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On the Shoulders of Giants: An Interview Series


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The following article ran in the 21st issue of The West Pacifican and is reproduced here with the rest of the interview. 

By Correspondent @Reçueçn


Back in April, I sat down with Westwind to get to know a little bit more about one of TWP’s greats—himself. He invited me into his study, poured me a glass of crimson rum, and arranged himself in his favorite armchair. I, recently returned to the region, decided I had better start at the beginning. 

“What originally got you into NS?” I asked. “And what was it that got you to stay? Do you remember the moment you went from thinking 'Ok, this is interesting,’ to ‘I can see I'll be into this for a while’?” 

Westwind half-smiled, nodded, and leaned back. 

“That's a good question, because it reminds me of what it was like to be a new player in NS.  We can become jaded and forget that NS can seem like directionless and confusing place when your nation is first Founded in one of these ‘region’ things. 

I was completely baffled by what a region is. It made no sense to me. Where are the Continents? What am I supposed to do?” 

Westwind’s first encounter with Nationstates, the game we know and love, was short-lived, and came about when his ex-wife, aware of his interests, sent him a link. At the time, Westwind was too busy, but something must have intrigued him, because a couple months later he came back and began again. 

Having forgotten his original nation, he founded Westwind—now his oldest nation, dating back to January of 2004. But the nation of Westwind had been conceived even decades before that, on paper; “I did hardcopy NS on my own before Max was even alive,” boasts Westwind. Westwind had drawn maps, tracked economies and international relations, and even written books on his nations—books from which the stories would later influence roleplays in Equilism. But Westwind didn’t get to Equilism right away. 

Like many in the west, Westwind claims The West Pacific as his nation’s birthplace. But when he originally founded his first nation, that meant nothing to him.  

“Westwind was Founded in The West Pacific.  I had no idea what that meant. I read the NS FAQ and I was just as confused as ever.  I couldn't grasp the concept of what a 'region' is or what it means. 

I received the usual flood of recruitment telegrams, and they did not help me understand NS.” 

I smiled as Westwind talked. A lot of what he recounted—even if it had happened in 2004—sounded like the same situation with which new players are faced today. 

Having figured out the basic mechanics behind moving regions, Westwind decided on a move to Equilism, still less than two weeks old. He lurked there for a while, but many things were different in that era—no mass telegrams, and messages that disappeared off the RMB as soon as they left the front page. Communication was more difficult, but off-site forums helped to fill that gap. Westwind had arrived in the middle of a constitutional convention, and as it finished, Equilism moved to new forums where he joined and became a senator. It as the beginning of a meteoric rise—within six weeks of being on Nationstates, Westwind had become Prime Minister and Delegate. 

“NS moved very quickly those days,” he said with a chuckle. 

“What led you back to TWP after you’d left for Equilism?” I asked. 

“That Westwind was Founded in TWP is certainly important to me. I really can't say why. IRL, I was born in Ohio and my family left there six months later. I have no attachments to Ohio. (Except for Darkesia.)” 

Westwind’s return to his birthplace, however, took some time, and only happened once he had built other connections first. Most notably, Equilism was a defender region and its E-Army, of which Westwind was commander, was a member of the ADN—as was TWP. During thepuppetmaster liberation of TNP, he guesses that Equilism made the largest contribution, followed by TWP. His lead nation for that liberation might ring a bell: All Good People. 

These events lead to Westwind then becoming more involved in TNP. But as time passed and he tried to use the region as a platform to rekindle gameplay, the old guard refused to work with him, sometime around ‘07/08. He had been banned from TWP during the triumvirate, but now he quietly moved back in with All Good people. When The Faeyas was elected Delegate, Westwind began to reinvolve himself in TWP politics. 

