Open threads at the Open Thread tab every Sunday and Wednesday

Things I Learned By Spending Five Thousand Years In An Alternate Universe

When I was in high school, some friends and I decided it would be cool to start our own country, Bridge to Teribithia-style. As the idea gradually came into contact with reality, it degenerated into “simulate a country” and then “role-play a country”.

Then as more people got interested, it expanded into “role-play a planet”, and then back up to “simulate a planet”.

I’m not sure when it morphed into “get hundreds of friends to create and spend large portions of their lives in a fantastically-detailed alternate universe, building such close relationships that many ended up dating or marrying one another”, but it was sometime before the end of the sixth century.

…oh, right. Back in the second century we adopted a convention that one day in the real world was one year in our fictional planet of Micras. The sixth century would have been a little less than two years after we started, so early 2001. Since then various new societies have arisen with dozens of calendars of their own, but a few of us purists have kept the original one going.

And it is in that original calendar that we celebrated yesterday the turn of the sixth millennium. The year 5000 ASC. I – and others, there are still a few other people who have been around since the beginning – have been simulating Micras’ politics, mapping its contours, and writing its history for five thousand days.

It’s kind of terrifying how much of my life this one game has shaped.

It was my friend Eoin – Ard-Baron of Treesia and Fabon on Micras – who first convinced me to move to Ireland.

It was my friend Erik – founder and erstwhile Kaiser of Shireroth on Micras – who got a LiveJournal and convinced me to start blogging.

It was my friend James – Duke of Kildare on Micras – who first sat me down and told me I needed to start listening to good music and handed me some Ayreon and Nightwish – which shaped my musical tastes right up till the present.

It was my friend Ari – Duke of Straylight on Micras – who first linked me to Robin Hanson, Eliezer Yudkowsky, and the rationalist community.

They say that if the fool persists in his folly, he will become wise. And even wasting several hours a day in constructed worlds gives you a couple of benefits, if you keep it up for thirteen years. Insofar as I can make webpages, it’s from my time as Shireroth’s Minister of Information. Insofar as I know Photoshop and graphic arts, it’s from my time as head of the Micronational Cartography Society, which maintains the physical and political maps of Micras. Insofar as I can write, it’s because of years painstakingly composing treaties and fake history books. Insofar as I can argue or convince, it’s from debates in fictional legislatures about whether or not to go to war with distant countries with names like “Baracão” and “Novikrasniystan”, run by a bunch of poli sci majors in London or computer geeks in Belgium or even stranger people even further afield.


More than that, though, it’s taught me about people. The total lack of rules or advance planning with which we constructed Micras gives it an amazing feature unmatched in any other role-play I know of: the game is exactly identical to the meta-game.

A country is a bunch of people coming together and claiming to be a country and doing country-like things (kind of like in reality). The king – or Shah, or President, or Premier, or Ayatollah – of the country is whoever can convince other people to call them the king and obey their orders (kind of like in reality). The country’s land is pretty much whatever land they can convince other people to accept they have (ibid). The constitution is whatever document you can convince everyone else to sign (…).

If one person wants to found their own single-person country, no one can stop them, but they’re less likely to be taken seriously or considered a Great Power. If lots of people come together to form a country, no one can stop them, but they had better be able to get along and agree on the rules. If you want to unite to ostracize somebody, no one can stop you, but you’d better be able to get more people on your side than they have on theirs.

If you want to claim you have a billion nuclear bombs, no one can stop you, but they’ll just say you’re a terrible simulation partner and ignore you when you say you bomb them. If you want to claim you are pure pacifists, no one can stop you, but then you better either have an alternate plan for protecting yourself (like strong allies) or be prepared to just absent yourself from the military simulation and annoy everyone else. If you want to write a history of your country that conflicts with histories everyone else has written, no one can stop you, but no one is going to take your history seriously either or build upon it or make it part of their canon.

