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.
That morning I showered and dressed for the office. Shirt, no tie. If I was lucky, I might have shaved as well. I then fired up the PC with twenty minutes to spare, to check for untoward fleet movements and any mails from the other alien empires.
There were several red fleets headed for my space, under which large numbers were suspended. An invasion. A dark, cavernous hole opened up where my stomach should have been. There was this rush, like an anti-orgasm, an explosion of intense loss.
I had been desperately trying to avoid this outcome, anything to save the green dots on the star map, anything to save the character of The Aspiration being assassinated and it had all failed. Another player had come to kick over the digital sandcastles I’d been building and maintaining for two whole weeks – and take the space where I’d been making them. None of the players’ intentions were personal, but the consequences were.
Over the day, I wrote around 2,000 words in game messages. The meaning of these messages is buried in role-play language and I want to return to some of them to explain what they’re hiding. I’ve presented all of the messages with spelling and grammatical mistakes left intact.
Kent Sutherland of Second Person Shooter played Starspackle, a yellow empire at the top of the map and the game’s leader at this point. For days I’d been pleading with Starspackle for assistance but he offered only empty promises in return. Overnight, Kent had sent a message to warn me of invasion fleets heading for The Aspiration’s homespace but by the time I received it at 6am, I was already able to see the invasion bearing down on my ass. I responded with this:
tis over, starspackle
there are too many ships, but it was fun while it lasted. it was clear the madman was coming here.
they only just woke me up on dnoces and old brother veret wouldn’t even talk to me
the silly old tree-huggers of the aspiration had trouble with their expansion as they must have related to you, expending reosurces without noticeable gain. they finally got their hands on crossheart territory and then here he comes
i have 80 and 70 holding firm, but they will be wiped out with the sizes of fleets coming here
i do believe my people did try to warn you
In the message, I conceded that it was over but it’s the final line that carries the real intention of the message – the barb. The message I’ve smudged into The Aspiration’s voice is this: Thanks for all your help. Thanks for nothing.
I also had to respond to my eastern neighbour, Baron Copernicus. My attempt to get him to work with me against his so-called allies had been misinterpreted as a threat. Here is my full response to him:
baron, i appear to have wounded you, but i’m not sure i should care as i’m about to be KILLED
AI?? i am the union mind of the aspiration that was buried on dnoces. veret and i used to run things around here a few centuries back and, well, it didn’t pan out too well as you can see. insects to the north. tongueliches to the south. what a mess. i haven’t yet managed to spread back out across the minds of the people – but its too late now
veret, unfortunately, does not see too much love in his old troops. which is sad as i only just woke up
anyhow, the aspiration is moments from being overrun by ankaa forces from the north.
this is likely my last message to you
starspackle asked the aspiration to kill your kajam fleet last week, the aspiration stalled and fortunately the orders were rescinded.
next up, switchbreak intends to conquer you once orange is done for.
i had wondered about a pre-emptive strike on switchbreak, that’s what i’m doing down here and you’re just “oh i don’t like your jokes” which, as reasons go, is a terrible reason to accept cultural death
you needed to think about your exit strategy. you needed to partner your way out of this.
your kingdom is over, too, baron, your last chance blotting out on the horizon
It’s very flowery for a message which merely says well then go fuck yourself Baron. My unwavering dedication to role-play had the unexpected side-effect of packaging my negative emotions safely for public consumption. If I’d been myself I probably would have responded with something just like well then go fuck yourself Baron. Then again, if I’d been myself, ambiguous role-play might not have confused Baron into reading my olive branch as threat.
But I was pretty damn sore at Kent, who’d sold me plenty of nice words whilst simultaneously arming my nemesis in the name of keeping good diplomatic relations. That had hurt. I didn’t call an episode of The Aspiration “Your Counterfeit Love” for nothing. Even at this late stage, as a mad empire was storming through my back door, Kent said he would “prefer to stall the conflict a little longer”. I suspect he had no idea at the time what all this stalling had been doing to me.
