or: Why You Can't Understand IOT Militarism with a 21st Century Economy It's every military-industrial complex's wet dream: an entire economy predicated on aggressive war. A common misconception held by the Imperium Offtopicum player base is that outside of explicitly conquest-oriented games such as SonRISK, the series is not about wargames. Many players have frequently objected to the sort of naked aggression demonstrated by warlords like christos200 and Patriotic_Fool; even when they bemoan Multipolarity 5's boast that it will completely remove the military sphere, they still maintain that IOT is about more than armies duking it out in the field. Sadly, such prescriptive sentiments only serve to obscure the underlying structure that has provided the impetus for these problem players' imperial ambitions. Ironically, it is the economy, not the military, that provides the greater reinforcement to this ethos, and the failure by players and game moderators alike to realize this fact is the reason attempts to reform IOT's core philosophy have so routinely failed. There is no clearer evidence that IOT has become a wargame than the market design of every title that has implemented hard statistics. Game moderators have tried to escape the paradigm of gunboat diplomacy through a number of means: back-door spy attacks, NPC-based power checks, punitive resistance mechanics, to name a few. But these are all attempts to circumvent the inherent problem of an economy teleologically grounded in fuelling war. In "The Death of IOT", I argue that the shift to stats-based rulesets, originally intended as a means to combat powergaming, ended up subverting the game culture, turning warmongering into the norm rather than the exception. At first I had attributed this to the psyche of the incoming player base, mechanical mindsets geared toward finding the winning formula within hard numbers rather than simply drifting freely through the roleplay. Certainly, that attitude exists, in regulars as well as the troublemakers; but I have since realized that far from merely catering to the play style currently in vogue, the rules actively and subconsciously frame the games toward a particularly military form of competition, regardless of the purported genre and any other supposed venues of power. The reason, as IOT's resident economic advisor Sonereal first articulated, is that the base economic model developed after IOT IV was built exclusively with combat in mind. Early IOTs, by virtue of their simplicity and the casual culture of the founding player base, were about diplomatic interactions, not the sort of empire-building that they are today. While they had war, they were not wargames, and beyond the inaugural problem players were not treated as such. Thus, when the push began for a stabilized combat system, we conceived it as an auxiliary feature rather than a core component. The results were stopgaps that varied widely and were frequently criticized for being too arbitrary or 'unrepresentative',1 and creating a 'comprehensive' combat system became the primary focus of the IOT V development thread. It was during these deliberations that the militarist framework took root: as war had been the primary venue of powergaming, it dominated the discourse, while the civil sector was completely ignored. The result was that income could be applied either toward military units and technology to increase their strength, or to improve the rate of income, which would then be spent on the military. It is a decidedly Medieval ethic of statecraft: one raises more funds to support a larger army that is then used to seize the territory of rivals to grow the revenue base. In hindsight, the irony is tragically hilarious: in an attempt to control war, we had inadvertently made it the sole mechanical focus. Although successive games have attempted to articulate economics with greater variety, they all begin and end, consciously or otherwise, with the primacy of military investment. Systems have become more nuancedprovince-based income superseded by an interplay of industrial infrastructure, population, and in some instances material supplies; complex mechanisms governing international tradebut the end purpose remains the same: bankrolling the army. It is neorealism at its finest: security, and more specifically security through force, is the be-all and end-all of the state. This is problematic because most games do not advertise themselves as glorified RISK, and in the past two years have deliberately sought to diversify their appeal away from purely military strategy. While such attempts may manage to stymie prolonged war, they have failed to transcend the militarist mindset. The reason is that there is yet no game to offer an alternative paradigm; as Sonereal bluntly explains, there is simply nothing other than military or army-auxiliary sectors in which to invest. Economic innovation has always been intensive rather than expansive: GMs have greatly complicated market mechanisms, but the scope of the system has remained unchanged. Call me a dirty socialist, but I believe there is an important causal relationship between the drive to war and the market system presupposed in virtually every post-provincial-income game, especially Taniciusfox's: that of free-market capitalism.2 Setting aside grander ethical debates, capitalism is based on the commodification of goods, services, and most importantly, labour. It operates within a strict mathematical framework that discounts any variable that cannot be quantified to fit the operational