Musings on Travian
I’ve been playing Travian - an online, multiplayer game - for a while now. On the surface, it looks like a resource management game like Settlers of Catan, but once you play a bit more you realize that there is quite a lot going on beneath the surface. There are no bot players – everyone around you is a real person somewhere out there in the real world. And anyone can attack anyone else.
So, conflicts are inevitable, as are non-aggression treaties, alliances and wars. And bullying – stealing resources from other players because you can. You’re either bigger, or better armed, or you have strong friends, who will keep your village safe from retaliation.
I’ve noticed that it’s rather easy to slide into this bullying, just because it is easy to forget that the dots on the screen are controlled by a living being. I have a few “farms” to which I go regularly. Most of them are players who do not play anymore, so they’re just free resource banks, but some of them try to defend. And I go in and I wipe out all of their defenses and grab all their resources – because I am bigger, and I need them to protect myself against my own enemies: people who attack my village because they are bigger, and they need the resources to grow bigger so that nobody attacks them. I don’t know whether I should feel bad about this – Travian is a war game, after all, so you’re supposed to be fighting others. But on the other hand, it is unfair to just rob from the weak.
But the game has moved on to a different realm now. It is no longer single players fighting each other – there is a big, delicate balance of power between alliances, and they negotiate whom to destroy and whom to save. It’s stopped being personal and it’s now “just business”. Threats are eliminated, and attacks are revenged with as much overkill as possible to make sure they don’t try again. Friends are defended vehemently and enemies hated with passion. Near total anarchy.
It’s fascinating to look at the progression of the game. Most of these players are young and can barely speak English. Yet they can hold together large alliances, conduct complicated diplomatic negotiations and orchestrate deadly barrages of firepower to their enemy. You could draw lots of analogies to the real world here, but I am going to leave those to the game theoreticians.
Travian is a perfect example of how a game does not be overly complex to become engaging. It’s played on a regular web browser, and it’s free. If you like Civilization, and can handle the fact that you can’t save the game and restart once you get completely wiped out, you might like this game, too. The action is apparently now all on Server 7.
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