As a result, while other geeks were learning how to calculate damage from Magic Missiles, I was learning how to manipulate consensus reality. I guarantee you one of these skills is more valuable than the other.


The skill of manipulating consensus reality seems more or less identical to the skill commonly called “leadership”. It is easy to underestimate. The whole gag of the comic strip Dilbert is underestimating leadership. These brilliant engineers do the actual hard work, and then some idiot just says “work faster!” or something similarly dumb and gets hailed as a leader and paid a much higher salary and given credit for the group’s success

Micras has been a sort of laboratory for leadership – countries mostly between one and thirty people, rising and collapsing on a scale of months to decades. After thirteen years I am at no risk of underestimating leadership. I have seen countries transition from Great Powers to smoking ruins within weeks after a new and less competent monarch succeeds the old. I’ve also seen tiny city-states led by someone who understands the methods of persuasion and balance-of-power politics take over an entire hemisphere through soft power.

Occasionally I have even been a leader myself. It’s not hard on Micras – gather two or three friends, start a small country, crown yourself King. Or join an existing country, build a power base, and get elected Prime Minister. Or if that’s too much for you, it’s never too hard to find jobs on the regional level. My own homeland of Shireroth has long operated with five Dukes, each ruling a fifth of the country’s territory, and the positions are noncompetitive enough that during one particularly complicated conspiracy I managed to attain a few of them under false personae.

But I’ve also held the real thing – the Golden Mango Throne of the Kaiser of Shireroth, widely agreed to be the most complicated and unrewarding leadership position on Micras. For a role with no real-world power or consequences, it’s amazing how stressful, time-consuming, and life-sapping it can be – and how much you learn by holding it. If I thought they would take me halfway seriously, I would strike some kind of lucrative deal with a business school to let their students “study abroad” in a Shirerithian leadership position. If nothing else, it would knock some humility into them really quickly.

I titled this post “Things I Learned By Spending Five Thousand Years In An Alternate Universe”, so I guess I should get into some actual lessons. This is probably the only “leadership advice” I will ever give, and I have no idea if it transfers to the real world, but here you go.

I think the most important thing I learned about leadership is to avoid it. It’s stressful, everyone blames you for everything, and “getting to make decisions” sounds a lot better before you realize how banal and annoying 99% of decisions are. But I also learned that large organizations tend to have a position that pretty much controls everything from behind the scenes but doesn’t have to cope with the appearance of power. In Shireroth it’s called “Steward”. In Westeros it was “King’s Hand”. I don’t know about the USA, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was “White House Chief of Staff”. These positions are a whole lot more fun, and surprisingly there’s a lot less competition for them.

Closely related is learning how many people are optimizing for appearance – which means if you’re optimizing for something else it’s pretty easy to strike compromises that give everyone what they want. If you’re fighting for control of a province, the compromise “your enemy gets an important sounding title like Archduke with almost completely ceremonial powers, and you get a boring sounding title like Undersecretary of Resource Management that controls the place’s economy and military” works a surprising amount of the time. Same with titling a bill “The X Party Wins Bill” and getting leading members of the X Party to support it and having the Y Party protest it angrily and not have any policy proposals of the X Party in it at all.

The third important thing I learned is to have a lot more respect for politicians and people in power. I think everyone should have the media perform a hatchet job on them at least once. It’s this really scary feeling when you know you’re trying to be honest and do the right thing, and yet you see how easy it is for a hostile writer to cast every single thing you do as corrupt and destructive. And how quick everyone is to believe them. And how attempts to set the record straight get met with outraged “how dare you give one of those typical sputtering non-apologies!”. It reminds me of those computer games where “ACCUSE” is just a button you press, and it doesn’t even matter what the accusation is or whether it makes sense. Once someone has invoked the genre of scandal, it will play out the same either way, proceeding deterministically along political lines until everyone reaches the usual compromise of agreeing you’re scummy and dishonest but not worth the trouble of impeaching.

