Happy November Mythopoeians!
It's election day and the world is on edge. What will the results of tonight bring? A turning of a page? More turmoil and political unrest? The world waits with baited breath and watches as the fate of America's democracy unfurls before us.
October was a very fruitful month for Mythopoeia, culminating in our first outside published work and largest crowdfunding campaign yet. We are very blessed to have found favor and some modicum of fortune during these trying times and it's not something we take for granted.
Today I'd like to talk a little bit more about systems by making a couple of observations.
When the United States decided to reboot their system of government in 1790, the founding fathers came up with a cutting edge means of participation predicated on the principles of separation of powers and federalism. The Constitution became a model for law all across the western world and is arguably the country's greatest export next to cinema and corn dogs.
As an American, we're taught to revere the Constitution and it's elegance. The nasty bits, like Article I, Section 2, Clause 3, are brusquely and briefly mentioned while items like the Bill of Rights are enshrined as reasons why our system of governance is superior to all others in the world.
Systems are means of function predicated on consensus. As a game company, we understand that the strengths and weaknesses of any given system cannot be fully understood until tested by a critical mass of users.
Example 1: League of Legends
In 2012, Riot Games implemented a system called Honor, whereby players could honor their opponents to reward them a form of virtual currency. The idea was to encourage positive behavior and mitigate toxicity. And it worked! For a time.
Eventually, the participants of that particular system in Korea decided to use a function of the system, honoring your opponents, to indicate who the worse player on the opposing team was. Thus, players with high honor would be marked in games as "weak" or "inferior" and targeted by their enemies.
Not the intention of the system's designers, and utterly unforeseeable until the system reached a critical mass of users.
Example 2: Pandemic the Board Game
One of my favorite board games is the coop game Pandemic, in which you and up to three other players race around the world to prevent civilization from collapsing under the weight of a global pandemic. Not surprisingly, the game saw a recent surge in popularity in 2020.
Pandemic is fun but suffers from a syndrome called "quarterbacking" in which one or more players can become too dominant and dictate moves to other players during their turn in service of achieving the win condition.
With enough experience, the game can be more or less solved even on the hardest of difficulties, with only small bits of randomization inserting chance as a variable. This is a common problem amongst board games, and indeed games writ large. For the first several playthroughs, players are unfamiliar with the rules of the system and tend to make unoptimized moves. That in turn allows a greater variance in outcomes, which often leads to a perception of enjoyment or fun.
As players become more familiar with the system, they tend towards optimization. If a game is easily solvable, the perceived enjoyment goes down for a large percentage of the userbase. How many times have you played a game that you enjoyed the first couple of runs, but by the fourth or fifth time it feels repetitive and like you're going through the motions? I certainly have felt that sensation with Pandemic and a whole lot of other experiences. Tabletop games can somewhat mitigate that experience because they are for the most part in person experiences that require a large amount of commitment to begin, and so the total expected playtime per player numbers maybe in the dozens of hours as opposed to say the hundreds with an online experience.
The less familiar you are with a system, the less likely you are to recognize its boundaries and points of exploitation.
Example 3: Mitch McConnell
So that brings me to one of my least favorite people in the world, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. Over the course of his tenure, Mitch McConnell has done more to exploit the weaknesses in the American system of government than any other individual.
During the Obama years, he was largely responsible for the 'do-nothing' strategy of Congress that has in many ways led us to our current political situation. Instead of choosing to compromise and work with the opposition, he led Congress to a a virtual standstill from 2010 that is still ongoing to this day. The only significant legislation that has passed in the ensuing years was a major tax bill in 2017 when the Republicans controlled both chambers of the legislative and the executive; and the rushed CARES Act bill that saw huge corporations gobble up billions of dollars before a second wave of funding enabled small businesses like ours access to government aide.
Outside of those two pieces of legislation, Congress has done almost nothing. For ten years.
In addition, McConnell blatantly ignored the spirit if not the letter of the Constitution by refusing to hear the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland.
Within the confines of our grand system of governance - the sacred United States Constitution, Mitch McConnell has found unprecedented ways to manipulate, obfuscate, and grind the wheels of governance to a halt.
Given enough time and/or users, flaws and exploits will be found within every system.
Games have the privilege to constantly update their systems, either in the form of patches for digital content or new editions for tabletop games. Unfortunately, updating a system of government is much harder. There are only two means to do so, both beginning with the letter "R."
If we don't do one, we will eventually beget the other. That is what history tells us. That is what the youth increasingly speak about openly as an inevitability.
These are dark times. I don't like to talk openly about politics, not on a platform of creativity and commerce. But if we don't speak now, we will eventually be silenced later. That is what history tells us. That is the lesson we should have learned.
So let the record show.
We Mythopoeians choose to speak.