Westwind felt that delegacy in TNP had prepared him for his eventual delegacy in TWP. But even before that, the schism in Equilism prepared him for delegacy in TNP. The Equilism schism was very similar to something Biyah had done with the West Pacific Directorate, although Westwind emphasizes that this was merely coincidence. This would have been in late 2006. The secret behind the Equilism Schism was that both sides of the schism were in fact in on it and working together—it was just a big scheme to promote activity. 

When he finally came back to TWP, Westwind ran for delegate but lost against Punk Daddy. It was only years later he actually gained the delegacy, by that point a well-known and respected figure in the region. After the schism in Equilism, that region and TWP, despite their very different communities, found similar ideologies concerning game mechanics and the delegacy. Westwind fit right in in both.

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By Correspondent Reçueçn  

In Nationstates, a player such as myself, whose nation has less than 10 billion population, and has only been around a couple years, is still new compared to many who play the game, and nothing drove that home for me like hearing Westwind reminisce. 

“2004/2005 was a busy/hectic time in NS gameplay. I can't speak for earlier days. For example, in Equilism elections were held every 6 weeks, and some wanted them monthly. A few even suggested weekly elections. Activity in NS was such that it could accommodate frequent elections and limits on the number of members in a regional assembly. Armies and Intel agencies could afford to deny applications without consideration under the strictest of security measures. The pace of NS gameplay was quick. It seems as if time was compressed compared to how time seems to run in modern NS times. 

You couldn't get any sleep trying to keep up with NS.” 

These days, I often hear the same repeated complaint about gameplay: ‘gp is dead.’ Even when things happen—whether that’s a war or a coup in a large feeder, or a raid in a small region, it is presented as the exception to the rule: “wow, this is the most activity gameplay’s had since [insert the last time something happened].” Or: “we’re the only ones keeping gp alive lol.” 

It made me smile, then, to realize as I listened to Westwind’s nostalgia that these complaints are as old as Nationstates gameplay itself. Nothing is new under the sun. “The discontent and beginnings of the decline in activity began in 2005. And perhaps the seeds were sown in '04,” Westwind said. Yet I knew that many gameplayers now thought of those times as the good old days. Maybe everyone was right, and gameplay used to be better, and it used to be better still before that. Maybe the universe of gameplay resembled our own: flung into existence with a bang by Max Barry to create a frenzy of activity that is slowly dissipating and fizzling out as it progresses toward its eventual heat death. 

By the universe’s timescale, then, the period Westwind was telling me about would have been billions of years ago. This was even before influence was implemented. 

“Established players were increasingly frustrated with constantly changing griefing rules, and Mods were frustrated with trying to interpret the rules and enforce them fairly. Mods would have been happy (probably still would be) to have the R/D game ended. Invaders/Raiders claimed the Mods ruled in favor of Defenders......and Defenders claimed the Mods ruled in favor of Invader/Raiders. You can easily see why NS Mods were frustrated.  What constituted a legal raid? At what point did it become griefing? How do you handle both sides weaponizing Mod requests? 

The appointment of Myrth as a Mod brought loud protests from Defenderdom, and he then resigned. Mods became part of the conflict (incitement from both sides), when they wanted nothing to do with it.”  

Westwind paused for a moment before going on to mention some other factors he saw as leading to the decline in activity. Newer players at the time (Westwind mentioned Moo-Cow with Guns) felt trapped as mid-level officers, hitting a glass ceiling and unable to rise into the ranks of the old guard, still clinging to power. Among defenders, this led to some splintering off and turning to raiding. Rules and mechanics changes continued but gameplay felt stifled. CyberNations came along and pulled away part of Nationstates’ user base, not all of whom returned. Westwind was asked to be a mod. He declined. He didn’t blame CyberNations for the decline in activity, it merely accelerated an existing trend. Thus, leading up to the schism in Equilism (among other events to promote activity), Westwind saw old and new players alike growing more restless, leading to revolutions, conflicts, and rogue delegacies. 

“I was going to ask what else was on your NS CV besides TWP and Equilism,” I said,  “but you've sort of answered that I guess. ADN, TNP, TCO... Were there any other major things you were involved in?” 

