Pico Ultraorientalis

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Chivalry! My True Confession of How I Stopped Blogging, Started Gaming, and Returned to Tell the Tale!

A Sincere Apology to my Loyal Readers (both of them) on the year long interruption of this Blog

Yes, Pico Ultraorientalis is back!  Wiser, sadder, but fortunately not (because of local gambling laws) any poorer.  For the last year I have been spending my precious bloging time in the alternative dimension called CHIVALRY!  (NB:  CHIVALRY! is my pseudonymous designation  for a popular game which any game wonk six years old or under will have no trouble decrypting.)

Tell us it ain’t true Pico!  You, a gamer…the last person we would have expected (sigh!)

But it is, and I don’t regret a single moment of the experience, the results of which I can now describe as a prolonged “gedankenexperimente”…the trick being, as with all things, to pull up from the nosedive of addiction in the knick of time.  Like the old hippie-that-I-never-was, I “drank the coolaid”…or to use a more timely metaphore took the Matrix “red” pill.

What was the point?

The basic point, and the fun, was to delve into a completely different level of reality.  As phenomenological experments go, it was relatively safe.  Compared to, say, the Ecuadorian shamman showing Dr. Harner how his pharmacological took kit worked.  The problem is that (as the Kabblaists and mystics of all religions tell us) we live in a multi-layered plurivurse…but sensible, intellectual, people have a tendency to go into denial on this point.  True, they experience alternate realities every time they read a novel, but there is a psychological protective mechanism which keeps screaming that this is just a form of romantic entertainment  indulged in for recreation amidst a world of real, concrete, objects.   The game worlds have an obvious depth to them that textually based reverie does not have.   Somebody doing a phenomenolgy of poetry would probably want to dispute this, but I am speaking for myself, on behalf of the hoi poloi.

So tell us about CHIVALRY!

Actually, the use of the word “depth” is probably unfortunate.  CHIVALRY! is a two-dimensional map-world, so entering it is somewhat like picking up the wonderful story of “Flatland”…there is a reduction of dimensionality.  Its not like you are getting into a body, as in the movie “Avatar.”  In that regard it resembles any board game, like chess, or more plausably those Avalon-Hill games which recreated famous battlegrounds of the past.  These games are all conceptually two-dimensional, even if, like chess they employ three dimensional figurines.  In Chivalry there are places and buildings drawn with some thought to perspectival graphic representation, but it is all rather primitive compared to state of the art role playing games these days.

It doesn’t sound very fun for kids.

That was one of the biggest surprises.  I thought that I would be one of the oldest people playing…but the average age was far higher than I expected.   CHIVALRY! clearly attracts older people on a budget who don’t have much interest in arcade pyrotechnics or realism.  For one thing there are no representations of human beings, just icons for leaders and bare numbers to rankers.   Think, “1000 calvalry”…what you see is what you get.  So when I say it is different from reading a text or playing a board game I’m not talking about visual imagry.   The key point is that it is a permanent world floating in cyber space and operating in real time, a game which you are playing simultaniously against the sever and thousands of other human beings scattered through various parts of our real world.

And its a war game?

That’s an interesting question.  Its a world in which there are many wars going on at any given time.  One of my goals when I started out was to see how far I could get without engaging in hostilities, either against human players or even against artificial antagonists within the server.  My ideal, as your basic peace loving libertarian type, was to build up my city using construction and trade.   This works well on a young “frontier” like server with plenty of liebensraum, but as the population of actual players and their cities increases, it becomes necessary to look to one’s defenses.  The best way to defend yourself, aside from staying so small and quiet that you never appear on anyone’s radar, is to join an alliance.

So there is a social aspect to the game.

Yes, that’s what actually keeps the whole thing motivated.  The ability to communicate with other people is essential.  Keep in mind that the game never stops.  You can send an army off to attack another city on the other side of the (cyber) world, and after you have shut off your computer and go to work the army will still be on the march, and ditto for anyone attacking you.  So you want people to watch your back while you are away, preferably people who live in other time zones.

Sounds intense!

It is, intensely fun!  There is a kind of camaraderie which builds up in a good alliance, and this is linked into the cicadian rythm where you sign in while someone off on the other side of the (real) world, who may be your neighbor on the (cyber) map is signing off.  In its heyday my alliance the “Maroons” gained quite a bit of fame as a hard outfit to tangle with.  There are various levels of chat boxes and other communicative devices where one can talk to people, friend or foe, depending on the channel.

Speaking of foes, aren’t there a lot of obnoxious people involved with these games?

Yes, if you don’t have the ability to mentally tune-out the obnoxious types isn’t it worth getting involved in the first place.   There is no point in my describing all the delicious varieties of idiocy (begining with sex-text but going on to an almost infinite variety of permutations) but that is life in general.  Its possible to have mature conversations but you have to work on it given the nature of the environment.   The main legitimate reason for communication is to coordinate joint operations with members of your alliance.

Sounds very unromantic.

Yes, I was under the illusion, when I was a begining player, or “newbie” that CHIVALRY! was going to be something like a Rennaisance Fair and I would be able to say all sort of well…chivalrous…things in chat.  In spite of its historical upholstery CHIVALRY! is a very modern world in which rapid sound bytes trump rhetorical eloquence.   As the power structures of the CHIVALRY! world fill out and escalate the romantic people tend to drop to the wayside while the more serious warriors grab up more turf and resources.  But to my mind even this has a philosophical and didactic cash-value, in so far as CHIVALRY! is actually a very good cyber-model of our own world.

Can you be more specific?

Certainly one of the most salient aspects of the game is the trumping of political over economic means.   There are markets in CHIVALRY! but there is no pure economics, rather, everything is poltical economy…so you see, you can learn that by playing a free online game, and you don’t even need to work for Goldman-Sachs!   There are commodities, including gold, and these all float against each other…but what matters is how you use these to build up your military muscle.   I was originally hoping that the trade element of the game would be more important.  In fact I thought the game was going to model something like Cantillon’s 18th century system of descriptive economics.  So it got me reading his Essay on the Nature of Commerce in General.   I would have done better reading Clauswitz’s On War.   The point is, even if you arn’t interested in military preparations, the leadership of your alliance most definitely is.  Remember, you have to watch other people’s backs and vice versa.

So there is peer presure in the game?

Yes, because even though there might be wide assymetries in the life and interests of the players in the real world, in the constraints of the game world they are peers, having similar goal and resources to commit to those goals.  The “peerness” (interetingly a term drawn from medeval nobility) is an artificial element of the game design of CHIVALRY!, but there is another aspect which might be called alteity, or the drawing-togetherness of people towards the same values and interests, which is less circumscribed by the artificiality of the game, and one which gives it the kind of ontological solidity as a “world” in its own right such as I have been claiming for CHIVALRY! (and by extention other MMORPGS).

Sounds like topic for an extended discussion.

Yes.  I would like to like to get further into a discussion of ontology, psychology and their relationship to Christianity as illustrated by this kind of gaming in another post.  I think it is wonderful that we have this opening out onto new dimensions which can be used as a tool to clarify our thinking about life, time, and deity.   None the less like I say, I’ve quit now, but even a veteran gamer needs to take a break from the computer screeen from time to time…so hopefully there will be a follow up post.


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