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What ancaps should learn from the demise of Civcraft 1.0

by Kwashiorkor last modified May 17, 2013 05:13 AM
How a bunch of unschooled ruffians destroyed a popular online game, and why we should emulate their behavior.

Background

Civcraft is a multi-player instance of the popular Minecraft game.  It was started by ancap Redditor TTK2, who hoped that it would permit experimentation in community-building and social interaction.  Ancaps made up a substantial portion of its early users, and over the last year its regular user base has grown into the hundreds.

Around December of last year, Civcraft was noticed by a number of players from another Minecraft server -- players who had a reputation both for skill in player-versus-player (PvP) combat and their disruptive behavior.  Some of them thought that Civcraft was being dominated under the oppressive rulership of those anarcho-CAPITALISTS, so they mounted a campaign to either liberate or destroy it.

Destruction was what they accomplished, and TTK2 admitted the end of Civcraft 1.0 in a recent post.

The raiders are not to be commended in any way, but I think that reflecting on the strategies that they employed (or stumbled into) could be a useful exercise.  The raiders thought (or at least used the excuse) they were freeing a populace from an oppressive government, and the reality is that we all suffer under oppressive governments.  The strategies (although not the particular tactics, which think were frequently immoral, unjust, fraudulent and violations of the NAP) could be very useful in bringing an end to the system that oppresses us.  Further, should we ever find ourselves in a situation where we are free to form communities according to our own wishes and by voluntary association (as was the state in Civcraft), we should be prepared for the tactics that could be used against us to disrupt society and return us to oppressive rule.

A summary of the strategies employed

Quietly establish a base – The invading marauders came on quietly for the most part, establishing underground bases and quietly mining and accumulating wealth.  Some of them had to adjust to the informal system of justice that had developed on the server, but in observing how that system was administered they also began to see some weaknesses.  They also gradually began the “official” system of justice, whose prime directive was a simple, “NO CHEATING!”  Yet they realized that they could cheat largely without repercussions, given the limited resources of the administrators and the buggy nature of the Minecraft game system.  They could identify hidden mineral resources and secret caches, duplicate precious items and grant themselves unparalleled advantages in personal combat.  They used their base to share resources and coordinate attacks, as well as to imprison other players defeated in combat.  They were able to grow in power without attracting a lot of attention from concerned users or administrators.  Kind words, long explanations and tokens of concessions were usually enough to defuse and kind of organized opposition.

Publicly question the moral authority of those in charge – When some of their members were formally charged with cheating, they took advantage of the open and transparent nature of the justice system in place at the time.  Administrators reviewed the evidence, considered the body of case law, and delivered long and detailed opinions backing their findings.  But because the system was based on a “beyond a shadow of doubt” level of justice, violators could hide behind numerous plausible excuses, cite their charities and noble intentions, and nitpick the details of the judgments in front of the public (/r/civcraft). They began to use this to foment distrust of the Civcraft judicial system, the informal administrators of justice within the game itself, and TTK2 himself.  Cries of “Admin crimes!” were frequently voiced, and some of those surprised that new criticism offered apologies or defensively restated their positions, drawing further attention to themselves.  The leaders began to lose the confidence of the average player, and the first real cracks began to appear.  As the leaders began to doubt themselves, they either became over-cautious in their judgment, reckless, or just withdrew, according to their personalities.

Identify and overwhelm key operational targets – The raiders began to realize that the administrative and judicial arms of Civcraft were its vulnerable points.  There were only some many hours of the day that TTK2 and other volunteers could devote to handling problems that kids living at home could come up with day and night.  The “legal” cases against cheaters took far too long to investigate, prepare, decide and defend, and incidents of hacking and “griefing” were leading to other situations where the administrators had to intervene or develop work-arounds to cancel or undo malicious behavior.  The Civcraft leaders were reaching a breaking point, and the raiders knew it by the exasperated responses that were showing up on Reddit posts.

In-game, the raiders created choke points where they could monitor movement and intercept players.  They target powerful players and defeated them, and compelled others to work for or with them.  They took steps to secure key resources and eliminate the former safe-havens that players enjoyed.

Question the changes made in reaction to the attacks – Whenever changes were made that tried to limit their ability to take advantage of the weaknesses of Minecraft or the general “hands off” approach that TTK2 took, they reacted with hue and cry on the subreddit, claiming discrimination and unfair treatment, and accusing administrators of changing the rules late in the game.  They further attempted to erode the moral authority of the administrators and caused many to question the motives behind some of the changes. Some players called for the removal of some of the administrators, and TTK2was faced with a public dilemma – lose players because he stood behind some of the admins or lose players because he couldn’t handle the load without the admins. Many had to be asking themselves, “Was it all worth it?”

Disrupt communications – The raiding horde were very vocal, and engaged in a level of conversation which was substantially below that which had formerly been used in the Mumble chat and on the /r/civcraft subreddit.  Talk of politics and world-building was drowned out with a sixth-grade level of racial and sexual slurs, and a text-speak that had to be translated for the older players.   With all the noise, normal conversation, planning and coordination were blocked.  The social aspect of the game was impaired and players began to feel isolated as they lost “their world” to the invaders.

Disrupt commerce – The economic system of the game was attacked on several fronts.  Cheats and brute force allowed the invaders to amass wealth and change game dynamics.  Control of transportation hubs inhibited player mobility and isolated communities.  Secure storage could no longer be trusted, and honor-system stores were put out of business.   Farms were destroyed and players resorted to scrounging for food or stealing it themselves.

