The Fake Democracy of Nationstates


So, lets start off with who I am, so we can put this in the proper context. I am The Dourian Embassy, former Delegate of Osiris and former Delegate of Antarctic Oasis. I spent about nine months under the guise of dutiful member of the Osirian government, with an end goal in mind of handing my nation to someone who actually enjoys R/D enough to wreck the place.

The reasons why are unimportant, I’ve given about six completely different reasons in the past, and it’s honestly one of those things you’ll have to figure out for yourself.

For the purposes of this debate, we’ll be ignoring the warzone regions. We will be primarily concerned with regions populated by new players, or players uninterested in R/D.

Information contained inside the spoiler is for those of you visiting here from other locations(and those who are simply not well versed in gameplay mechanics).

[spoiler]Founders are the people who’ve created regions. They are allowed to eject and ban whoever they’d like, surpress posts as much as they’d like, and essentially run the region however they’d like. They are also able to grant those powers to whoever gets elected delegate.

Delegates are elected by being the person with the most endorsements at an update. In regions with founders that may or not mean having similar powers to the Founder(with influence costs for performing certain actions), but in any region without a founder, Delegates have all the powers that a founder does(again with costs for performing certain actions).

Let’s talk now about GCRs. A GCR is a Game Created Region. GCR’s are the nine regions created by game mechanics.

Nations exist inside regions, and while you can create one yourself, you also start in one automatically. So rather than have persons start in a random user created region(or UCR), the game starts you in one of five “feeder” regions whenever you start a new nation. Those regions are The North Pacific, The South Pacific, The West Pacific, The East Pacific, and finally The Pacific. These regions have no founder, as they’ve been created by the game itself.

One of the game mechanics available to delegates and founders of UCRs and GCRs is the “eject” button. That button will remove a nation from a region, and place them in a region known as “The Rejected Realms”. For the purposes of this essay, it’s important to remember that The Rejected Realms is unique among all regions in that you cannot be ejected from it.

When you let a nation go for a certain period of time(30 days without vacation mode) without logging into it, it can cease to exist(or CTE). Those nations when resurrected are placed in one of three sinkers. Those are Balder, Lazarus, and Osiris. Those regions function similarly to feeders, and are sometimes referred to by that name as well.[/spoiler]

Section One: The Lack of a Real Social Contract

So, the first question we have to ask ourselves is this: Do game mechanics support the possibility of true democracy or even simple consent of the governed? Considering the claims of democracy in nationstates, and the claims many make of representing the will of those they govern, you may be surprised to find the answer to that is a resounding no.

I won’t bore you with a PolySci101 lecture here. Suffice to say, that in order for governments to acquire consent, there needs to be both a readily available method of communication between the governed and the government, and a measure of power in the hands of the people to enforce the social contract. In nationstates, despite protestation otherwise, that is not an accomplishable feat.

So why is that the case? I’ll use Osiris as my measuring stick, since it’s the region I have the most experience with. As delegate, I had long discussions and spent a long amount of time trying my best to figure out how best to represent the wants and needs of not just the 20-30 folks involved in the offsite government, but also the 2000-3000 folks in the region itself. I did this, because I had bought into the concept of offsite governance somehow being able to represent those needs and wants.

I was quickly disabused of that notion.

The real issue is this, the majority of players only see the GCRs as a route to a UCR. Furthermore, they don’t see a need to participate in a byzprone government when they can often go out and form their own, or join some other region with even easier entry requirements(like not registering for an offsite forum). Many just don’t feel like giving out their email addresses.

Section Two: Legitimacy

So the “legitimate” offsite governments are often stuck with the same circle of about three hundred folks. And I’m being quite charitable with that number(as often the same person fills roles in multiple regions). Those three hundred folks in one way or another represent over thirty thousand nations.

The basic point you’ll keep seeing brought up in opposition to that statement is this: The people of a region can choose to unelect a delegate who does things they disagree with. That is only true in theory.

We, as humans, have an inherent problem. We believe that what we’re doing is right, and often believe that anyone who opposes our actions has ulterior motives which are being hidden simply because they are meant to hurt people.

Anytime someone gets the position of delegate(or indeed, even makes a play at it) without the consent of the forum government, they are ejected, banned, and vilified.

Section Three: Change is Harder Than You Think. And Here’s Why.

I thought, at one point, that I could lead a revolution that could finally put power back into the hands of the people who actually populate a region. What I ended up being was a part of a small cadre of folks who happened into power a long time ago, and have managed to keep it all the way to now.

I learned that the old guard will do literally anything to hold onto their scraps of power, and through the 3000 ejections Durk managed, I learned one other thing. They won’t stop until they get back what is theirs. Not the things that belong to the people of the region(though they do), but what they think is theirs.

I don’t fault them. This was my fundamental misunderstanding of the situation. I believed in the rhetoric. I believed in the good. I believed in justice, fairness, and the rule of law. I believed in democracy. I believed.

But that’s not how this game works. The authoritarian grip must occur in order for any delegate to hold his position for any length of time. The truth of the matter is that forces outside of the regions will ALWAYS be propping up one side and the other(and always “in the name of the people”). As long as you can switch WA’s as many times as you’d like with little no repercussions there is no incentive to not knock over a GCR every once in a while. This is a result of gameplay mechanics, and it will not change any time soon.

The fact that I can put a WA nation in every feeder and sinker in the game(and a few regions with Founders that CTE’d a long time ago) every update(by being fast enough at switching) is a problem for any group claiming to represent the will of the people native to a particular region.

Which has been a longstanding issue of mine with the term “native”. We play a game called nationstates, in it there are regions. These regions are part of a greater world. The real problem is in treating the regions like they need a government at all.

Until game mechanics support them in a meaningful way, or all players commit to stop fucking around, there’s never going to be a definitive forum government that ever represents the will of the people.

Section Four: The Conclusion

I don’t have a solution to these problems. It does bother me that some folks are fooling themselves here, into thinking their method of playing is somehow more righteous or more legitimate than others. I think The North Pacific is a shining beacon of democracy in NS. They are genuinely doing their best(as much as they can anyway) to truly represent their people. But they are not able to do so. Nothing in the ingame region of TNP can hold their feet to the fire if they move away from their current model. Nothing in any region without a founder can.

Milo got it right, way back when, even if he used it in a bit of a tongue in cheek way. The truth is that there is an oligarchy running the GCRs, all of them. Some of them are smaller than the others, some are quite inclusive. None of them represent the full will of their regions, because game mechanics don’t support that. They simply do not support democracy.

So we have to make do with the next best thing. An oligarchy run by a pseudo democracy. Often with delusions of justice, fairness and righteousness. The most depressing part of it all in the attempt. These are people who want to do good and are unable to do so. That is a wearying thought.