So while I was at work and still distraught over the imminent destruction of The Aspiration, I broke one of my own game rules which was never to use personal e-mail to handle the role-play. From work, I sent the following mail direct to Kent:
is this on?
i think this might be the only conduit for communication right now. my species are under threat
We need to make arrangements to secure a region where the The Aspiration, the most peaceable species across the galaxy, can remain true to Virtue. We
i was never peaceable, Virtue is in Number, more weapons, more skills, more allies
We hope this reaches Starspackle of the North. We have no ability to respond – our link to control is severed for many hours – to the unprovoked, aggressive assault from the Horror of the Rim, the Ankaa Empire.
oh veret is nothing of the sort, he’s just bored. he was beat up as a small kid. they made fun of his small tail and this is the price we all have to pay. i can’t believe he’s forgotten i used to stick up for him in school. that’s not the kind of thing a Union Mind does every day, you know. more fool me.
The Aspiration was disturbed that Starspackle and Switchbreak armed the Ankaa Empire beyond the means of The Aspiration which had no technology partners. Our production problems have vexed us and our cultural exchanges slowed. Somehow
i was supposed to hold off an attack from someone with 500 ships, 2 levels of weapons above me, greater scan range and jump distance. i mean, come onnnnnn.
the only plan i can think of now is that
Once The Spiritual Domain of The Aspiration re-establishes a link with command, we will retreat our forces from our original base and homeworld and build a barricade in the southern region where the weapons hoarder Crossheart once existed, prior to our
extermination of his ass. this leaves you with one tricky problem. Veret then faces you and baron. i would like you to start trickling your forces into our worlds. try to pick soft targets so i can move my people out using the ships of more heavily populated stars. once i’m out you can take everything you want. but mark my words, i am leaving.
We are leaving. We are not waiting on assistance any longer. It has been clear the security of The Aspiration has not been a priority for Starspackle and we vacate our homeworld sector, with tears in our jaw yet Virtue strong in our hearts.
was trying to force your hand, but look where it got me, even tried patching things up with veret but he was non-responsive, it was obvious he was close to sending bad things at my people
whatever happens, the aspiration will survive and if, eventually, switchbreak comes for me too, i will leave the galaxy it is better to live than die, no?
Alone we Survive.
It’s the last couple of paragraphs which are important. Translation: I’m not going to be your stooge any more, Kent. Fight your own god damn battles.
But, if you’ve read The Aspiration, you know that this dark mood does not survive the day. After I got home I re-learnt that Neptune’s Pride is slow which means death was not imminent, only inevitable. Reflecting on what I’d experienced not just during the day so far, but days previous, I concluded that I’d let my anger run away with the game. I needed to reclaim a semblance of dignity. It was a video game. How could a video game do this to me? How could I let a video game do this to me?
I commissioned two fleets to sweep through The Aspiration’s crumbling domain to save as many ships as possible. They were named “Refugee North” and “Refugee South” due to their particular trajectories. Role-play cast this as a mass-evacuation; in reality I was planning to punch someone in the face with my refugees. This implies the resolve I found was not borne in acceptance, but actually anger. A thirst for vengeance.
This is the common near-death experience for Neptune’s Pride players. Every dying player wants to do something that scratches their death into the game’s fabric, something that makes their “pathetic existence” memorable. For example, take The Aspiration’s murder of the Crossheart empire. Crossheart was Sid Menon, a regular poster here on Electron Dance who goes by the handle BeamSplashX. He admitted that in his final days he wired as much cash as he could to Kent/Starspackle, hoping he was funding a campaign against The Aspiration.
Initial plans for these fleets were to strike at Switchbreak as he, like Starspackle, had armed my murderer. Switchbreak was a bulked-up purple empire that sat in the south-eastern corner of the map. He was also my new neighbour after I’d moved into Crossheart’s old digs. I sent him a message that was more accepting of the new, terminal situation:
Virtue is Bond, Switchbreak. We bring darkest of news. The Horror of the Rim, the Ankaa Empire of Veret, has unleashed his claws upon the home sector of The Aspiration.
and this upsets me no end after all. hello switchbreak i do not believe we have met. i am the union mind of the aspiration, recently dug up out of the mud at dnoces. yes, the mud. i know.
there are now ankaa fleets swimming overhead dnoces and i decided it was a change of plan moment, relocate down here in the warm south. i am dragging all our forces to pollux for a final stand against veret.