equation. Its effect on IOT, both in rule structure and player thinking, cannot be understated: the capitalist mentality, which views everything in terms of cost-benefit analysis, has no place for 'irrational' moral qualms or truly random outside interference. Thus, with the sole exception of player-to-player politicking, everything is made to be as predictable as possible: even when confined to a black box, the economy is so rigidly formulaic that the most maths-adverse player can make a reliable estimate on an investment's end return; combat boils down to whose number set is higher based on sheer quantity, be it troops or tech levels. Supposedly, "random chance" is acknowledged (economic booms and busts, roleplay "bonuses" for combat), but this, too, is calculated within the overarching framework, a false 'exception' that reinforces the rule.3 The trouble is, Taleb's "black swans" exist irrespective of what is most convenient to the working model. IOT reformers such as myself criticize this 'mainstream' market mentality for outright ignoring most of the complex and interconnected influences that affect that same market's viability: environmental degradation, domestic political activism, refugee crises, the entire destruction of a generation through war, and so forth. More importantly, in the centuries since feudalism, the state's responsibilities have dramatically expanded; contrary to libertarian demagogues, it is the government that creates and maintains the necessary preconditions for a so-called healthy competitive market. Even in one of the most militaristically-oriented countries, North Korea, defence spending only accounts for one quarter of annual state expenditure. Some playersindeed, some GMswould argue that the administrative details are "boring" and needn't be emphasized, or that the day-to-day management and distribution of public services can be assumed from (God forbid) GDP stats. Some might claim such a holistic scope would turn IOT into a bureaucratic simulation involving mountains of spreadsheets. These sentiments disregard the possibility that a) players want to tinker with the nuts and bolts of the machine, and b) by virtue of the GM's own limited patience, such a sim would try to drastically simplify the sort of statistical nightmare that is a Paradox Interactive game. Besides which, IOT already is a game played with spreadsheets; we simply chose to slap a tank on the packaging, rather than a health minister. Once one understands IOT combat as a microcosm of capitalist thinking, the reason for the militarist paradigm becomes clear. Wars are not soldiers fighting and dying in the field; they are competing investments to acquire property and resources. What little passes for enshrined statecraft in the ruleset is not about managing the citizens of a country, but about allocating capital to maximize profit in a perverse allegory of the financial sector. Combat is competition. Wars are hostile takeovers. State conquest is a merger. The sole motivating benefit of war, as reflected in the narrow and market-oriented scope of most games' set mechanics, is to acquire commodities: provinces, population, and in the few games that use them, natural resources. The rational actor model, coincidentally the foundation for both liberalism and (neo)realist philosophy, absolves itself of all moral considerationsof all moralizing factorsto justify a system predicated on perpetual expansion. Wars aren't waged in support of the market; they are themselves a market mechanism, pillage and plunder a key strategy to accelerating a player's fiscal feedback loop. Traditional rulesets reinforce this premise by subordinating what might otherwise be independent variables to the military-industrial frame. Take, for instance, popular approval, or national stability. While in more recent games Taniciusfox has tried to diversify the contributing factors, approval rating remains in a slavish inverse relationship to tax rates: low means high and high means low, despite the fact that, as demonstrated by the Scandinavian countries, under a committed government high taxes fund an extensive social welfare system that alleviates the sort of day-to-day suffering that foments discontent. Or take population growth, which is always assumed to be constant, always assumed to be positive, and always assumed to be sustainable. Time and again, from resistance4 to clientage5 to espionage6, the full scope of a field is dumbed down to fit within a market-friendly frame. Nowhere is this reduction more recognizable than the comical trivialization of nuclear weapons: stupidly simple to obtain and costing nothing to maintain, with fallout dispersing in mere turns and leaving no permanent damage to the land or the government's reputation at home, they are functionally reduced to recessions in a can, deployable at a player's leisure against his business rivals. Why has the deterrent of mutually assured destruction consistently failed? For the same reason the linear market model is such a popular basis for a game's economy: the true costs of the system are ignored in favour of an idiot-proof arithmetic. By divorcing policy decisions from their real consequences (at least insofar as one can apply the term to a forum game), players are absolved of any true sense of responsibility. Waging war need not concern the leader with citizens' welfare when he knows the population will rebound regardless of the carnage, the resistance will dissolve in a year, and the standard of living will magically diffuse without any intervention whatsoever