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The Lupine Monkey God Experiment...

The following post (call it an observation and hopefully interesting aside) didn't start out as something I intended to write about, or have turn into an article, or even anything that would ever be shared, but as the situation progressed I realised there were some interesting elements regarding how we approach our gaming emerging. A little reminder about what we get out of a game in relation to what we put into it, and I had ended up exploring that without really intending to.

I also wasn't entirely sure this would be interesting to people when slightly out of context of playing the game in question, but here goes anyway...

So what exactly am I rambling on about..and what the hell does it have to do with Lupine Monkey gods?

Before we start...

First, a quick overview of the point that this post will be exploring. Games are a construct, they are something that is created, by somebody else, to hopefully appeal to certain parts of a person's personality, needs or imagination. Often however we also find that games are more than that, or at least they offer the potential to become more than that. This is particularly true of any game with an online element that involves having interactions with other players. Sometimes that potential realises something incredibly beneficial, sometimes it's a negative factor, sometimes it's amusing or simply provides us with funny anecdotes, but it almost invariably involves us, as individuals, extending the experience beyond the mechanics of the game experience itself, whether that game is complex or not.

Sometimes a game is what you make of it rather than what it is in and of itself. I recently found myself exploring a situation that became such a good example of this that I couldn't help but start writing this in order to share the experience!

So where does the Lupine Monkey God come into it? I'm getting to that...

Conquering the Stars

Starfleet Commander is one of those facebook enabled database games in the tradition of the OGame space sim or Travian. You build up a little space empire of a few planets, build ships, then send said ships to destroy other peoples planets and steal their resources. Rinse and repeat to climb rankings. It is entirely based around that competitive angle. While you can play in a safe 'diplomatic' mode, where the game simply functions as a Mafia Wars style 'click to gain over time' application, the real meat of the potential gameplay is in sending out your fleets to pillage other peoples planets. It is also one of those games you don't really 'loose' at if you pay it enough attention, all the attacks can be avoided (by sending your fleet away on a voyage so it isn't there when the enemies attack lands, called 'fleetsaving' in the game's parlance) so the key to the gameplay usually hinges on being able to pay it enough attention to keep your fleets alive and trying to catch other players out when they aren't or can't pay attention.

It is a kill or be killed type of existence that encourages picking on your fellow players.

Some of the guys in the office started playing it, so I joined in, and despite a slow start (the game takes a little bit of time to 'warm up' as it were), we formed an alliance and started carving a space for ourselves in one of the galaxies. We weren't really interested in the 'slow progression' type of gameplay so we took a fairly aggressive approach. As soon as we had the fleets required to be an offensive force we were off attacking other people and trying to build our ranking.

This tends to annoy some of the people on the receiving end. Despite the existence of the safe, attack immune diplomatic mode, there are many who play the game and are open to attack, but don't like being attacked, thought it was unfair, or just like to vent at you after you have attacked them, often with an excuse as to why they hadn't been able to avoid or defeat you. Some people just take it personally, some take it too personally, some commend you for catching them out and warn you that their revenge will come. Receiving private messages through the mail system from disgruntled victims or defeated foes is just part and parcel of the game.

Ok so that's the game, still doesn't explain the relevance of the Lupine Monkey God does it? Now we get to the interesting part and how the monkey inspired fictional deity came into existence.

The debut of the Lupine Monkey God

After I received one such message from a player who felt aggrieved at my latest attack I decided to have some fun. They caught me at a moment of boredom with some free time on my hands and an itch to write! Sometimes I let my imagination run away with my slightly twisted sense of internet humour and they spawn something strange. So my opponent received the following reply:

Greetings honorable opponent.

We understand that it is appropriate for us to engage in these communications as dictated by your traditions. We are the followers of the Great Lupine Monkey God, and those who follow the Great Lupine Monkey God as driven by the eternal need of honoring that Great Lupine Monkey God with sacrifices in battle. Obviously we prefer when that sacrifice can take the form of our opponents destroyed fleets rather than our own. I am sure you understand our attachment to remaining alive*.

Your planet was an honorable and worthy location for our latest battle. Our scribes have already penned a dozen catchy Monkey God pop tunes in honour of the battle. Two of them are already top sellers on our EarTunes music delivery systems**. We have the greatest respect for the valiant effort your fleet made in getting destroyed by ours.

Serving and worshiping the Great Lupine Monkey God brings with it great responsibility. We are constantly tasked with seeking new opponents and new glorious battle sites on which to display both our prowess in battle and to witness the brave defenses of our opponents. We have been honoured to add you to our list of opponents.

Yours genuinely

The Emissary of the Great Lupine Monkey God





*If you are a member of any one of the many suicide cults we have heard about we sincerely apologise for any offense caused by this statement.


** For the record the two songs alone have currently sold over two million units and are charting strongly amongst two of our four sexes across all age demographics


I was feeling quite happy with myself, hoping my opponent would get a smile out of it. I had just hoped to lighten the mood and do something a little fun and different. Alas their follow up response was slightly anticlimactic

ok

Hmm, ok, clearly not everyone will share my sense of humour...but the Followers of the Great Lupine Monkey God were born...and not dissuaded by my first attempt I decided to run with it. Over the following few weeks anyone who sent me a private message in the game got an answer from the Emissary of the Great Lupine Monkey God. As I kept doing so, I became aware that players were reacting very differently to me.

