Saturday, January 30, 2016

How to take over the world

I conquered the world yesterday.

If you didn't quite notice it, it could be due to either of two reasons. The first being that the control of the world we live in is so diffuse and indirect that any shift in its ownership or management structure would go largely unnoticed, allowing ordinary people to continue living their lives as if nothing had changed, since for their practical purposes nothing had.

The other reason being that "the world" was, in fact, not this world, but a fictional representation of our world. Specifically, that found in the alternate dimension computer game Europa Universalis IV.

This is an achievement I've worked to complete for some time. In both senses of the word "achievement", and in many senses of the word "worked". It is an achievement to accomplish it under normal circumstances, and there is an achievement for accomplishing it under some circumstances. This difference is technical, and technicality is the subject of the rest of this post.

To summarize EUIV, it is a game wherein you play as a nation, and compete against other nations. The game takes place between 1444 and 1821, and simulates the complex and complicated political nature of geopolitics during this era. The player can among others things start wars, colonize "empty" lands and monopolize trade. The other nations of the world will try to do the same thing, and conflicts will ensue.

The technical word for all of this is "imperialism". Much can be said about this, but this is not the blog post for that.

One feature of the game is that it does not have explicit win conditions. The goal of the game is whatever the player wants to accomplish. Taking over the world is one such goal, and it is technically possible to achieve it.

I say technically, as it is quite impossible to do it without careful planning and a high degree of technical mastery. The game consists of a large number of complex interacting systems, and a slight change in any one of them can cause unintended consequences in another. Those wanting to take over the world have to understand each system and what makes them tick, and how to exploit them in order to achieve the intended results. A casual player does not happen upon a world conquest - it takes far too much attention to detail, focused micromanagement and grand strategy for that.

Which is to say, the only reason I managed to do it was that I used a very specific exploit in a very specific version of the game, and then did it again, and again, and again. And then I used another exploit and repeated it as needed - and so on. You get the picture. This goes on for a while.

(The technical words being "reduced overseas coring costs", "strategically placed vassal states", "blob-based infinite manpower", "late-game 1.13.2 coalition breaking", "disable common sense" and "kebab". It makes sense in context. Promise.)

I find these kinds of deep but specialized knowledges fascinating. They take a thing - in this case, a computer game - and turn everything about them into a thing worth knowing. Every thing, every aspect. Turns it all into actionable understanding, and crafts elaborate strategies from this understanding. The whole being very much larger than the sum of its parts.

Thing is. These kinds of knowledges are all around you. Mathematics is all about these, for one. But you also encounter them in people who've seen (or soon will see) every episode of the X-Files, and in how they respond to the present reboot. The same goes for adamant fans of rock bands, too many to mention. Or those who know every in and out of the mass transit system of your local area. Or - yes, this too goes on for quite a while.

The key to taking over the world is not to master all aspects of every system in every configuration. (That is the key to taking over a world, to be sure, but the world of EUIV is a limited, represented one.) The world is too big to be known in full, and the attempt to do so will see you end before it. No, the key to taking over the world is to appreciate the vastness of it all.

Then pick a part that seems awesome, and science the shit out of it.

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