. Consequences for political gameplay

The possibility that anyone in your region may not be who they seem has led to extreme concerns over security (probably no longer entirely warranted) among the regions that were active when the Intel game was at its height. Counter-intelligence measures were developed, including the collection of IP addresses. The idea was that, even if a spy in your region was pretending to be someone else, you could catch him if you could match his IP address with that of a different identity on another forum. (There are of course ways to get around this, as well... and ways to prevent someone from getting around it, and so on.)

What this means for forums and political interaction is that different levels of security are required if you do not want everyone to know every detail of your policy discussions - and the more involved a region becomes in complex power politics, the more its political planning must take place in a secure environment to prevent those plans from being undermined. This is why ownership of one's forums is so necessary. It allows you to set up forums invisible to outsiders, to change the visibility of forums even for your own members (so that a spy may think they have gained more trust than they actually have), to adjust the masking of members to allow those you trust to take part in more sensitive discussions, to make it seem (for instance) that members have been demoted to a lower level of access when they have not been, and to keep track of IP addresses when you have reason to question someone's identity.

Gaining forum administration lays bare all the otherwise private discussions on the board, and so no political group will ever be satisfied in an environment where their leaders are not the forum administrators, in ultimate control of exactly who is privy to what information. There are other reasons for restricting information and access, of course, but a discussion of the many ways in which everyday citizens interact each other and with their leaders, and how those leaders interact among themselves, belongs in another installment...
Last edited by Naivetry on Sat Jun 06, 2009 9:08 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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