Some would respond 'in character' and really get into it, some would question my sanity, and some would tell me that they enjoyed the laugh and good luck to me. It was rewarding to know that I was at least making some people smile. Regardless of how much they engaged in the impromptu roleplaying with these bizarre alien advocates of the Great Lupine Monkey God, they almost universally responded in much less aggressive ways. It was almost as if they were understanding of the fact that these peculiar aliens had a purpose, a purpose that wasn't picking on them due to mechanics, but because they were honour bound to seek battle.

I wrote dozens of these strange messages, and I am not going to repeat them all here as the text itself isn't the point of this post, the interesting element for me, and my intention in sharing this experience, was how people's reactions to me changed.

Creating a culture

Without really having intended to I had started to create a strange fictional culture of sorts that all my messages were being true to, or building upon. Pretty soon I had a pretty good mental map laid out of the culture surrounding the worship of the Great Lupine Monkey God. I found that I had almost accidentally started to establish a mythos, and my mails weren't just created on the spur of the moment anymore, but were inspired by the thought 'how would the followers of the Lupine Monkey God respond?'. The followers of the Lupine Monkey God were now a very real entity in my imagination and drove any interaction I had with my fellow players. There were things that defined what the followers of the Lupine Monkey God were:

  • They love a good battle, even if they lose. Blowing stuff up is fun.
  • They respect their foes, and built statues in honour of those who blew up their stuff.
  • They really, really, don't like Solar Satellites (as they consider it to be stealing from the Suns that they worship) and like to blow them up whenever possible.
  • They don't really grasp the human idea of diplomacy, they don't understand why you wouldn't just want to blow stuff up.
  • They think everything was a tactic designed to hide the true purpose of any foe, which they presumed to be that their opponents must want to blow up their stuff as much as they wanted to blow up their opponent's stuff.
  • They like pop tunes dedicated to stories about blowing stuff up.
  • They drink quite a lot.
  • They have 'battle groupies' that bestow onto successful fleet admirals who blow lots of stuff up the types of benefits you might expect groupies to bestow. It is the second most popular hobby on their planet amongst three of the four sexes of Lupine Monkey God Follower.
  • The most popular hobby is blowing stuff up.
  • They don't mind sharing their groupies
  • They aren't adverse to maybe exaggerating the size of a battle in order to secure the affections of said groupies.
  • The fourth sex of their species don't like blowing things up, and dislike groupies, and they are seen by the others as kinda boring, but they also generally get to be in charge since they don't get distracted by blowing things up.

..ok, I didn't claim it was a deep or meaningful mythos, but they were becoming a character with which I played in this setting...and the other players seemed to respond in totally different ways to a communication from the followers of the Lupine Monkey God than they would to a normal communication from me, the ordinary player.

The trend continued. On almost every occasion (there were of course a few exceptions where people just thought I was plain crazy) I saw that their reaction to me was much less aggressive. Their anger at being attacked often subsided into being amused, bemused or wanting to engage in a dialog with these curiously strange Lupine Monkey God followers.

Now the interesting part is my tactics hadn't changed, I still played the game aggressively and with the intention of gaining as much as I could. In fact the culture described above was created as an extension of my chosen playstyle. The fact that the message was delivered in this very different manner meant that more people accepted those actions. In the context of the game I was still displaying all the traits of a power gamer, who was quite naturally picking on optimal targets (i.e. those slightly weaker than me) which had usually garnered the aforementioned aggressive responses. However when it was the Followers of the Lupine Monkey God that were displaying the same behavior people had very different and much wider ranging reactions.

One of my favorites was a player who I tried to attack, but was active and he saw the attack coming and 'fleetsaved', so my attack would earn me nothing and have cost me the fuel to get there and back. He then sent me a message to rub that fact in and point out that I had wasted the resources I spent on the attack. I answered with a typically obtuse and strange missive from the Emissary to the Lupine Monkey God.

We understand this is what you people term 'Diplomacy', many thanks for the wondrous greetings from your exalted battle site. We also understand that this may be, what we have been informed is, a bluff, or possibly a double bluff, or possibly a bluff in reaction to our initial double bluff.

We are simply following the guidance of our supreme Lupine Monkey God who directs us in battle. All those who follow the Lupine Monkey God, as we do, are obliged to offer sacrifice to him once per, what you call, a week. This means that we must find an honorable target and attack them in order for there to be a battle significant enough to appease the Lupine Monkey God's appetite for destruction. Thus our fleet will continue their passage to your planet in the hope of being received in battle...and if not we will look forward to the next occasion when we can clash.

Lastly, if your fleet does in fact end up 'missing' our fleet on it travels could you by any chance just claim there was a battle if you are approached for confirmation of a battle? We have some serious battle groupies on our planet who...I am not sure there is a word in your language that covers it...let say...reward...victorious fleet captains. So if a tall purple Lupine Monkey God follower contacts you please tell her the battle was epic and intense!

