The Long Now Foundation has proposed an interesting challenge: create a game that will take 1000 years to play. The intention of the game forces you to think in very long terms. Turns take generations to play out, therefore choices shan’t be short-term and hasty.
Submissions were required to be less than 1000 words. You can read my official submission online at http://optional.is/required/2011/08/22/millennium-saga/ This post is intended to compliment the official submission with some background context. This points out my inspirations, rejected ideas as well as resources which you might find interesting.
I have never designed a game before. Therefore, some I really tried to think my way through the whole process all the way to my ideal outcome. Doing so forced me to find situations I didn’t want my game to become. What fell out of this were several factors I specifically included and avoided.
The first idea I avoided was to prevent any one team from snowballing their results so high early in the game that it would be impossible for others to catch-up. If the rich got too rich, it becomes impossible to over-take them and they can “win” before the 1,000 year span. There is nothing worse than waiting till the end of a game knowing the incumbant is in such a winning position that they can effectively give-up playing. To counter this, I could introduce a double or nothing style of play. In backgammon it’s possible for a losing player to make gigantic swings to overcome the deficit. I wanted to a void wild gambles, because the concept of this game is to introduce better long term thinking rather than risk taking. If this were a different factor such as monitoring pollutants rather than points in a game, I’d certainly want the “pollution” captains to NOT be doubling down on a hail mary style risk to get us out of any situation. I’d preferred to have never gotten too far behind in the first place!
If the game consists of multiple players or multiple teams with shifting allegiances, then it might be possible to structure the actions so that defecting to another collision becomes advantageous. If team A and B form and alliance against team C, things might go poorly for team C for centuries… But then Team B might realize that instead of being the smaller percentage of the A/B coalition, they could run the B/C coalition. The tide would shift for a few centuries while Team A is on the short end. We see this swinging of the pendulum all the time in governments. Sadly the US government dissolved into a dualistic system where a third party can’t really get started. If any political party fragments now they would certainly be at a disadvantage for a while. I don’t want to create a long term game which is confrontational and pits allegiances against one another. Instead, I decided to work on a game where all the players needed to work together to achieve a common goal.
I wanted to avoid a game with the obvious play of, just make it longer. Like taking Chess and making the board huge or the Tower of Hanoi, but only one move a year. This really isn’t taking advantage of the time in between each turn. In the end, my submission does take one year per turn and is forced to be that way. It is conceivable that you could “fast-forward” this game and play once a month, or year, or day, but the results wouldn’t be as interesting. To truly make this a global contribution, it will take time to read, review and decide. It is also imperative that time be introduced so that the outcome represents the 1,000 years of human history.
Using several different sources of inspiration, such as, Neil Stephenson’s Anathema and the actual clock of the Long Now, Charles and Ray Eames’ Powers of Ten, the translation system of the Bible by King James’ translators, and Tollas Tibor‘s Slow Poetry, Nomic and others, I decided to setup the rounds according to factors of ten in years from whence the game commenced.
Anathema deals with events in the 1s, 10s, and 100s, which is an interesting time scale, 100, 101, 102. These are linearly increasing powers ten, 0, 1, 2 … Which is expertly visualized in the Eames’ video. The translation of the King James’ Bible and Slow Poetry involve round after round of translations, amendments and acceptance into the final product. Both of these activities had short lifespans revolving around a specific goal. Nomic on the other hand, is a much longer and open-ended game about democracy and law. While my game does have a definite ending, there isn’t a set translation, but rather it is a creative process more like Nomic, but with a deadline.
I decided to call the game “Millennium Saga”. It isn’t something you pull off the shelf on a rainy day, it is a long term commitment with plenty of long thinking infrastructure involved too. “Millennium” was an obvious choice for part of the name. “Saga” mean story and the Icelandic Sagas were about times roughly 1,000 years ago during and after the settlement of the country around 872.
Slow Poetry (Translation Division)
“Tollas Tibor, a poet who spent several years in solitary confinement during the most repressive phases of the Hungarian communist regime, says that in the Visegrád jail, where hundreds of intellectuals were imprisoned, the inmates kept themselves occupied for more than a year by devising a poetry translation contest. First, they had to decide on the poem to translate. It took months to pass the nominations around from cell to cell, and several more months of ingenious secret messages before the votes were tallied. Finally it was agreed that Walt Whitman’s “O Captain! My Captain!” was to be the poem to translate into Hungarian, partly because it was the one that most of the prisoners could recall from memory in the original English. Now began the serious work: everyone sat down to make his own version of the poem. Since no paper or writing tool was available, Tollas spread a film of soap on the soles of his shoe, and carved the letters into it with a toothpick. When a line was learned by heart, he covered his shoe with a new coating of soap. As the various stanzas were written, they were memorized by the translator and passed on to the next cell. After a while, a dozen versions of the poem were circulating in the jail, and each was evaluated and voted on by all the inmates. After the Whitman translation was adjudicated, the prisoners went on to tackle a poem by Schiller.”
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