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Thoughts on NationStates

During the past months I've been playing around with a little nation I've created called The Armed Republic of West Sweden, in the online game NationStates.

NationStates is a game where you create a little nation of your own, put it into a region with a lot of different other nations, and each day or so you get to decide government policy over some current issue. The decisions you make end up affection your nation's political freedoms, finances and so on.

It's a very simple game, although entertaining for awhile, and with very little possibility of interaction between nations. The only thing you really can do is endorsing other nations to become a region's representative to the global UN, but that's all. So there's not really much you can do. One thing you absolutely cannot do is go to war. There is nothing in the game that simulates war between nations.

But people have found a way to overcome the limitations. Because regions are administered by either the founder or the elected UN representative, people have come up with an activity called region-crashing. A group of people sticking together in a region can suddenly agree to "invade" another region. What they do is they simply transfer their nations to another region, and then endorse each other, so that they end up with the majority. And then they "crash" the region.

I think this is a phenomenal approach to use a medium that was never really intended for "warfare" or similar activities for these things; it proves to me that there are oftentimes meta-levels of usage that a system can be used for. The system wasn't designed for it, but by utilizing the fact that people run and control it, it can also be exploited - if only as part of the "game". It becomes a game about the game, quite literally. And suddenly, the concept of "war" is included in the game: not as a choice by the designer, but by the activities of the users themselves.

In the forum "self-organizing networks" on orkut, we've discussed supra-human emergencies - societies becoming more than just the sum of the individuals; I think this is an interesting example of what could be called "supra-system emergencies" - the ability of a system to become more than the total sum of the software-encoded functions in it.


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