Much obliged
The Emissary of the Lupine Monkey God

The reply I got back made me smile

OK, That made my day. Fair play to your brave monkey warriors. I will see you on the battlefield after all. I wouldn't want to deprive your deity of his sacrifices! (or your captain of his groupies)
He actually moved a portion of his fleet back and allowed me to destroy it! There was absolutely no gameplay advantage for him in doing so, it cost him some ships. He actually, in game terms, lost out, but he had reacted differently based on his appreciation of the message. He had actually taken the engaging in my bizzare out of game roleplaying and made the effort to engage in a meaningful way inside the game because the thought amused him. After the battle I got another message from him saying that I had better not been lying about the groupies and that he might come to visit to see for himself!

His was the most extreme reaction in terms of game response. he was reacting positively to the battle cry of this fictional race of Lupine Monkey God followers, but it was indicative of a generally positive set of interactions from the players who received the bizarre ramblings from the Emissary of the Lupine Monkey God.

So despite the behavior being identical in terms of gameplay, players reacted to it very differently when the response defied their expectations, or made them laugh, or just made them think that I was short a few screws.

As a further extension of what I mentioned at the start of this post, I had managed to take a fairly straight forward game, and make it somehow more compelling for certain people that I interacted with. I had also made it much more fun for me, I didn't see opposing players as a source of aggravation, I saw them as opportunities to engage them in some fun.

When they responded in kind, most of the anyway, it just fueled an even better experience. It would have meant little if everyone ignored my ramblings and dismissed me in the way you dismiss the strange guy in the bus terminal or airport who is talking to himself in the corner.

For all the game mechanics in the world, whether it is a simple database game, or a complex and fully featured MMO, you can still expand upon them with or without complex tools. Sometimes the enjoyment of the game is derived from what you make of it!

In closing...

I have to admit I am not much of a 'roleplayer' when it comes to my gaming. At least not in the traditional sense. I most definitely have an overactive imagination, which fuels much of the personal diversions as evidenced above, but I usually don't care much for 'systems' that try and steer my imagination in certain ways for the benefit of sitting comfortably within someone else's definitions of 'roleplaying' (or even worse within any rules designed to enforce it!) It is an interesting extension of the example above, and the point of writing this post. I am clearly engaging in what most people would consider roleplaying, but do not consider myself to be doing so. Likewise I was also not doing so in an environment where people expect it. This meant that my fellow players didn't (by and large) react to it in the same way, they didn't seem to judge based on any preconceptions, or of what they might otherwise have not seen as appropriate for the setting. I think sometimes it's much more fun when it happens organically and isn't forced on people.

Likewise thinking you can't have fun in this way without some kind of 'tools' to support you is also closing off opportunities to you. Your imagination is a very powerful tool. Not everyone will like whatever brand of interaction appeals to you, and it is easy to cross the line from amusing to annoying. However if you are careful and it's done in good humor and respecting others opinions and preferences I think you find that most people respond more favorably than you would think. You can't force your imagination onto others (in fact that's a really good way to annoy people), but if you are open and inclusive you might just be amazed what other dimensions that can bring to your gaming.

It isn't just about roleplaying specifically either, it could just be about bringing your personality to a game in a constructive and fun way. I have a friend who when playing Team Fortress 2, always plays a Sniper, and will always pursue a personal vendetta against any Spies, even if it is detrimental to the goal of whatever scenario we are playing. It is his 'thing' and while at first people who don't know him get annoyed, once they understand his character they seem to enjoy the way he goes about it (loudly and humorously). Likewise I know someone whose 'thing' is to never, ever, let someone run away from them in a battleground in World of Warcraft, even if it means losing the odd encounter. He would chase people the length of a playfield, even to his death, as long as he got his target too. He got better and better at it too, until he became known for it on his battlegroup. Other players knew him and reacted to it, not in a negative way, but in a kind of begrudgingly accepting way that he introduced a fun element that broke expectations. One of my favorite characters from the early days playing Everquest was a player, who in the role of a dwarf warrior, steadfastly refused to fight any spiders. He would do everything else, but if the dungeon involved a spider he was out. He had just decided his character was afraid of Spiders and that was that, and he stuck to it, regardless of what content it excluded him from. Behavior that in isolation might be considered as annoying or frustrating can, when taken in context of how they present it, become not just acceptable, but a welcome addition to the game experience.

The imaginative thoughts that games can spark and what inspires mod teams and communities across the globe. Our game, our creation, can often take on a life of it's own thanks to the almost limitless imagination of you, our audiences. In many ways our creations would be meaningless if they fail to engage at least some of our users in this way.

Games are not just a product of our imaginations, they fuel them, they can excite and engage our audience in ways that go beyond the mechanics of a game. It is always worth remembering that. The best games are those that not only realise that, but draw on it to engage you in the world they create, or the potential they provide you.

So there you have it, hopefully this was a relatively entertaining little example of what we can make of our gaming, and an example of the beauty of our imaginations and what you can bring to the simplest or most mechanical of settings, even a harsh one that incentives competitive behavior. In many ways I think what I have been getting at through all of this is that quite often the strongest element of any online gaming experience is you, the player.
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