The last important thing I learned is to be nice. It practically never fails that somebody who thinks they’re really cool joins Micras, makes fun of one of our admittedly disproportionate number of people with no real life or social skills, bullies and harasses them for months or even years…and then that person is the swing vote in an important election, or finds themselves sitting on a deposit of valuable rare earth metals everyone needs. My favorite cases are when neither of those two things happens, and the person just spends five years sorting out their issues and becoming smarter and more competent, and then ends up in charge of everything solely by their own merit. I am pleased to report they rarely forget how the bully behaved when they were young and stupid.

I don’t know how many of these lessons work in reality. I think at least some of them do. But also, I don’t think I learned any of these lessons on their own. They’re part of meta-lessons where my brain learned to grasp these concepts of status and popularity and negotiation. I don’t actually go into parties thinking “that guy there is the Duke of the room, and those guys there to the side are his Counts”, but I do think my brain is using circuitry that it developed in part for those sorts of calculations, and goodness knows I needed to get that circuitry somehow.


All this probably makes it sound like all we do on Micras is plot and conspire against each other, but that’s really only a small part of it. We are first and foremost conworlders, or geofictionalists, or that thing there’s no non-awkward word for which involves creating detail for alternate worlds (and which one of my girlfriends has a college degree in, by the way!)

If leading a country trains the mind, conworlding trains the soul. In fact, I sometimes feel like a good conworld is like a projection of the creator’s soul – like there’s some sense in which a reader of the Silmarillion understands Tolkien as a person on a deeper level even than one of his friends or family members might.

Micras is a collective conworld, but it’s a salad bowl and not a melting pot. Most people get their own country or province or island, develop its culture in their own image, and only then do they federate into nations or empires or hokey EU-style monstrosities.

The question “If you were a society, what kind of society would you be?” is strangely existential. Some people are bland liberal democracies. Some people are tropical island paradises. Some people are extremely efficient Singaporean city-states. But anyone at all interesting is something that has never quite existed before on Earth. Tolkien was the Elves. I don’t know much about Iain Banks, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he was the Culture.

One guy on Micras is a libertarian. He just sort of hangs around going “Yup, my country’s government still isn’t doing anything. Just hanging around punishing the initiation of force.” It’s very cute.

It makes you examine your soul, conworlding does. Over the centuries, changes in your outlook are mirrored by revolutions in your country’s government. The problems debated in its universities and great books are the problems you struggle with every day. Sometimes your values and aesthetics drift, and some fictional philosopher mirrors the change across a span of worlds. Very rarely, it is the fictional philosopher who makes a good point that the real you is forced to consider.

So far in thirteen years we’ve only had one person totally lose touch with reality and start believing his country was real and worshipping the deities of his own constructed religion and whatnot. I am pleased to say he eventually made a full recovery and is now a physicist. But – and I can’t speak for anyone else on Micras – there’s always this feeling. If you spend ten years building up a culture in your own image, you start to feel at home there. If your real-world society doesn’t fit you too well – if, like Bryan Caplan, you like to retreat within a bubble, then it’s hard not to start thinking of yourself as a citizen of a civilization that exists only in your dreams. If Tolkien never spoke Quenya to himself when he was alone, I will eat my hat.

Somewhere in the ocean hundreds of miles north of the Shirerithian mainland there is a mountainous arctic island upon which thrives an emergent oracular techno-theocracy that calls itself the Shining Garden of Raikoth. Its priests wear a silver spiral around their necks as a sign of their dedication, and in solidarity with them I too wear the spiral. But that is as far as it goes. No deity-worshipping. No speaking to myself in constructed languages. Just the spiral.

That and spending five thousand days of my life on it.

