Sunday, October 04, 2009

A tactical wargame

I've decided to push Lusternia to a back burner for the next little while. I'm not "quitting" but it's the next best thing: I'm going to be far less active and will mostly spend the time I do spend there on living up to a few simple responsibilities (guild administration, running some shops, and the like). I am dropping two main responsibilities completely because they take up too much time and require too continuous a presence. (The first: posting "watcher" spirits at key points to warn people on my team of oncoming raids. The second: keeping certain key denizens dead to prevent certain quests which are bad for either my side, or the game as a whole.) I'm also retiring from a few positions (guild envoy, and minister of cultural affairs) not because I can't keep up with them in the limited time I'm alloting Lusternia (neither takes up a huge amount of time) but just for appearance's sake. (And retiring as minister of cultural affairs is quite relevant since there aren't any to minister.)

The reason for this is simple in its essence. The Lusternia I fell in love with was a nicely balanced game. It had enough combat and conflict to keep everything else interesting and ever-changing, but it also had enough everything else to keep the combat and conflict rooted in meaning: it wasn't fighting for the sake of fighting, it was fighting about principles, about deeply-rooted elements of history, about symbols of fundamental truths of the world, about forces that shape creation.

Then one day someone had what seemed like an innocuous idea: let's make a quest that fundamentally changes the power balance and forces bitter enemies, fundamentally opposed in their most essential ideologies, to ally not just for a short term (as in events where everyone was forced to stand together against a common outside threat), but for the long haul. This began a war that has been going on for many RL months, without surcease, but that's not the real problem.

Somewhere along the way, listening to (some of) the complaints, the administration realized how imbalanced the quests were and gave them some disincentives to go with their huge incentives, and now those quests are all but forgotten and the strained alliances that came with them have fallen aside. But it proved a day late and a dollar short; the damage is done.

First, the momentum of conflict is unbroken: as long as every day there's been some terrible attack that requires a terrible retribution, there's no room for much else, and since almost everyone who enjoyed anything other than fighting has been driven into dormancy by how long this war has been without interruption, there's no momentum behind anything else. Culture is dead: no one is writing, producing plays, singing songs, holding rituals, planning contests, hosting festivals, or even going on group hunts or flying aetherships. There's nearly no one left who wants to do those things, or at least wants to do them more than they want to go on the raid du jour, and even if there were, they'd be too busy with the war, the retributions, the grind of making up for the previous attacks, or being ready for the next raid.

Second, the connection between these conflicts and their meaning has been all but broken. It's long been the case that certain excesses were accepted because tactics trumped meaning, but that's been a limited, contained, necessary evil. But now, not only are those things almost entirely uncontained, it's done so with disregard for the idea that there should ever have been a limit. Nations change alliances on the drop of a hat and blissfully pretend the last decade of constant, brutal attacks, every one of them an unrelenting rape of their most cherished ideals, never happened, because it's tactically viable to side with someone else today. People mark huge swaths of people as official enemies to nations despite those people having never lifted a finger against them, as a "precaution". People deliberately engineer devastation to their own side's most sacred beings just so they can earn the "honors line" of the quest to restore those beings. Sometimes, the most superficial and brief lip service is paid to finding excuses, but more often, no one even bothers.

All in all, the game that used to be a rich and vibrant world full of a variety of activities and a lot of real reasons for them, now feels precisely like a tactics-driven wargame, with its history, culture, and roleplay nothing more than a flaking coat of paint.

Lusternia has done this before, never quite to this extreme, but it has gotten swallowed in the endless escalation of conflict and retribution, and come back. (Though it's never come back through player actions, despite what some of the players think. It's always been because of administrative intervention, though some times more obviously than other times.) So it might come back. And I endured for a while hoping to be part of the process that brought it back, to subtly remind people of purpose and history and meaning, to encourage the resurgence of culture, or just to stubbornly outwait it so that I wasn't contributing to the factor where, as people who want to play the everything-but-a-tactical-wargame all go dormant, the uniformity of the tactical-wargame approach gains dominance for lack of a contrary voice. But I can't endure against this indefinitely when I wasn't making any real difference.

This time, I'm not leaving in a decisive, irreversible way. My character will remain active, just far less so. He/she (my character is a shapechanger and changes gender periodically) can simply reappear any time I like. In fact, ironically enough, if I get that fractional T1, one thing it will enable is for me to get better at combat and participate in it, so I might "come back" sooner than later in order to play the tactical wargame that is Lusternia, if I feel like it at the time, but even then I'll be hoping the old Lusternia will reappear so I can come back to that, too. (No one will care if my character suddenly doesn't care about the things he used to care about, and just wants to join in the fight, since no one cares about motivations anymore. So it won't close that door to have him change personality to that extent.)

But I am trying out a few other MUDs in hopes of finding one that's like what Lusternia used to be like. I don't know if anything like that exists. Maybe I'll just back out of playing MUDs entirely for a while, and try to find the fix for my roleplaying jones somewhere else.

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