Instill fear – Players formerly considered to be powerful skilled in combat were defeated by the invaders and placed in perpetual prison.  Even organize opposition could do little to contain the invasion force, and even when some of the invaders where imprisoned, there was a continual risk that their friends would find and free them. The average player could do nothing but remain quiet and hope not to be noticed while mining underground in distant lands.  Those who spoke out on the subreddit were frequently target for capture and imprisonment.  The fear was crippling.

Infiltrate to gain information and engender mistrust – A few of the invaders pretended to break from the pack or create alternate identities free from past associations.  They began to gain access to remaining centers of power in the gain, as well as to the circle of administrators.  This gave them access to planned counter-attacks and knowledge of plans being made to restore things to “normal.”  Once discovered, players began to suspect one another, further inhibiting their ability to communicate and make plans.

Make people lose the will to participate – The attackers knew that at some point, people would simply say, “Fuck it, this isn’t fun anymore.”  Players would give up waiting to be freed from prison or give up waiting for the invaders to go away.  Administrators would give up giving up their free time for a thankless job.  TTK2 would conclude that Civcraft was impairing his life rather than improving it.  The personal cost had been raised to the point where people gave up the will the fight.

Demoralizing attacks on icons, things people were proud to have produced – Civcraft players spent countless hours over the past year developing magnificent in-game structures, structures that could decimated in minutes by lone attackers.  This had a great demoralizing effect.  When work could so easily and thoughtlessly destroyed, there was little incentive to defend and rebuild.

Physical disruptions – Just when things were at their lowest, they got worse.  A distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack rendered the game unplayable for several days. The attackers seemed to have limitless resources for overwhelming the Civcraft server.  An online game doesn’t work very well when you can’t connect to play it.  The owner, TTK2, was forced to make quick decisions to save the game.  The game was moved to a server in Romania hosted by a company that promised strong protection against DDoS attacks, but at considerable cost.  A generous player offered to hold the backups of the game, and now you know the rest of the story.

Gain access to privileged information – The generous player holding the backups turned out to be one of the faction members, and the information that they contained permitted him to blackmail TTK2 and other administrators. The information that he possessed rendered the game pointless and unplayable, and TTK2 pulled the plug.  Yet Civcraft is not dead, doors are to open Sunday on what is billed as, “Civcraft 2.0”.

Analysis

The strategies outlined above can be described of the famous OODA loop described by Air Force Col. John Boyd.  Observe – Orient – Decide - and Act.  Whoever executes the loop faster, and with greater precision, wins the conflict.

The invaders came into Civcraft and took stock of the situation.  They observed the social system, the administration of justice, and took stock of the system’s vulnerabilities.  Most Civcraft players just observed some new players coming onto the server, and took little notice.  They trusted that “someone else” would take care of any problems.

The invaders oriented themselves to the situation.  They placed themselves in apposition where they’d be able to act in a superior and decisive manner.  They tested the boundaries of the game’s defenses, and the boundaries of the time commitments and moral positions of some key players and administrators.  Most players did little to orient themselves to the new game dynamic; they just hoped to stay out of the way of the new players.

Once confident of their superior position, the invaders had their choice of targets.  The players, the administrators and eventually TTK2 himself were all targeted by the invaders. It may have started with a single bucket of lava, but the final assault was simple post online.  In contrast, the decisions made by Civcraftians were all forced and came too late. Further, the decisions could never be made with confidence, because the prior observations and orientations were lacking.

When the invaders acted, their actions seemed unified, well-planned and goal-oriented.  They usually met their objectives, given the general inability of the average players to act in a coordinated fashion.  When forced to REact to the attacks, time limitations often resulted in actions that gave little consideration to risks or long-term consequences.  You put out the fire, but you exhausted the supply of water. Having failed to orient themselves to any target, the Civcraft community could not fire on any target. Most of their actions were merely concessions.

Yet this defeat of Civcraft should give ancaps hope.  The invading force was greatly outnumbered, in strange territory, they could be easily banned, were rife with internal conflict, had conflicting goals, and limited resources.  Yet a conscious and concentrated effort permitted them to succeed.  They taught themselves how to execute the OODA loop faster than their opponents.  Some are still coming back online after a break and are asking, “Hey, what happened here while I was gone?”

Ancaps around the world are faced with governments that have guns, tasers, Bearcats, overhead drones, coordinated media outlets, overwhelming support of the populace, economic might, etc., but they can overcome those forces if they learn to execute the OODA loop faster than their opponents.  It doesn’t have to involve buckets of lava, killing, extortion or other forms of aggression.  We must observe our opponents’ weaknesses, orient ourselves toward them, decide where and when to act, follow through, and repeat the loop.

Imagine a game called, “Americraft,” where millions of people log on every day to drive to work, build some stuff, eat some food, forward cat pictures to each other and get in petty squabbles.  Along come some people from a different server who have “a different style of playing.”  We observe that monetary system is corrupt and precarious, and start promoting an alternative, one not manipulable by those in power.  It’s not illegal, and doesn’t involve any use of force.  We test the limits of how far we can take this alternative currency.  While some may perceive us as a threat, the vast majority would rather just ignore us, while they play their game.  Any actions taken against us, (like closing an exchange or imposing regulations, even imprisoning some advocates) can be used to expose the moral ineptitude and corruption of those in authority. We decide on action that will strengthen our currency while causing the leaders to debase and further disrupt the “approved” in-game currency.  They typical player will withdraw to his hole, hoping his potatoes will grow fast enough for another meal.  The leaders will lose moral authority and start to doubt their own actions.  When we act to reject the in-game currency that has become worthless, the leaders will act recklessly, striking out at ghosts and making rash changes to the game system. Finally, unable to take any action because their resources and will is exhausted, they will concede defeat.

It can happen. Civcraft is a good model.

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