“I was involved in a lot of things, too many to try to pull from my memory...” Sure enough, the list was a long one, including the Pacific Underground, The Whole, the raider alliance TAG, ADN Intel, Lazarus last year, GLA... "There were hundreds of R/D battles I was in. Most NS major events will find me somewhere in the midst.... often unseen and unrecognized... There once was a Francoist raider region that I infiltrated. But then, there were a lot of raider and defender regions I infiltrated. And there was Westwind Flying Circus, a non-ideological, non-region based gameplay organization that's had two or three periods of activity around NS. But that's not major.” 

"What part of all this would you say you're best known for on NS?” I asked. “What do people think of when they hear WW?” 

“That probably changes with the years,” Westwind said. “Texas used to revile me because they believed I'd couped TEP, TNP, TRR, and others......didn't happen. FRA infiltrated Equilism to try to change our regional policies to their liking because they didn't like what Westwind did in Equilism and TNP. Meanwhile Imperialists cheered on a desired revival of The Crimson Order, and raiders offered me command their armies. My commendation focuses more on the ADN days, and my service in TWP. So I don't know.” 

“Phew, have I worn you out with stories yet?” 

I smiled. He had not. 

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By Correspondent Reçueçn 


“I’d like to ask for your thoughts on some things, as well as just your own history,” I said. 

“Go right ahead,” said Westwind. He poured us both another glass of rum. I took a moment to look at the bottle, with the TWP Spiced Crimson Rum branding. 

“This is good stuff,” I said. 

Westwind nodded. “By the way, in TNP it was Crimson Rum. In TWP it was Spiced Crimson Rum. There IS a difference! Both are served at the E-Bar in Equilism, and kegs of Spiced Crimson Rum are delivered to the TWP RMB on special occasions. Such vintage spirits have limited availability.” 

I laughed. “Well I’m glad I could taste some.” I savored a mouthful as I thought about what I wanted to ask.  

“We talk a lot about how NS is a 'text-based game' and what that means. Definitely it's a very unique game in both the demands it makes of players and the opportunities it presents.  What qualities of yours do you think it plays to?” 

“Well, having a degree in political science and geography plays well to a political simulation game. I remember when SimCity first came out....and the first Civilization. Having done my own sort of version of NS when I was young, and having written a book about those fictional nations and characters... it all fits well. 

Maybe Max Barry was my protege and he doesn't know it.  

As for the text-based aspect, there's probably a few other factors. Besides trying to write a book, I'd been editor of three publications. Back in the days of paste-up layouts before computers. So I'm often comfortable writing.  

And when those early computers came along, text-based games were what was available.  'Rogue'....enter a direction and get a response. Text based. 

Due to my disabilities, I cannot play Real Time Simulation games. (I liked Age of Empires, but I can't play it) Trying to keep up with the game causes me to have seizures. So I have to be careful what kind of video games I play. I have to watch out for rapid graphics, flashing graphics. And my medications slow brain function. So I'm too slow to react for some games, and I have to play them on the very easiest settings. 

The text-based game NS doesn't give me any of those problems.” 

“When you reminisce about your time on NS, what period do you think of the most fondly?” 

“I would have to say it was the camaraderie of the players of Equilism,” said WW. “How well we all worked together inside and outside the region. How we were often able to avoid the heated conflicts that were seen in so many other regions. How we were able to innovate outside of traditional NS ideologies, plot complex ideas outside of the box and out of the R/D perspective, ground our actions in well-founded ideals, and how well we could come together to accomplish our goals. Great players with great accomplishments all across NS. I was fortunate to work with them. 

Just like all the greatest rock bands....the interactions of strong personalities makes for great music.” 

“What is the biggest thing you’ve learned from NS?” 

“Intrigue in NS is described by Pink Floyd in the song 'Dogs' 

Welcome to NationStates!” 

And in true TWP style, Westwind began to sing me some karaoke: 

“- You got to be crazy.... 

