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Electron Dance Highlights


The Accidental ARG


When they tell you that you are gorgeous and amazing, you wonder if it's not you at all but the butterfly effect. Maybe they have fallen in love with the synergy of a Zeitgeist moment and you are merely the object of misplaced affections. So you do something that looks backwards, something that tries to clone that superstar attention. We are all human.

The Aspiration remains one of the best pieces of writing you will find on Electron Dance. It is a detailed journal of my struggles in a game of Neptune's Pride, covering not just strategy but alien role-play and flirtation with a game-induced nervous breakdown. But once the series was done in 2011, the traffic did not stick around and for the rest of that year I could not shake off the feeling that I had slipped silently from internet wannabe to internet has-been.

I had some ideas for essays that extended The Aspiration and decided in 2011 Q4 to run a spin-off series. During the original series, The Aspiration had revealed they were heading for Earth so for the spin-off The Aspiration would finally reach Earth then hack Electron Dance. Also running it over Christmas might be a win in terms of traffic because most sites stop updates during the holidays. Thus The Xmaspiration was born. It sounded awesome, almost as awesome as alien vampires.

I attempted to hype it up before the series launched except... I created something monstrous. Something I lost control of. What I envisioned as a harmless bit of fun mutated into a full-blown ARG, an alternate reality game.

This is the story of that accidental ARG and how it destroyed Christmas.  

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The Remnant Speaks

On Tuesday, I wrote about a unique game of Neptune's Pride in which the players co-operated under the umbrella of the "Galactic Peace Organization". Of course, it still ended in star-shaped tears, and I commissioned indie developer Jonas Kyratzes to create a tangible award, The Remnant of The Aspiration, for the winner.

Now I think I've written enough about it. It's time to hear what the players have to say.

The First Place Betrayer

In first place was Captain Wells, played by Electron Dance confidante Adam Wells. He wrote in the comments last month that he prefers games he "can keep in a box". His reaction to the game is similar to mine in that he found it brutally exhausting.

Boy, that was hard work. When I followed a link from my long time friend Joe (LiberalEurope) to join some game, I was too busy at work to really read what it was about. Then it started. Neptune's Pride demands attention and its claim to being hardcore is not understated. How did it make me feel? Mixed. 

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The Remnant

Remnant Image Alpha

I commissioned Jonas Kyratzes to create a trophy, called The Remnant of The Aspiration, for a Neptune's Pride game. Why?

Because what happened in that game should be the stuff of legend. It was a game where players co-operated and fought against the rules, a game where a galactic UN was created that arbitrated during disputes, a game which turned into a hunt for a criminal mastermind called "Doctor Terror" who threatened to wake the sleeping god H'Lug'Hr on the devil world Jabbah and bring about the Apocalypse. And after the dust settled, while the players were investigating the logistics of an end-game presidency, a shocking betrayal brought the game to a juddering halt.

I think I played the wrong match.

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The Xmaspiration: Survivorship Bias

"I’m also exhausted, really exhausted. It’s so stressful, I think because of the amount of time Neptune plays out over it feels like a total investment into the game. I remember I was out all day at a meeting and I was fretting because I just entered my war with Poseidon. I was on a motorway and worrying about Neptune's Pride."

Craig Lager, Neptune's Pride - The GD War - Part 4 (Gaming Daily)

Man staring at stock market

Last year, Neptune’s Pride developer Jay Kyburz asked me: “Do you think because the game has basically no story, no flavor and no graphics it allows players to pour themselves into it more?”

Although the minimalism of Neptune’s Pride plays a large part in bringing the crowds through the door, I doubt that’s why players get so invested in the game. It’s probably more to do with the action of cultivating an empire of coloured dots over days or weeks and having to defend that digital sandcastle on a beach full of bullies.

The long-term investment of time and energy engenders a strong emotional attachment to the player's empire and losing an equivalent short-form game wouldn’t sting as much.

But there’s another implicit assumption in the question that bothers me. And this is the point where I should talk about mutual funds.

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The Xmaspiration: Laura’s Story

-201TCA88-LM- Virtue is Bond. I/We have discovered the ex-dictator of the late Facewizard empire fled to Earth and is masquerading as Earthen flesh Laura Michet. She is one-half of Second Person Shooter and also a copywriter for Tencent America.

The Spiritual Domain of The Aspiration and Facewizard were neighbours. Today, Laura describes her experience of running an empire.

Facewizard - Laura Michet, Second Person Shooter - That is one crazy hat, Laura

Why I Did Not Enjoy Neptune’s Pride

Games of Neptune’s Pride eventually come to an end, apparently.

After about two days of playing the game, I was more interested in seeing that end than in winning, or even continuing to play. The game takes place at a glacially slow pace; ships crawl across the map. Apparently, this is necessary for players to form strategies. As a veteran of the mid-ninties fast-paced-RTS craze, weaned on Age of Empires, I can affirm that strategy is just as much fun in a fast-paced game as it can be in a slow-paced one, if not more fun, and usually far more stimulating. Heck, Galcon and its Steam counterpart, Galcon Fusion, shave matches down to approximately two minutes! Anyone who has ever played a game of hot-seat-multiplayer in Civ 4 will realize the kind of frustration associated with incredibly slow-paced multiplayer strategy games. Against a computer, the frustration is less, since you can always simply stop playing. Against humans, it’s harder to admit to that frustration and boredom: you’re afraid you’ll seem like a bad sport, like the kid who throws the chess board across the room and stomps out.

