Monday, August 13, 2007

Diplomacy in a Star Trek MMORPG

The way diplomacy is represented in Star Trek raises some questions about how to handle it in a Star Trek MMORPG.

Given the way that starships serve as Federation ambassadors to new worlds, exploratory ships are sometimes called on to perform diplomatic functions. This suggests that there need to be some facilities aboard a starship to support that mission.

To begin with, though, let's take a larger view and think about diplomacy in a Star Trek MMORPG generally. Where might diplomacy be practiced? Here are some ideas:

  • planets (away missions)
  • factional hubs
  • player ships
  • NPC ships
Are any of these to be preferred? What about the option to use player ships -- should diplomacy be restricted to any one type of player ship? Or is it something that should primarily be a character ability that can be used anywhere?

Originally Posted by U.S.S. Thermopylae: Well, Flatfingers, if a shuttle is sent to an alien planet for lets say peace talks, the shuttle and its crew are at risk. One ship/shuttle while powerful is only one against would could be hundreds of the alien races shuttles. The Federation shuttle sent to the planet could be destroyed or captured and the crew held hostage.
What if the Federation wants to demonstrate its peaceful intentions?

A heavily-armed warship sends a different signal than landing an unarmed shuttle, or beaming down an unarmed landing party. (And sending signals is a big part of diplomacy.) Maybe using a lightly-armed vessel could be used as a negotiating point. "If we wanted to force you to accept our terms, we could have come here in a warship and compelled your agreement."

But an interesting aspect of xenodiplomacy is that different cultures respect different things, and these expectations color their interpretations of the actions taken by Federation diplomats. Where one culture perceives being approached by unarmed diplomats in an unarmed shuttle to be a gesture of peaceful intent, there are cultures in the galaxy who respond more effectively to shows of strength. Such a culture might conclude that the Federation was too weak to be worth negotiating with if it didn't flex its military or diplomatic muscles occasionally. An appearance of weakness may be as damaging to negotiations as an appearance of disrespect.

Trying to negotiate with Klingons, for example, is generally best done from a position of obvious strength. And Zaldans (as Wesley realized in TNG: "Coming of Age") hate courtesy, considering it to be a rude form of lying.

So even the type of ship used to carry negotiators can have an impact on negotiations. I don't know whether Star Trek Online will want to go to that level of detail, but they wouldn't be ignoring diplomatic reality if their diplomacy system did factor in such things.

Originally Posted by U.S.S. Thermopylae: If the alien race is sent to a Starfleet planet/space station there is no risk the the Starfleet representatives who are trying to negotiate. Seeing as Starfleet does not take hostages, the alien race would not be put at risk either.
That's true. But diplomats tend to consider the site of negotiations as a kind of bargaining chip. Going to the other party's location is usually interpreted as a sign of respect, and such signs can have value in negotiating.

That's especially true when dealing with an honor culture. A culture that has a great deal of pride in itself might be offended if its diplomats were expected to travel to Earth, or even to a neutral location, to discuss a trade or political agreement.

What a very cool game it would be that included such possible cultural reactions in a diplomatic system! It still wouldn't be as detailed as combat gameplay (I know better than to expect that), but at least it might be interesting enough to be a viable alternative to negotiation-by-phaser.