Post: Heroes of Might and Capitalism…3

Heroes of Might and Capitalism…3

I have sunk so many (glorious) hours into a quite dated game on the computer called Heroes of Might and Magic 3 (HOMM3). The game was released in 1999 but I still fire it up to this day. There is something comforting about the dated graphics – which at the time I thought were photo-realistic.

The gameplay is fairly simple but endlessly replay-able. There are a bunch of fantasy kingdoms (absolutely cliché tropes such as the medieval castle, undead kingdom, the infernal kingdom of hell, the elves and unicorns kingdom etc.) and you control one of them and try to build up your heroes and armies to explore and conquer the land to win the game.

You start with a home base which has some appropriate buildings in it, the castle has a barracks and a tavern for example, and you spend your gold to put more buildings into this such as a griffin keep or a mage guild. This enables you to create more powerful troops for your army so you can go and conquer the land. You move your armies around with heroes, powerful forces who keep your army together. They get more powerful as they discover things and fight battles and eventually your heroes and armies are able to carve through enemy armies with ease and recover powerful relics which help you become even more unstoppable.

Of course other kingdoms are trying to do this too and whoever does this the best will conquer the land and win the game and glory forever to be rained down upon them.

The game has some strategy around armies battling against one another and there is some skill in that, however the majority of the game is focused, surprisingly, on developing a robust economy for your kingdom. It’s the engine which fuels your success. If you earn lots of gold and resources you can create more powerful armies which will conquer more which will mean you can pull in even more gold and resources and this snowball effect is the cornerstone of successful gameplay…at least at my skill level.

Now that you understand basically as much about this game as I do, I can progress to what I actually wanted to talk about. Which is that capitalism sucks. There are almost endless reasons why, but I am going to focus on a particular element today.

Games have evolved since 1999, however there is a common path, presented in different ways, that players will explore as they progress through any game.

You will begin with basically nothing, not many skills, resources or abilities and as you progress you will gain experience (personally, but often also in-game) and improve your skills which means you can take on tougher enemies and solve harder problems and obtain more resources, thus beginning the snowball to being the most powerful game winning, glory raining badass out there.

So it is with HOMM3 – you start with a small kingdom, a small army, a weak hero and few resources. The initial game is quite straight forward as you really don’t have too many options. Most stuff is too difficult for you to trifle with and you don’t have a lot to build with your limited kingdom.

However you trundle along and in time you do enough small things that the game opens up and you really start to be able to flex your muscles a bit more. You can take on bigger enemies, your kingdom starts to expand and your heroes and armies start to look a bit stronger. It now starts to get tricky. You don’t yet have enough resources that you can be wasteful and you have now started to encounter other kingdoms and they want to take you down.

You have to defend from the threats of other players, but if you only defend, the other players will get more powerful and eventually defeat you – so you have to focus on exploring and becoming more powerful.

But if you focus too much on that you will lose parts of your kingdom to marauding enemies and eventually have not enough left to replenish your powerful armies and you will succumb this way too.

You have to carefully manage your heroes and armies and resources to tread this fine line and eventually if you are shrewd enough you will find a way through this tangle and start having more powerful armies and kingdoms than your enemies which will give you the wet sail to the finish line. You begin to get a more steady flow of resources which lets you replenish your armies and heroes more quickly than your enemies. Your armies are stronger and can explore more dangerous areas and get more powerful items which makes it easier to best the enemy kingdom armies. The more you keep this going the more powerful you become.

The reverse is also true. As you become more powerful, the resources become more scarce for your opponents. They have less powerful armies and less capacity to replenish them. They lose the ability to explore for powerful items as their resources must go to defense and survival.

Every moment that passes with this dynamic makes it almost impossible to turn the tide and eventually, pretty much always, once the balance is tipped, it’s a foregone conclusion – everyone simply plays out the game knowing how it’s going to go.

The fun is in getting from the beginning part, to the middle part and through to the end part. The battle when resources are hotly contested and armies are punching back and forth is great! Once you get to the end part and you’re either waiting to be destroyed or mopping up your enemies it tends to lose a bit of the enjoyment but you don’t mind too much knowing you can just play again!

I hope the parallels between this game and adult life in a developed, capitalist society are fairly clear. There is one major difference I would like to highlight, however.

In HOMM3, when you start a new game, everyone starts at pretty much the same level. You then make your choices and whatever happens will happen.

In real life you can start anywhere. For a lot of us, we start at the beginning like usual – tiny kingdom, little army, weak heroes. We try to make our way in the world.

For others, they start with all the items, armies and resources that you could imagine. As if they already won a bunch of games and got to start the new one with all their previous stuff.

Every game they play they collect more from kingdoms who have no chance in this fight. They romp through everyone and collect everything and take it to the next game, where they do the same again. And again. And again. Forever.

The game wants you to win. By beating everyone else. That’s the mission. That’s always the mission. There’s no real incentive to not simply crush the weaker players and keep going. Even if it’s not fun anymore.

This may not be a flawless analogy but I think that it’s a pretty good one regardless. The snowball effect in HOMM3 is a microcosm of the same thing in real life.

If one player got to start on a million and the other players on one in a new game I don’t think many people would play the game and it would be put back on the shelf with no chance to go past HOMM all the way to HOMM3 (they are up to HOMM7 now).

If we don’t accept this clear unfairness and inequality in a game, which we universally do not, (look at how much eSports games have to put into being as balanced as possible and even minor advantages and disadvantages are jumped on) how is it that we continue to accept it in real life?

Most of us don’t have a lot of resources or armies or kingdoms so at some point, our best option is to stop playing. Find another game, this one is broken.

How do we do that? I don’t know. How do we do that peacefully? I really don’t know. The people at the height of the inequality are shriveled husks of humanity and are all evil so a really clever protest chant and slogan isn’t going to get it done. I have no answers, I only know that if we don’t we will end up out of HOMM3 and into Shadowrun and Deus Ex territory, if we aren’t there already (we are).

This blog was really just an attempt to say how much I love HOMM3 and how much capitalism is f%^ked and I think I did pretty well on both fronts.

See you next month!