www.nationstates.net is a tongue-in-cheek nation simulation game. It was started on 13 November, 2002 by author Max Barry, primarily as a bit of publicity for his new book, Jennifer Government, and then became one of the most popular sites on the Internet, attracting almost half a million people in its first year. It now appears that the site is more popular than the book. Evidently, the thrill of running your own country and having the fate of millions* resting on your every decision appeals to a lot of people. Apparently the website is based on the book - but at the time of writing, this Researcher has been unable to track down a copy, and so can make no comparisons. The Internet Book List site has information on the book.
So, What Is NationStates?
As has already been mentioned, the basic premise of NationStates is that you get to run your own country. This may take anything from a few minutes a week to several consecutive days at a time. Ultimately, rulership is determined by 'issues' (more on those a little later), but for now, here is a quick run-down of the rules and how to get started. The site itself goes into somewhat more detail than this.
- Log into NationStates.
- Read the rules of the game.
- You will be asked to select things such as name, currency, and password.
- You will now be faced with a list of questions such as 'Should marijuana be legal?' and 'It is more important to rehabilitate criminals than to punish them,' and asked to tick one of four boxes: Strongly Agree, Agree, Disagree, and Strongly Disagree. These will determine your initial government type (aka UN category).
- Congratulations! You now have a small country of about five million inhabitants with a tiny economy, and it is up to you to decide where to go from there. You can either be the best, most benevolent ruler the world ever saw or the most evil, ruthless dictator ever. It's your choice.
What follows is only a selection of rules. For more, consult the website.
War and Trade: The game is purposefully somewhat simplistic, and as such, there are no features that allow war or trade between nations. There are several reasons for this. First, it would require considerably more programming and maintenance time, quite possibly pushing the game over the threshold of what is feasible, given that no one is being paid for this. Secondly, as has been seen with other online multiplayer games, an increase in features generally requires a comparable increase in bandwidth, making the game less accessible to those with slower connections. If you really want to have some sort of war, there is a forum that can be used.
Deletion: there is no way to delete a nation. However, if you don't log on within 21 days, your nation will be deleted. Mr Barry's reason behind this is that it is better to be annoyed that you can't start over with the same country than that you accidentally got deleted.
Vacation Mode: We all lead busy lives, and Vacation Mode is there in case you think you might be offline for an extended period of time. This mode allows your nation to exist unattended for up to 60 days, after which it will be deleted. During this time, it will not receive any issues, nor will any new laws be passed.
NationStates features a Forum, 'Because sometimes even national leaders want to just hang out. It is not like what we have on h2g2: instead, each time you make a posting, if you want to know about a reply, you must click on a link that says 'watch this topic for replies,' and the first time someone replies to it, you will be notified via email, along with a link to the thread. The NationStates Forum is divided into three parts: Sound + Fury (in-character* discussions of trade, declarations of war, and so on), Nuts + Bolts (technical problems), and Anything + Everything (where you can post whatever you want). The five threads with the most recent replies are always listed on the main NationStates page. However, you do not need to view the Forum at any time; it is entirely possible to play purely through issues.
These dictate how you rule your country. Every weekday, your country will be sent an issue for you to rule on, and they may take the form of anything from public nudity to a crazy cult demanding human sacrifices. You will then be given several points of view for the government to adopt. Each one will have pros and cons, and it is up to you to decide which one is best for your country. It is also possible to submit your own issues for use in the game. There are only a certain number of issues, so after a while, you may notice some repetition. This killed off interest from a large number of countries, but, due to a recent influx of a large number of new issues from members, there is a lot more variety than ever before. What follows is a sample issue, and is not an official one at the time of writing.
Garbage-disposal ProblemThe Debate
Increasing numbers of rats in pleasant suburban neighbourhoods have prompted people to ask the government to do something about the increasing amount of rubbish in local dumps.
1: 'There is only one fair way to settle this,' says Greenpeace activist Billy-Bob Longfellow. * 'We must stop all this senseless dumping and start recycling! Help Mother Earth, dude!'
(Underneath each option, there is an 'accept' button)
2: 'Are you really going to listen to this freak?' demands billionaire garbage disposal tycoon George W. Summers. 'Quite simply, Hootoostan produces far too much garbage to make recycling a realistic proposition. Much better for the economy to simply dump it where it doesn't bother anyone, and if a few dissidents who don't make regular contributions to your party don't like it, that's their tough luck.'
