I recently surfed across NationStates.net, a huge online community of people role-playing as nation-states. The site was created by author Max Berry to complement his novel Jennifer Government. The idea of thousands of people engaging in virtual statecraft in real-time online is so strange and cool.
To play the international politics simulation, you first have to create a nation, which in itself is quite fun. You come up with a name, and then choose what kind of prefix you want for it, i.e. “Sultanate of,” “Queendom of,” “People’s Republic of,” or even “Oppressed Peoples of.” I chose “The Most Serene Republic of Panganibania.”
Then you choose a flag, either based on one of the existing 190-some flags or a completely new design of your own. After that you select what kind of country you are, with the odd choices of: Sensible, Liberal, Conservative, Compassionate, Oppressive, Corrupt, Libertarian, Anarchic, Evil, or Psychotic. (I picked “oppressive.”) Finally you choose a National Currency, Animal and Motto.
You can see my country at http://www.nationstates.net/panganibania .
The basic simulation devised by Mr. Barry was quite simple. Every day when you visit the site, you are queried with some sort of international policy question. My first question dealt with how my nation felt about mandatory voting. As you continue to play the game over time, your nation evolves, based on the choices you made. You might become a pariah despotic regime with a starving population or a thriving capitalist oligarchy dominated by multinational corporations. Every day the simulated United Nations issues a report ranking the various nations on a variety of both mundane and vital statistics. Your country might be ranked as the top “otter consumer” on the planet, for example.
What is most fascinating about the simulation is how much it has taken on a life far beyond what was intended by its creator.
The various nation-states gathered in large numbers on the site’s discussion forums have devised new kinds of gameplay, structures, rules, and internal culture. Within the United Nations forum, nations propose resolutions, debate and wordsmith language, form alliances and vote on them. On another forum, nations go to war, create new power blocs and groupings, and buy and sell to each other.
It’s frankly all very strange — a space where regular folks from all over pretend to engage in statecraft, using pretend diplomatic language, imagining what its like to run a country. In one thread, a person has taken upon himself to put together an entire inventory of the various military naval, land, and air craft of different nation-states, based on the sketches sent in by other users. In another thread in the UN forum, people imagine they are hanging out at the UN’s delegates bar interacting with other diplomats in a less-formal setting.
Just reading the names people come up with for their nations is hilarious:
- The Hateful Hating Hated Haters of Hatred
- The Imperial Corporate Republic of Neo-Industria
- The Holier-than-thou Empire of FeministBioengineering
- The Capitalistic Queendom of Isle Of Hags
- The Misunderstood Nation of Manetheren
It’s no America’s Debate, but I have to say it’s nice to see people interested in international politics and diplomacy, if only for the sheer fun of it. I mean, where else can I be the eternal, most wise, most gracious ruler of The Most Serene Republic of Panganibania?