Wednesday, August 13, 2014


Haven't written one of these Civilization for awhile.  Some gentle readers, I know, felt I would never write one again.  Yet here we are.  Know that I like writing these posts also.  It is only that my creativity was sucked dry by other things.

The 'Worker' is the last unit that would come automatically at the start of the old Civ IV game.  I have been writing a lot about working of late - it is a central theme to the Guide, as I believe firmly that work gives us purpose and therefore happiness.  I've never met anyone completely comfortable with not working - even the least motivated people I've known worked diligently at something - becoming a better snowboarder or a better musician comes to mind.  Whereas I have known hundreds of people who worked obsessively and were certainly happy - even those who worked right up until their first heart attack.

This civilization, this culture, exists because at some point in pre-history it became evident that work was a practical alternative to hope.  By this I refer to an old Chinese parable - literally thousands of years old.  One day, a hunter is walking through the woods, looking for his dinner, when he sees a rabbit suddenly dash from the nearby wood.  Before the hunter can take a breath, the rabbit fails to see the stump of a tree in front of it and hits the stump full on, knocking itself senseless.  The hunter need only walk up, seize the unconscious rabbit and make it dinner.

Forever afterwards, having gotten his dinner so easily that day, the hunter returns to the same stump - where he sits and waits for another rabbit to appear and knock itself out.

It is part of our make-up that we do this.  Having had fortune smile upon us, we sit and wait and waste our lives away waiting for fortune to smile again, knowing that it's better if we return to hunting. Fundamentally, the decision of stone age cultures to give up on chance and embrace effort was the defining moment in establishing every complex structure we see around us now.

Consider - once the tribe transforms itself from random hoping into a unit that diligently manufactures tools and procedures in order to ensure food, a reorganization of that tribe must take place.

A herd of animals forage - every gazelle in a herd, for instance, is responsible for its own food and its own survival.  Instinct draws the herd together because a herd helps protect the individual - only one gazelle need sense danger in order for every gazelle to be aware of it.  Running together increases the likelihood that you won't be pulled down so long as someone else is slower and more vulnerable.

You and I stumble across a grizzly and it turns on us.  We both break into a run, whereupon you shout, "This is impossible, the bear runs faster than we do!  We'll never outrun it."

And I answer, "I don't need to outrun the bear - I only need to outrun you!"

Work reorganizes that principle.  As the tribe develops tools and procedures, it becomes plain early on who is best at finding game; who is best at throwing a spear; who is best at drawing out game; who is best at cutting the meat off the bone and so on.  When it comes time to decide who will stand where in order to kill the game to get us meat, or who will forage today as opposed to hunting, every individual within the tribe has a superior skill that we want to exploit.  Now, if the slower fellow is killed by the bear, the whole tribe misses out because that guy used to make the best spears.  Personal achievement begins to define our importance as individuals.

Thus the joke is redefined if I am a slacker and you're a doctor.  I may, at that moment, realize that your life is more precious than mine - because you've spent your life wisely and I have not - and stop running.  I may let the bear get me.  I may let you be the faster runner, even if you're not.

We spend so much time in role-playing concerning ourselves with who is playing the tank and who is playing the healer and so on, we forget that we're individuals, too, with individual skills having nothing to do with what class we play.  We do that because on some level we think, "Well, if Jeremy's fighter dies, it doesn't matter because we'll still have all of Jeremy's gaming skills when he rolls up a druid or an assassin or whatever."

We don't care if the bear gets Jeremy's character - because for all the role-playing rhetoric, Jeremy's character isn't real . . . except to Jeremy, who perhaps doesn't want to lose this particular incarnation. But that is another post.

The role-playing format establishes a set of specialties for the player that we're expected to adhere to - but those are just conveniences.  Of greater importance is the work the player wishes to invest into the game in order to provide the party with a greater chance of survival and success.  This work does not rely upon what class the player is or what the player's character skill sets are - because innovation does not result from pre-ordained skill sets.  Innovation results from a willingness to look at the game from every angle, see the exploitable facets in that structure and increase the probability for achievement.

The invented spear exploited the strengths of the human arm; it exploited the comparative weakness in the skin of animals that could be penetrated by a hurled, sharp point.  It exploited the natural material of wood and bone.  It exploited the comparative availability of time that allowed for the spear to be made far in advance of the time when the spear would be needed.

It meant that the maker of the spear had to suspend their immediate gratification while being conscious that, once the spear was made, it would be used later to great effect.  The maker had to work now, sweating and diligently fashioning the spear in a manner that the spear wouldn't break when it was used.  As simple as the culture was that invented the spear, that culture had to understand the importance of quality control.  It wasn't enough to make a spear-shape.  The spear had to be tough, it had to last, it had to be reuseable and it had to be reproduceable if the time ever came when the spear broke.  The amount of value the spear produced in taking down game had to be greater than the amount of time it took to make the spear - else a better spear had to be designed and then made. Young people had to be given tasks that enabled them to understand how the spear was made so that one day they'd be able to do it without help.

All this meant that some people in the tribe had to be left alone and exempt from other tasks for the time it took to make the spear. The spear-maker could not do it alone; he needed a support team that would gather wood to keep the work space warm, to bring him food, to knead out his sore muscles, to give him emotional support to keep working, to forage and obtain food from other sources, and perhaps to find perfect samples from the wild from which other spears could be made. The whole spear-making process - the process of all the work that needed to be done by the tribe - was complicated and deeply involved.  To enable all that needed to be done, a 'cultural' framework had to be made, to describe who did what, when, for how long, in what capacity and to what purpose, as well as a punishment system for those who would not fit into the culture.

We make the mistake of thinking this modern world created this culture of work that we experience, but that's a very limited perception.  All cultures come into existence because of the manner in which work in that culture is required.  Even the most violent of orc cultures would be structured according to the work they did when parties were not actually breaking into their lair. 'Evil' is not a work ethic.  It does not define what a culture is or how a culture manifests.

If you want your world to express itself in terms your players will understand - or if you want to know what your place is in the party - you must begin to redefine the motivations of your world and its habitants by the work they do, rather than the beliefs they hold.  Work comes first; beliefs are a means of motivating a culture towards doing a specific kind of work.  Decide, before giving your inhabitants an alignment, a reason FOR that alignment.

Things will begin to make greater sense thereafter.

1 comment:

JB said...

Mmm...good stuff.