Thursday, May 22, 2008

Am I the Only One?

I'm still playing Travian. It's a fun little challenge and doesn't take a whole lot of time. I can set my town to a couple of tasks, walk away for a couple of hours and nothing will go wrong because I play the game well enough. Recently in my group of players, there's been a bit of a defection. Several of the players saw us as a doomed alliance and bailed for stronger, more centrally located alliances. Ours was just too spread out to defend each other effectively, , but this post isn't about game strategy, or even Travian for that matter.

I saw this jumping ship as rather stupid and expressed my opinion on the alliance forum, although relatively tactfully. I just don't see the point. None of us joined early enough in the game to have any chance of being top villages by the end. The game runs in a cycle and after about six months, the server resets and the empire-growing competition starts anew. By the time we started there were players who were by themselves nearly as large as our 20-player alliance. None of us had a chance. By the time the hard fighting for dominance started near the end of the server life, we'd be so far behind the big boys that we'd be destroyed, although, honestly, we'd also probably be too small to be noticed and would be allowed to mostly manage our little countries in peace. Kind of like Uruguay and Lichtenstein. Still, some of these players couldn't bring themselves to keep playing the game unless they could convince themselves they were in it to win it. They bailed on the rest of us so that they could run meaningless campaigns in other alliances. They may get a little more protection out of their new setups, but they'll still be crushed by the more established players in the end.

I'm not playing to win. I perfectly understand the pointlessness of trying to win a game that I'm not even sure has a way to win. Maybe ending with the largest population out of the several thousand players at reset is a win? You can't be totally destroyed because your capital city can never be overtaken, so I'm not really sure where these people are going with it. I enjoy this game. It's a challenge to figure out how to keep your village unenticing to larger villages looking to turn you into a farm by constant raids, and it's fun figuring out which neighboring villages aren't doing as well at that as you and turning them into farms. I'm satisfied to have my own little personal goals of not getting steamrolled by anyone and keeping my domain going up on the growth chart instead of down. I don't understand people who can't be happy with that like I am.

This line of thought came to a peak when someone brought up having to run spreadsheets to crunch the numbers so they could decide the most effective courses of action for their village and said they hadn't done that since their Dungeons and Dragons days. My reaction was, "What!? Seriously, how dorky are you?" (Said the guy who's wrapping a philosophical discourse around an online strategy game.) My second reaction was, "You were a cheater!" Seriously, the point of D&D wasn't to win. The point was to actually play your character. If your character is an idiot, you play him like he's an idiot. My characters were always hot-headed, unpredictable, and prone to having personality quirks that would land them in jail in real life (arsonist, mutilator of enemy corpses, etc.) We'd have debates over whether or not an action could jeopardize a character's alignment (whether or not they were evil, more or less) and players who tried to bring outside knowledge to their character to succeed more easily in the game were duly chastised. Someone running the numbers to make a decision for a character who shouldn't even be aware of those numbers was a cheater. The character would have to make a decision based on what they know and and how they tend to react in those situations. If you brought your own knowledge and rationality to the game, you weren't playing it right and the rest of us would make fun of you and complain about how you were killing the game.

The truth of the matter is that I'm just not a very competitive person. I'm perfectly cool with losing as long as I feel that I did well. My joking about Trivial Pursuit aside, I'm happy as long as I get the questions right I should have gotten. In sports, I'm happy if I lose to a better player as long as I didn't make too many mistakes. I never got down about losing unless I personally played like crap. I think this is part of why my life has been so uninspiring. I was never competitive with my grades. As long as I got A's on everything, I was happy, and more because that kept my parents off of my back than any personal need for achievement. That meant that I graduated tenth in my class (out of 124) when I could have graduated second if I'd been a competitive student, but honestly I didn't care. The same goes for college. I coasted through. I didn't make decisions based on what would put me ahead of my fellow students in the job market. I made decisions based on my interests. I didn't study when I could pull a B without it (usually) and I took tough classes as electives just because I liked the subject matter like major-level courses in African history and Pre-Columbian art history.

When I graduated, I kept that attitude. I didn't look for jobs that paid well (which is good because I didn't pick my major based on that either), but jobs that seemed like they'd be easy or interesting. I thought The Wow Factory would be interesting. Newspaper stuff was easy (I'd been doing it all through college and it plays to my strengths), and teaching was easy because I grew up with teachers and it'd let me spend more time with K. My unhappiness with my work has never come from my lack of "success." I've never depended on my work for fulfillment. I'm not sure I understand the people who do, except maybe people who save lives. If you're not making people's lives better, then your job is pretty much pointless to start with.

Of course, I know if I do go back to grad school after next year that I'll have to at least fake a little competitiveness. I'll need to excel to be able to get good positions after I have my doctorate. I am capable to put my best into something. I just have to have a logical reason beyond "winning" to get motivated.

Sure, sometimes I wish I had a little more ambition to drive me to do more with my life, but I think that overall I'll be happy living my life the same way I go about playing Travian. After all, both end with nobody really winning and the slate being wiped clean when you all end up dead. It's enough for me to set and achieve my own little silly goals and to occassionally send a couple dozen armed goons into the neighboring town to rob a few banks. What else does one really need out of life?


Julie said...

I don't know if you intended this post to be a downer (I'm thinking not) but telling people that life is meaningless is a total downer. Just thought you might like to know that.

JustinS said...

I totally learned that you can't win the first time I saw WarGames.

I also learned that the ability to change your grades would make chicks with big hair dig me.

I never figured out how to change grades. I also was mostly dateless. Coincidence?

Jacob said...

Who said anything about life being meaningless? I just said that I don't understand an obsession with success and winning when there's no real way to win in the end anyway.

There's always meaning. It's just up to the individual to put it there. Hence the references to smaller goals in both the game and my life.

I just think a lot of people live their lives the same way those guys play the game. They seem so intent on winning something that doesn't really have a way to be won. It's a little sad that they can't be happy with what they actually can get.

Jacob said...

Justin: I much prefer the Pure Genius method of getting chicks through being clever. There's nothing better than filling the corrupt dean's house with popcorn kernels and then co-opting a military laser satellite to blow up the house with exploding popcorn.

I never figured out the co-opting a war satellite part either.

Mickey said...

Cheating at D&D? That should warrant a geek beat-down. Do they have those?

JustinS said...

Hate to have to put my nerd hat on on someone else's blog...

Ok, I really don't mind. I like my nerd hat. It's kind of fetching.

Anyway, it was REAL Genius. :)

Courtney said...

In response to your title: Yes, yes you are.

Jacob said...

Justins: Really? Are you really sure that I had the title wrong?

Jacob said...

Dammit, I forgot that I can't edit comments like I can the post.

To be fair, I wasn't sure I had the title right and meant to go back and check but the stupid baby distracted me and by the time I got back to this I forgot to fact check.

JustinS said...

hehe Only reason I even know is that my friend and I watched that movie like 8.6 billion times when we were 12-13ish.

He was always more the Val Kilmer type compared to my much more nerdy whatshisname.

Chris said...

Watching a movie 8.6 billion times before the DVD age? That would really wear out a VHS tape. I call bullshit.

More to the point: I can relate to some degree, Jacob. I think I have a hard time getting motivated by the same things that motivate a lot of other people -- e.g. money and "winning".