Link: Bastion Union, a major micronational portal that hosts Shireroth
Link: A description of the constructed society of Raikoth

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

46 Responses to Things I Learned By Spending Five Thousand Years In An Alternate Universe

  1. gwern says:

    > Somewhere in the ocean hundreds of miles north of the Shirerithian mainland there is a mountainous arctic island upon which thrives an emergent oracular techno-theocracy that calls itself the Shining Garden of Raikoth. Its priests wear a silver spiral around their necks as a sign of their dedication, and in solidarity with them I too wear the spiral. But that is as far as it goes. No deity-worshipping. No speaking to myself in constructed languages. Just the spiral.

    I’ll admit, I did wonder about that.

  2. im says:

    I notice I’ve started being a bit like this, but only in an internal way, retreating into the space habitate of the Eigenmensch.

  3. Oligopsony says:

    Most of the people around me know that I’m obsessed with history and social theory, and would probably guess, correctly, that my interest in it stems from mindkilling. But mindkilling only inspires me to learn (or do anything at all) about half the time, when it’s not horribly depressing me. More than anything else, I’m devouring this stuff as fodder for elf pretendment worlds.

    • im says:

      Kind-of sort-of the same here. I’ve been looking for a way to save the grandeur of the world without turning into a terrible person.

  4. Alex says:

    Woah that sounds so cool.

    I’m not quite sure I understand though. Do you and your real life friends write about this place? Do you collaborate or do you independently create your own stories and share them with the rest of the group?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Micras operates mostly through online forums. We post our latest stuff and coordinate governments there. Sometimes we collaborate on stuff, sometimes we don’t.

  5. Avantika says:

    I… I wish I had had friends like that in high school.

  6. So is this an ongoing thing? You’ve made a pretty solid pitch for it, so I’m curious about getting involved.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Yeah, it’s still going. I didn’t really pitch for it for two reasons. First of all, this is kind of an idealized view of it, and there’s a lot of crap and drama and stupid people. Second of all, almost no one new has joined in the last few years because it’s gotten really complicated and hard to navigate and we haven’t figured out how to introduce new people gracefully. You’re welcome to take a look on, but the odds are against you.

      • im says:

        I remember that in the beginning, you said there was talk of creating an actual, physical soverign country but you didn’t elaborate. How did that go down?

        • Scott Alexander says:

          The people who do this (who, unlike us, are properly called “micronationalists”) mostly put a flag up in their backyard, print currency that no one accepts, and send a Declaration of Secession or whatever to the President (who of course throws it away unread). Then they keep paying taxes and following the law, because they’re not idiots.

          We did this for a while and stopped. It’s pretty funny how “exclusivist” this community is – because all they have is their pride, they get extremely angry at any micronation that is a whit less serious and polished than themselves, and usually “deny them diplomatic recognition”, if you can believe that.

          I did make a couple of acquaintances among these people (I have a couple of Kings and an Emperor among my Facebook friends and had some interesting chats with the Emperor of Atlantium and some pretenders to Lovely along with some less famous dignitaries) but we all eventually decided it wasn’t for us.

        • im says:

          Yeah. I’ve never been even slightly interested in most of that stuff, somewhere between futile and useless. I’d rather build a single city-culture.

          That’s not to say that I haven’t thought of more. There’s always more. But there are no schools for these sorts of things.

          I was referring to something you mentioned in pre-university years? When it was Hyperborea instead of Raikoth?

        • Scott Alexander says:

          Hyperborea was the original name I used to give it a proper English (well, European) name before I came up with the conlang. I mostly dropped it because it brings up too many associations with Conan the Barbarian and stuff.

          PS: Who are you? How do you know what I was doing pre-university?

      • @Johnwbh says:

        The (seemingly) obvious way to introduce people would be to have a set of small new islands discovered, with some in universe explanation of their isolation. Then they could learn about the wider society via diplomatic missions that give a basic introduction to the status quo (you could have an additional metagame of how the existing countries try and represent themselves in the most favourable light as possible). These new territories can then begin to develop relations with the different factions in the course of learning more about them, slowly transitioning from passive learning to participation.