3: 'Hmm....' muses rogue scientist Akira Longbottom. 'It would appear that one way is eco-friendly but impractical, and the other is economical but lethal to the environment. Why not build a few incinerators instead? If done properly, your garbage is gone for good and there is no threat to the environment. These new schematics I've just worked out should do the trick. Of course, I'll need a bit of funding to get them going...'
It is worth noting that decisions can occasionally have seemingly extreme consequences. For example, one researcher's single decision changed his country from a New York Times Democracy into a Corrupt Dictatorship. Also, since a large number of decisions ask you for funding and this has to come from somewhere - ie, taxes - it can be quite difficult for someone who wants to lower taxes.
After deciding on a stance, the legislation will be brought in overnight, and the results of your four most recent decisions will be displayed at the bottom of your country's description. All your decisions will have a bearing on the country as a whole, affecting civil rights, political freedoms, economy, government size* and attitude, income tax, and the attitude of the populous, whose numbers are always rising. It will also affect the type of government you have - ie, the UN category. This is irrespective of your country's name; you may call yourself the People's Republic of Gondor, but if you act like a fascist, your category will be dictatorship. There are 23 country types you may choose from at the beginning of the game, and you can change them whenever you like. They include: everything from republics and united states to rogue nations and borderlands. When your country grows to a certain size, you can invent custom titles. There are a large number of UN categories, from New York Times Democracy to Psychotic Dictatorship.
What Your Country looks Like
The author wanted to include a sample country here, but could not for fear of breaching copyright. However, it is still possible to describe what your country's description would look like.
At the top is your national flag. You can either choose a real one or design your own.
Under this, in a large font, is the full name of your country, such as The Free Community of Hootoostan, the Borderlands of Arafel, etc. Beneath this is the national motto.
Next up are three boxes describing the nation's civil rights (from unheard-of to frightening), industry (from tiny to massive), and political freedoms (from unheard-of to frightening).
Under this we get onto the description proper. It consists of three paragraphs - the first is a description of your country in general terms - with population level and attitude, and something the country is noted for. The second paragraph describes the size and attitude of the government and which areas get the most funding (defence, law and order, social welfare, etc), and the state of the private sector. It also describes income tax rates. The third and final paragraph describes the effects of recent government action, the name and population of the national animal, and the national currency.
The United Nations
Joining the UN is very easy - you merely click on the 'United Nations' link and then click on 'Join.' All applications to join are processed in 24 hours. A person may only have one country at a time in the UN, and the site uses four different detection systems to prevent people breaking this rule.
NationStates is divided into hundreds of 'regions.' All new nations start in the South Pacific region, which at the time of writing seems to be undergoing some turmoil. After signing up, you can decide to move to any region you wish, and a fleet of military helicopters will fly in and physically airlift you to your chosen destination. You can also start your own region. Most members of h2g2 are to be found in the Hootoo, Ansalon, ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha, and Hootooers Harbour regions.
Each region has a short description at the top of the list of countries, which can be altered only by the founder of the region (and the delegate, should the founder so choose). The founder (and often delegate) also has the power to 'eject' any country they choose, forcing them into the Rejected Realms region, which is now the second largest on NationStates. The RR delegate does not have the power to eject people from the region. The list of countries in a region is in order of a category that changes daily, such as most compassionate citizens and greatest social welfare. It is also possible to view the world rankings for these categories.
After joining the UN, you can endorse any other country in the same region who is a member of the UN. Whoever gets the most endorsements becomes Regional Delegate, and may gain the same powers as the founder, at the founder's discretion. Any nation with at least two endorsements may then submit a 'proposal' to the UN. A proposal is a suggestion for changing the way countries are run in some way, for example, by restricting civil rights in the interests of moral decency, improving the quality of the world's environment at the expense of industry, or breaking down barriers to free trade and communication. A proposal will then sit around for a few days, during which time any delegate that comes across it may endorse it. Despite the game being largely tongue-in-cheek, a lot of people submit very official-looking proposals featuring a lot of technical jargon, and some have even gone so far as to copy out real UN resolutions verbatim. These tend to be rather tedious to read, and indeed several countries have attempted to get resolutions passed that would ban such jargon. If a proposal is endorsed by at least 6% of all regional delegates, it will become a 'resolution,' to be voted on by the entire UN. For this reason, delegates are often asked to endorse various proposals. The resolution will be passed if more people vote for it than against it, and it will be automatically implemented in all UN member nations. If only the real UN worked like that...