from the capital. Exponential military growth is the logical outcome when troops are never short of supply and the game is not built to handle the effects of a demographic sector that consumes economic resources without reciprocal contribution. Most importantly, when citizens are portrayed as mere percentile modifiers to industrial output rather than individuals with real-world needs and diverse attitudes, when they can be consistently bought off through short-term tax breaks instead of meaningful long-term reform, when the game is designed such that they have no real say in the goals and management of their own state, why indeed should a player invested with supreme power whether nominally a despot or democrat concern himself with the mere well-being of his subjects? Little surprise, then, that in an atmosphere devoid of moral repercussions and governed by strict cost-benefit analysis, nuclear weapons, technology deemed so catastrophically destructive that they have never been used offensively since Nagasaki, in IOT are deployed, often liberally, in the first strike as a matter of course. Militarism in early IOTs was regarded as deviant behaviour by powergaming players. In the games since IOT 7, however, this perspective is no longer sufficient for explaining why aggressive expansion has become the norm even amongst the same players that once denounced it. Structuralism, be it realist or ideational, dictates that behaviour is shaped by the system in which the actors participate. In the case of IOT, the adoption of a specifically capitalist-oriented economy and its accompanying ethos has, largely subconsciously, reshaped the terms of interaction such that imperial expansion is the predominant, if not the only way to play. Market-centric mechanics reduce state responsibility to empowering the economy and thus increasing revenue, whose only real application is to expand the military, in turn used to seize the assets of rival powers to further bolster economic strength in a perpetual cycle. With domestic sectors disregarded by the ruleset, any concern for the well-being of the citizenry is discretionary, the only feedback the roleplay of the ruling player himself. Even in games that try to broaden their appeal through "soft power" tactics, the overarching framework remains rooted in brute force, a reflection of the failure of both players and game moderators to recognize this structural fault. Now, I don't pretend to think there's some irrefutable argument that'll suddenly make the usual suspects project a conscience toward text on a screen; and that is precisely why the civil sphere must be as mechanically well-developed as the military. There are dozens of other potential aspects to running a country that IOT could emphasize, and Project Marmot's end goal is precisely such a diversification away from the linear path to militarism. The trick, of course, is finding a GM with the organization and patience to manage a game of such broad scope. Nonetheless, if the player base puts any validity into the inspirational drought that provoked the supposed Fall Crisis this past September, this may be exactly the sea-change we need to pursue. 1 - A notable exception was my battle simulations early in IOT IV. While not devoid of controversy, they were regarded as the least abstract combat system before and after, both in terms of execution and result, and were only abandoned due to their considerable time investment. 2 - Taniciusfox in particular champions a libertarian bias, as evidenced by his games' routine feature of "brain drain", where industry from states with high tax rates is redistributed to states with low tax rates as a reflection of private enterprise shopping for the cheapest overhead. Apparently, even under Socialist governments, state-run companies do not exist. 3 - In one of the most damning testaments to this truth, Taniciusfox once admitted that in order to remain "fair", he judged roleplay solely on quantity and completely disregarded the content of the post, at least in respect to the actual bonus. 4 - Perhaps Taniciusfox's most glaring oversight in his various attempts to de-emphasize war was failing to make resistance to foreign occupation a persistent event. Constant attacks on troops and industry, particularly if they incurred losses faster than they could be replenished, would be a powerful motivator for the withdrawal of, or at the very least a negotiated settlement by, the invader. Instead, and in contravention of virtually every historical precedent, resistance occurs for a few turns following invasion before abruptly terminating. 5 - The Multipolarity series' client mechanic is the most brazen example of the plunder-based economic ethos. The term "client state" is itself a misnomer, as the suzerain usually does not provide aid beyond the initial purchase investment; "vassal" is a more accurate description of the relationship. In addition to extracting a tithe from client states, the player country gradually annexes the territory through an automatic and uncontested process. Had any game lasted long enough, non-player countries and the "soft power" strategy they were supposed to encourage would have vanished entirely. 6 - Espionage, like combat, traditionally relies on numerical superiority for success through a similar algorithm of agents and tech level. Developed in an attempt to circumvent the same mathematical fallacies of linear combat, it only served to transpose the strategy to a new sphere. This article was originally published on deviantART 1 November 2013.