The act of worldbuilding is a thrilling and addicting feeling. It’s a work of art which requires compulsive attention to detail, causality modeling, and fresh thinking.
I’m actively working on a project called Asteroid Ventures – I need to take a 2 hour mental break though, so I wanted to ruminate on an interesting digital anthropology observation I’ve made over the last few years.
Games can construct a history for you, or you can take a different approach… Open world simulations with individual player agency. While in previous blog posts I have highlighted how agent based modeling in conjunction with voronoi clusters and settlement mechanics can model nation-states… Those simulations cannot be explored on foot. They feel less real.
There are games like Dwarf Fortress which simulate history prior to the player entrance. An entire fantasy world constructed in a blink. There are history simulators like Paradox titles or Civilization which offer holistic controls to a single player -but a creative MMO offers something much more unique – the chance for competing agents to create a naturally occuring historical narrative. Neat huh?
There is a group on reddit called /r/Civcraft – devoted entirely to one of the single biggest/longest open Minecraft servers. The mechanics are barely modded from “vanilla” – so there is no huge learning gap like in technical mods such as the Tekkit pack.
Players can own property, they can “secure” objects using stone. There are factions and different government styles – each that distributes material wealth in a different way. In many ways those servers mirror behavior in the real world.
Factions are exploitative towards each other and writhe with conflict. There is enough resources never to have to fight, but the spoils of war will provide rare resources more quickly and enhance the ideology of the winning faction. Familiar?
The big difference though is the speed at which new cities can be built, and the vast emptiness felt in those empty cities. There are Non-Playable Characters in Minecraft which show up in procedurally generated villages, but they do not appear in player created cities. The streets feel big and empty.
So exploring Civcraft involves walking through expansive forests just to find crumbling ruins. There are still many active cities in the game, but an ever growing number of failed states makes for some pretty intense digital-archaeology.
Now – I don’t really have the time to expunge into the history of this fascinating world myself. In fact, I barely grasp some of the the cultural concepts floating around. Pearling, greifing, claiming, juking, there are a ton of concepts which are specific JUST to this server, on top of the core Minecraft unit operations. To an outside observer – there is essentially a micro-singularity of cultural context occuring inside of a virtual world with about 5000 people.
As I see it we have experienced three main 'ages' from a sociopolitical perspective:
The First Age or Age of City-States lasted from the dawn of 2.0 until around October 2013 with the arrival of Bloodcrew. It was at this time that many of today's most affluent players gained their wealth. The AnCap ideology still held sway over many areas, including the cities of Aurora, Bryn, and Freedom. Thus, land claims in this era were based largely around the property claims of a city's residents plus a reasonable buffer zone. Cities rose and fell, with some towns such as Lio flourishing for a brief period before falling victim to one devastating crisis or another, while Aurora experienced a golden age of activity, politics, and drama.
All this progress was severely hindered by the arrival of Bloodcrew. The first real server-wide conflict since the 1.0 HCF War, it brought international trade to a standstill and led to the demise of Aurora. The Bloodcrew conflict reminded the less PvP-oriented players of Civcraft that they needed to more adequately protect their cities.
The Second Age or Age of Alliances had its roots in the Bloodcrew conflict but did not really begin until around March 2014. Soon most of the map was split between four great supranational alliances: the NEA, the UIA, the UMM, and the U3P. The idea behind these groups was to foster cooperation between member cities and provide a common focal point for regional defense. Some (the NEA and U3P) remain in place today, while others (the UIA or UMM) broke up due to infighting or simply became irrelevant.
While I don't know exactly where the transition was, I believe we are now in a Third Age that could be called the Age of Nations. The supranational alliances are not really as strong or important any longer, mostly serving as a regional discussion/bickering forum. There are now many true nation-states such as Fellowship that have multiple discrete settlements under a central national government. You can see this new trend by looking at the land claims of Fellowship or New Senntisten along side those of, say, Haven. Haven is more of a relic of the First Age in that it is a self-contained city state.
My perspective has been from that of Maps. just like in real colonial times - maps = power. Some factions don’t want their location revealed for security purposes. Others have private transport networks deep underground or high in the air – which they don’t want to be exploited by others.
When I first heard about Civcraft in 2012, their maps were terribly incomplete. Transportation maps existed but were somewhat unreliable. Now, there exists a comprehensive global map – and just like the Treaty of Westaphalia, players are making meta-stable claims via these public maps. Enforcement of these claims are occurring by player agent interactions.
Bottomline – there is a niche gaming experience here. One that Everquest Landmark may be trying to replicate with their use of Miguel Cepero’s VoxelFarm engine. The idea is to create a set of operations and ownership concepts – then hand players in-game authoring tools and let the narrative build itself!
While there’s plenty more speculation, anthropology and case study value here for creating similar games – I’ve got asteroids to mine, so I’ll leave you with a captioned gallery.