        • Damien says:

          [i]GURPS Infinite Conworlds[/i]

        • ari says:

          That’s one solution. It’s not a bad one, but I think I like what we do well enough: We’ve got a single world map with an unchanging but not very detailed geography, on which different nations stake claims to their territory, with a council looking at each claim to keep things sort of balanced and prevent any one nation from gobbling up all the space. It’s well-established, to the point that it might seem a bit like a bit of metagame that’s outside of the game itself… but it isn’t that, not really: People can, and have, developed different conworlds competing with Micras within the same community. Hell, Scott himself has done that. They all get thrown into the same pile in the end.

          For instance, back in 2007 there was a lot of action going on on two planets at the same time. Someone had decided they weren’t happy with the way the way the organisation that handles land claims was being run (and there were reasons to be unhappy which the break-up actually did lead to fixing). But it was all within the game, and when someone wrote up a gate that allowed travel between the two worlds, people (AFAIK) pretty happily accepted it as canonical. In fact, that other world project kind of died away, but the gate is still occasionally referenced.

          The approach with a single unchanging geography works pretty well IMO for a community where you can never tell whether a new guy is going to last a couple of weeks or five years. Nations rise and fall, some make their mark through doing something interesting enough that they get referred to a lot in other people’s posts, some that don’t do anything particularly cool or don’t make themselves known to the community are eventually forgotten about aside maybe a blotch of color somewhere in the depths of the map archive.

  7. Jack says:

    That’s really cool.

  8. Kaj Sotala says:

    Very cool. I participated in some pretty cool online role-plays with strong world building elements back as a teen, but they all tended to die out within a couple of years, which was a shame because some of those games were really great. I think that was mostly due to the initial enthusiasm (or free time) of the original players wearing off, and there then not being enough new players to keep it up.

  9. MugaSofer says:

    Sounds amazing. It reminds me a lot of the good parts of roleplaying in NationStates (on the forums, which have sort of grown beyond the actual game.) Probably more detailed worldbuilding (NS countries can change region at will using “teams of helicopters”) and less wars, though. Is this entirely online, or is it still quite similar to you and your friends meatspace club?

  10. ari says:

    One guy on Micras is a libertarian. He just sort of hangs around going “Yup, my country’s government still isn’t doing anything. Just hanging around punishing the initiation of force.” It’s very cute.

    I’d do more, I’m just easily distracted from writing 🙁

  11. Randy M says:

    I’m jealous, although I have done similar before as far as the world building goes, not to this extent nor with the politics nor scope.

    There’s probably a book you could write about this.

  12. Damien says:

    Reminds me a bit of some “Jennifer Nation” forum I never got involved in, and Orion’s Arm, though the modality of the latter seems rather different.

    • ari says:

      I wish it could be more like Orion’s Arm, really. But from what I’ve seen, the most prolific and regular contributors prefer their daily dose of roleplaying to deliberate, organised worldbuilding. It’s good, it’s probably pretty optimal for us, the people involved enjoy it a lot… but it does become pretty inscrutable in a way that, oddly, Orion’s Arm doesn’t. (or at least Orion’s Arm seems less inscrutable to me than some of our roleplaying – I guess that might just be because I’m used to science fiction being really weird and requiring a lot of background reading to understand)

    • MugaSofer says:

      > Jenifer Nation

      Ooh, I’m on that! It’s called Jennifer Government, or NationStates.

  13. lonepear says:

    I have had a rather comparable experience on Wikipedia, which I’ve been involved in for almost all of my adult life…

  14. Vanzetti says:

    Can you explain how consensus building happens? When two armies meet, who decided the winner?

    • ari says:

      Honestly? We’re still figuring it out. The basic concept of what happens when “two armies meet” is called “recreational warfare”, or recwar. Not a reference to the game RecWar whose existence I actually didn’t know about until just now. The general rule is that recwar is about people who like each other enough to be able to construct a narrative together doing just that, in the context of a war. A lot of micronationalists *don’t* like each other very much, but if you try to settle your differences with someone by saying “okay, my tanks are rolling over your borders now”, what will happen is that people will yell at you until you stop. (Or that’s what *would* happen if someone tried an obviously hostile recwar with the purpose of toppling a government – but we’ve all been around for long enough that everyone knows not to do that).