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The Xmaspiration: In Paranoia We Trust

If you're not familiar with The Aspiration, check out the supershort summary of this most epic of Neptune's Pride diaries - The Aspiration Retold In Nine Pictures.

people being paranoid

-6BAA6CODE6- Virtue is Bond. HM will continue to speak for Me/Us. Today he exposes the only law that the galactic empires agreed on: In Paranoia We Trust.

For the public record, I confirm the real villain of our Neptune’s Pride game was Kent Sutherland.

As the game’s sponsor, he had a bright gold star beside his empire’s name, Starspackle, like he’d won a prize for being the nicest person in the galaxy. We all knew Kent was Starspackle and Starspackle was Kent. Although we applied a respectful level of distrust – this was Neptune’s Pride after all – we tended to be fairly accepting of his “facts” because Kent is a nice guy. Yes, not just facts but “facts”. If Kent said my cat was worshipping Satan, I’d have expected there to be some truth to the tale of the Satanic tail. Even though I didn’t have a cat.

So the grand Machiavellian strategy that Kent employed was “being Kent”. His rare advantage, then, was to be given a pass on player paranoia. This allowed him to employ the paranoia of noob players as his tools of war.

He told The Aspiration many things.

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The Xmaspiration: Fourteen

If you're not familiar with The Aspiration, check out the supershort summary of this most epic of Neptune's Pride diaries - The Aspiration Retold In Nine Pictures.

-14141414- Virtue is Bond. I/We were unfair to HM previously referring to this Earthen flesh as a “puppet” but have discovered the more appropriate syntax is “robot”.

Today, on My/Our behalf, HM revisits what happened on the fourteenth day of the Great Galactic Pacification. The day the Spiritual Domain of The Aspiration collapsed.

As my experience of Neptune's Pride recedes into the past, I find I can be more honest about its impact. I can put aside the airbrushed narrative of The Aspiration series and, instead, take a good look at the emotional dysfunction in the mirror. No one likes to admit that a video game can have negative consequences, particularly one of the medium's strongest supporters.

On the fourteenth day, hundreds of enemy ships invaded my space – and I gave up. I'd been dying for days although there had been no official diagnosis of my condition. When I was a child, I liked to pluck the legs from a trapped daddy long-legs and watch the ever-diminishing body twitch. In Neptune's Pride, I had become the daddy long-legs.

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The Xmaspiration: Scrapbook

If you're not familiar with The Aspiration, check out the supershort summary of this most epic of Neptune's Pride diaries - The Aspiration Retold In Nine Pictures.

-85HH1HX7HC4MC- Virtue is Bond. On this most operationally lethargic of days, I/We present a selection of snapshots from The Aspiration's campaign for galactic pacification in 2010. Click each screenshot for the full size. Be merrysome this Christmas Day. Together we Aspire.

The Aspiration were virgin warriors. These opening diplomatic communications were fearful in themselves. Are these lies? Are these deceptions? Where is truth?

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The Xmaspiration: Kerry’s Story

-573KT941LL- Virtue is Bond. I/We have discovered an Earthen flesh was behind Seance, the first empire that fell during the Great Galactic Pacification. The name of this flesh is Kerry Turner, sometimes known as reallyfancy, a developer for Littleloud.

The Spiritual Domain of The Aspiration had minimal dealings with Seance although I/We sang her across ascension to the Virtuous Rapture.

Today, via ouijalink, Kerry explains the strange strategy of Seance.

Seance - Kerry Turner "reallyfancy" - wrote game about sad rabbit

Wednesday, June 23 2010. Day One.

On my first day in any new job, I pretend to be my friend Beth. This is a brilliant tactic. Beth/Fake Beth is polite, friendly. She listens wonderfully, asks questions to check she’s understood you properly, gets on with things quietly and competently. And then when someone says something vaguely dirty or stupid or inappropriate anywhere near her, she lets out an incredible laugh – utterly disarming, the human cherry on the model employee cake.

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The Xmaspiration: Rashomon’s Rage

If you're not familiar with The Aspiration, check out the supershort summary of this most epic of Neptune's Pride diaries - The Aspiration Retold In Nine Pictures.

Veret and The Aspiration conduct truce talks

-10X22952038- Virtue is Bond. I/We must impart the truth of a mistruth, a falsehood lurking within the glittering shadows of history. I/We commission the puppet HM to unburden Me/Us of this sinful weight.

I went in knowing damn well what Neptune's Pride could do to a person, but I believed myself above it, beyond it, superior to it. When Kent Sutherland cajoled me into a game, I was expecting to drop out of the game early. But Neptune's Pride became this malignant mental tumour, an unstoppable growth that threatened ordinary cognitive function. For four weeks, I became the game.

Even though I set out to be honest about the experience, Electron Dance's series The Aspiration omitted one key event. Its very absence from the story is revisionist.

This incident is important because it demonstrates how easily emotion forges a personal, pocket reality. A fantasy reality.

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