Only most the peaceable amongst us will survive and be able to turn and kill the agents that hunt us. The Virtuous Rapture holds and binds us: Virtue for all, or Virtue for none.
More fleets will be approaching Pollux if the our refugees make it safely away from the war zone that has become our homeworld. We sing for all our ascensions.
Starspackle should be able to confirm this information for you.
Together we Aspire, Alone we Survive.
As I wrote in the series, I also had a long chat that evening with Kent on Steam. It was the first conversation I’d had with anyone about the game outside of role-play and it wasn’t about strategy. It was about what the game had done to us. This conversation flushed away most of the negative emotional baggage I’d accrued with respect to Kent. Everyone on that god damn map was holding on for dear life. Even so, I still planned to hit Switchbreak. The anger I felt at being set up by Kent/Starspackle and Switchbreak would not fade for a few days.
Refugee North reported to Baron Copernicus and Starspackle:
Virtue is Bond, fellow allies.
The Horror continues to spread like cancer upon the beautiful, perfect canvas of space, its blood-red colour seeping across the green patchwork that was once the proud Spiritual Domain of the Aspiration.
refugee north ship is departing ruchbah, stopping at azelfafage, aldib and then rendezvous at phad
at the same time, i thought it would entertaining to send a few lightly armoured robotic fleets to upset holy-highness Veret, he who envies other species’ tails
i will try to keep the tailjerk busy as long as possible
so watch out there are a few small fleets that will jump around, although some of them will meet their tragic end earlier than others
starting to sever connections to some of my stars, its just too painful for a union mind to keep being burned by nuclear death of its components en masse
Celebrate our ascension. Your galaxy, for it is to you it will be entrusted, will be poorer without us. Stop the bleed. End the Horror.
Together we Aspire.
And independently so did Refugee South:
i am saving as many civilians as i can, and the fight at tabit was lost, 84 ships felled
a union mind feels these things
84,000 of my species, *poof*
i have enough ships at alcyone to pick up enough to start a life elsewhere
The Spiritual Domain of The Aspiration reports that a hostile force of 67 ships are inbound from Tabit towards Alycone.
We carry Virtue in our spine. We rebuild. The Virtuous Rapture awaits us.
Ascension is close. But not today. The Ankaa horror will be disappointed.
Refugee South will traverse stars across the southern belt and rendezvous at Maark. Skeleton forces will remain behind on autopilot.
No species should watch the destruction of their home in such a cavalier fashion.
especially as i just woke up
at least i’m off dnoces now
what a cold, desolate place that was
And it goes on like this. There’s resolve in the words now, purpose.
I tried to spark a three-pronged rebellion against Switchbreak with Baron and another collapsing empire, Abacus Master: “To our distant species that were never our wholesome and accepted allies, these are days you will remember for all your lives. Our peaceful machete of Virtue is willing to cut one last time.”
I begged Starspackle for charity to help wound the monster he’d unleashed, although I really wanted weapons for the Switchbreak strategy: “We are running up a high debt on the interstellar money markets and are unable to fund further purchases of technology.”
And I goaded said monster, Veret, who was invading the homespace of The Aspiration. I had already invented a backstory between Veret and the Union Mind of The Aspiration but this was the day on which I embellished it with a tale of patricide. Strong words from start to finish: “Although your illegal empire may win this day and win the next, Virtue, in another century, will have its day. Our souls are clean.”
But I expected Veret to have devoured The Aspiration by the end of the week so these fighting words weren’t really for him at all. I had acquired velocity; the role-play took on a defiant tone not because The Aspiration were defiant but because I was. I was telling the game that despite the awful shit it had put me through for two weeks it had not beaten me. The evening messages have a simple aggregate translation: Fuck you, game.
It is the fourteenth day that reveals the soul of Neptune’s Pride. It charms the players into powerful emotional investment which it then grinds to a pulp through rules that compel players to kill one another.
The stories to be found in Neptune’s Pride demonstrate what is magnificent about gaming – and also what is most fearful.