      But beyond that, we really have never managed to decide on much. We’ve got a large variouty of recwar systems and conventions, with weird names like Anunia and SNARL and QUARREL and I don’t even remember what the one was that we tested in the Examplewar. They are all basically different variants on drawing things a bit closer to a pen&paper RPG, by putting in judges (aka gamemasters) who have authority on deciding the outcomes of battles, as well as otherwise organising things and putting numbers on whatever numbers can be put on.

      The end result of basically every system has been that people have more or less… not really liked them. In trying to strike a balance between organising too much and feeling like you’re optimising for a game rather than a story, and organising too little and ending up in big useless arguments, they’ve all managed to be broken in at least some way. Letting things happen to someone’s army that that someone didn’t want to happen is also a common complaint about all of the systems, for some reason. So nobody’s really happy, and honestly, nobody’s probably ever going to be really happy.

      • Vanzetti says:

        Hmm… so are you saying that as long as an “owner” of a certain country vetoes military actions against herself, her country is essentially immune? Or can the majority just declare someone destroyed and that’s it?

        Forks in the timeline never happened?

        • ari says:

          No, it’s even more freeform than that. It’s basically a one-and-half-decade-long performance of improvisational theatre. The basic norms are to respond to other people’s ideas with “yes, and -” as often as you can – and just as importantly, to really avoid doing things that other people would feel particularly discomfortable about responding to with “yes, and -“.

          A country can just declare “I appreciate it, guys, but I’m not interested in military stuff” and everyone except the village idiot will leave them alone. I say this as someone who has declared his lack of interest in military stuff and been left alone in that regard by everyone except the village idiot.

          As for “forks in the timeline”, aside one project of Scott’s that was explicitly a quantum fork, it’s better to just say that a timeline only exists insofar as people feel the need to write one. I guess you could call an idea that doesn’t get developed properly and that people don’t reference could be called a sort of a “fork”, but even then, sometimes people like digging up really obscure and small stuff that someone else wrote just to put more detail into their own stories, so it’s hard to point at any post that was made in good faith and say it’s not canon.

  15. Hand of Lixue says:

    This is probably the only “leadership advice” I will ever give, and I have no idea if it transfers to the real world, but here you go.

    Based on my experiences with both roleplaying leadership (I’ve been GMing for over 15 years) and real leadership (manager for a couple businesses):

    In the real world, there’s a lot more at stake, which changes the balance of the game. Appearances are still important, but I think it becomes vastly less “hackable.” There’s slackers who just want the appearance of power and the salary, without any responsibility, and it’s often not hard to get it – but you’re going to be paying them a real and tangible salary as part of this, not just drawing up a treaty 🙂

    Related to that, I find that the stress of real leadership is often much less. When you’re paying someone for their loyalty (or, presumably, gaining loyalty at gunpoint…), it’s MUCH easier to control people. There’s a reason for them to obey you beyond fiat or “you being first”.

    On the other hand, real power is a lot less desirable than game power, because it comes with real responsibilities – instead of leaving a fictional country in the hands of an ill-trained monarch, you’re potentially collapsing a business and leaving employees with no livelihood. Most managers I’ve met find disciplining employees unpleasant, and firing someone was vastly worse. A few people didn’t mind, but it’s hard to tell someone that they no longer get rent or money for food. It means there’s a lot less competition for many leadership roles, the ones that carry that burden of responsibility without the prestige of being President or CEO of a major company. It also means the underlings aren’t all secretly vying to replace you 🙂

    Regarding “hatchet jobs” and “be nice”, I think you’re pretty spot-on there. I’ve always found it baffling how few leaders seem to recognize the “be nice” part especially.

