Friday, April 27, 2007

Civil War in the United Federation of Planets +

Originally Posted by eventhorizen:
I'm not sure I particularly agree with Flatfingers posts either. It seems an awfully simplistic analysis of only a cursory look at the most well known and widely recognisable states in history, but has some immense flaws.
Well, in my defense, I wasn't trying to provide an in-depth summary of Quigley's model. My aim wasn't to discuss civilizations per se, but to describe enough of the core concepts of an interesting model of civilizations to serve as one possible framework for thinking about how the Federation might find itself falling into civil war.

Not that I don't enjoy discussing this stuff in a friendly, "what do you think?" kind of way. I would, for example, take pretty strong exception to confusing states with civilizations; misdefining those could lead to some rather ahistorical conclusions.

In fact, I've been wondering lately whether Sid Meier's Civilization might be responsible for some of the confusion. I've really enjoyed that game, burning more hours on it in all its incarnations than I care to admit, but "France" and "Russia" and so on aren't civilizations! They're the political entities we call "states." Civ called these states "civilizations" because it needed a bunch of AI opponents and there haven't been enough real civilizations to fill the bill. And neither "States" nor "Nation-States" was as good a marketing title as "Civilization."

So I understand the likely reasoning, but I do wonder whether it's led a lot of people to mistakenly believe that nations like Nepal and Burkina Faso and the U.S. are "civilizations" when they are no such thing.

Even worse, I wonder if people now believe that places like France and Germany are so culturally different from each other (despite the whole EU thing) as to be considered different civilizations when they're actually different but related states within Western civilization. And that matters because creating false distinctions makes it harder to talk usefully about the real differences that distinguish true civilizations from each other -- something that's become pretty important lately.

But as noted, this thread is for talking about how a civil war in the Federation might be useful as a plot device for Star Trek Online, so let me get back to that.

Actually, there will probably be gamers who bump into this page and immediately wonder what in the world we're babbling about. "...? Dude, it's just a game! Who cares whether it's Federation citizens or Red Lectroids from Planet Ten, just tell me who to shoot so I can be Lord High Admiral of the Universe as fast as possible."

If these folks are going to constitute a significant proportion of those who subscribe to play Star Trek Online -- or, more pointedly, if ST:O's developer is actually thinking of trying to attract such gamers with features -- then maybe what we really need is something in between a "clash of civilizations" and "it's just a game." As a practical matter, probably the best route is just to devise some justification that sounds plausible in both a real-world and Star Trek sense, and then simply say, "here's why" and move on to designing and implementing actual gameplay features.

To get there, we need more than random, arbitrary events but less than a hardcore theory -- in short, what we need is a literary justification. If the point is to have a civil war within the Federation as part of a game, then all we really need is a reason for internal conflict that sounds good and serves as an effective driver for storytelling and action without having to fit neatly into some model of cultural morphology.

Examples given so far include:

  • extermination of the Borg as a species

  • extending membership in the Federation to the Romulan Star Empire

  • suspending the Prime Directive (shades of Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus) for the exigencies of total war

  • power-hungry politician (e.g., Caesar, Palpatine)

  • deliberately misattributed use of WMD such as a biogenic weapon

  • perceived failure of the Federation to insure the security of its member states

  • economic disaster (dangers of using warp drive or replicator technology)

  • discovery of widespread use of eugenics technology

  • Section 31 instigating a "phony war" ("Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia.")

  • neural parasites return to destroy the Federation from within

  • negative popular reaction to militarization of Starfleet
Any other ideas? Bear in mind the two great requirements for effectiveness as a plot device:

  • It should evenly divide Federation members or citizens.

  • It should be severe enough to bring them to the brink of open conflict against each other.
Which immediately gives me another idea: the perceived subjugation of entities who might be sentient (androids, holograms). For example, if being an effective hologram means having the capability for self-programming, how far is that from free will? Would everybody in the Federation be OK with sending self-aware entities off to spend eternity scrubbing plasma conduits, even if doing so had significant economic value by freeing up humans from dangerous or tedious tasks?

"Holoslavery" would be a pretty direct analog to the "peculiar institution" that led to the U.S.'s War Between the States, and could be considered somewhat controversial. But Star Trek copied history and tackled controversial topics all the time. I think players of a Star Trek game would buy this.