- Gotta sleep on your toes... 

- You got to strike when the moment is right without thinking... 

- And after a while, you can work on points for style.... 

- You have to be trusted by the people that you lie to 

   So that when they turn their backs on you 

   You'll get the chance to put the knife in. 

- You gotta keep one eye looking over your shoulder.... 

- You know it's going to get harder, and harder, and harder as you get older... 

- And when you lose control, you'll reap the harvest you have sown.... 

- Sometimes it seems to me as if I'm just being used.... 

- That everyone's expendable and no-one has a real friend....” 

He trailed off and thought for a minute before speaking again.  

“Or....Maybe I"m an old grandpa (my nickname became 'Gramps' in Equilism by '05) that's learned to be more online social media savvy from interacting with players young enough to be children and grandchildren on NS? Too weird. But I've been online since before the Internet was public, so I already knew cyberspace.” 

Once more, he began to sing: “’Net boy, Net girl 

Send your signal 'round the world 

Put a message in a modem 

And throw it in the cyber sea...’ 

I have seen NS political tactics applied in RL across Social Media that baffled traditional political operatives. 

I ran for office once in 1990's RL, via third party for State Legislature. An informational campaign. More recently, both major parties were offering me leadership conferences and training in the '16 election. So strange...getting offers from Wisconsin, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Washington, California...... 

I admit a certain curiosity as to how useful NS experience might be in pursuing RL Politics. Would I do it though? Probably not. I don't like either major party, and you can't win without one. I don't think my health would like it. And the mudslinging would drive anyone mad. But most of our RL politicians are not terribly intelligent.The Oligarchy of Real Life. 

In NS and RL, leadership requires finding the right people to do the job that needs doing, and being willing to delegate tasks and the authority (and resources) they need to carry them out. Thus, in NS as in RL, politics makes strange bedfellows. Play NS enough, and you'll understand the odd alignments that appear in RL politics at times.” 

“What question do you most want to get asked in an interview? What's the answer?” 

“I don't know. I'd found it curious that no one had ever asked me about The Crimson Order in TNP, and now that's been asked and answered in TRR.” 

We drifted into natural, personal conversation as we sipped on our rum and enjoyed some TWP karaoke favorites. Suddenly, the clock on the mantlepiece chimed loudly. It was already evening, and I had stayed longer than I had meant to. 

“Thank you so much, Westwind. For the newspaper, I'll let you have the final word. Anything else you'd like to say?” 

“I don't know if I have any words left." He chuckled. "NationStates is a curious animal. It cannot be tamed, but it can be lead and domesticated for a time and place. 

Just think.....had the Destroyers/Deadwood/NTO/SOULEATERS efforts been backed by a multi-regional organization such as a reformed ADN or The Crimson Order and followed to it's natural conclusion.....more Raider targets would have been removed from the game....Region names freed for new/active players to use.....there would be fewer small regions without security, leaving fewer regions for defenders to defend....the R/D game could be crippled......forum/offsite communities enhanced by players returned from the void of inactivity....interregional politics and 'wars' could supersede the R/D conflicts of the past....NS could be a more dynamic political simulation capable of innovation unhampered by limited R/D gameplay perspectives. 

The potential in those ideas that were developed was audacious. No wonder defenders worked with raiders to defeat The Crimson King. *chuckles* 

Existing paradigms don't like change.   

NationStates is a long story that is constantly having new pages written by it's players on a daily basis. 

And I'm just one of the Storytellers.” 


I would like to personally thank @Westwind for granting this interview. I had a lot of fun speaking with him and learning from him. I'd like to apologize for the frankly ridiculous amount of time it took me to get around to writing it up, and also for leaving out as much as I did... WW is a source of much wisdom and I couldn't pack it all into the format I wanted. Any inaccuracies in the above articles not in direct quotes are my responsibility: please let me know if I've gotten anything wrong.

Happy Holidays!

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