  16. Hand of Lixue says:

    Oh, regarding “be nice”: I’ve found that this one largely applies towards people more powerful than you are, not subordinates. The real world has vastly less social mobility, so unless you’re unusually vulnerable to them rallying outside agencies (say, the subordinate knows your dirty secrets, or has powerful connections), it’s often amazingly safe to treat them badly. It lowers morale, but looking at the real world, morale can go amazingly low as long as there’s a sufficient power gap >.>

    • Phil Goetz says:

      The book “Nickel and Dimed” argues that Wal-Mart and other companies hiring minimum-wage workers lower their moral systematically, to prevent them from unionizing or making demands or doing anything other than being grateful for what they have.

  17. mepstein73 says:

    Hi. I am a game designer/cultural anthropology/English student who stumbled upon this article not knowing what to expect. All I can say after reading this, is that you have basically been living my dream. I didn’t even know “conworlding” was a term until I read this, even though I’ve been wanting to do something similar to it for years now. I am fascinated by the idea of developing a “realistic,” working fictional world, (hence the strange combination of studies), and this seems like what you’ve spent the past 5000 days doing, to an extent. Thus, I congratulate and envy you for succeeding in keeping the dream alive so long. I dream of a day when I can create something along these lines, starting from a base society, twisting the dials of civilization, and then charting out their history and beliefs and trials over time. This has given me a lot to think about, and I appreciate you taking the time to write this. Here’s to another 5000 years of Micras!

  18. Pingback: The whole sky

  19. Pingback: Raikoth: Laws, Language, and Society | Slate Star Codex

  20. Pingback: Raikoth: Laws, Language, and Society « Random Ramblings of Rude Reality

  21. Rob says:

    This reminds me of something we did at school that I’d forgotten about. We built up a very detailed world that was closely based on the school grounds. This is a little hard to express, but, their world was structured like our school, massively scaled up in space and down in time. The shapes of the landforms were the shapes of the school, and events in our world that changed things would happen to their world over a long period of time.

    So we’d have all of these states and societies, each with a good amount of detail about how they survived in the barren flat wastes represented by a paved area or whatever (they built cave civilisations in the cracks between the paving slabs). And then it would rain in our world, and sea levels would rise and new lakes and oceans (puddles) would form over the course of a few years, and creat cities would be submerged, and we’d redraw the maps and track the displaced refugees as they tried to seek asylum in the cities of the proud nation that lived on the plateau of a nearby tree stump, with whom they had just a century ago fought a bitter war over ownership of the rich agricultural land left in the wake of the last flood. The ruler of that nation sent down a herald with a dismissive message, sparking a riot that resulted in the deaths of hundreds and the destruction of the complex system of pulleys and cages which was the only easy way to get to the top of the stump, and had been considered one of the great engineering marvels of the continent represented by the top playing field. The loss of their main trade route (and inability to quickly repair it because of the large angry refugee camp at the bottom) was the beginning of the end for that civilisation.

    People favoured the nations that they themselves had invented of course, but there was no ownership of the nations or their decisions, so it was a different experience from what you’re talking about.

  22. Phil Goetz says:

    Years ago I played on a MUSH where the “official” meta-game closely matched the game, but there was a shadow meta-game behind it, which relied on real-world social contacts and information that most players were not privy to. In-group players had powerful characters and powerful alternate characters, but only the other players in the know knew who the alts belonged to, so they could create the appearance of consensus on game policies among just a few players. In-game bullying and player-killing by higher-ranked characters was strongly encouraged “for story reasons”. Not being killed required either acting VERY obsequiously or gaining levels, and gaining levels required the approval of members of the in-group. This made questioning the meta-game “consensus” risky.

  23. Jacobus says:

    Scott, we hardly knew ye!

  24. Anonymous says:

    This was a facinating read. I hope that some day you or the people involved in this publish some of those histories or descriptions of cultures, either in universe or out.