"Sed fortuna, quae plurimum potest cum in reliquis rebus tum praecipue in bello, parvis momentis magnas rerum commutationes efficit; ut tum accidit."

C. Iulius Caesar - Commentarii de Bello Civili Bk III.68

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Bring back the games!

Part of Nova Roma’s problem of retaining people stems from the age we live in. This is the age of instant gratification. At the press of a button we can get power, water, electricity, music, television, radio, automotive power, to name but a few conveniences. Computer software has become ever more glitzy and snappy, offering increasing degrees of realistic animation – the precursor no doubt to the holodeck of Star Trek fame. In the Western world we are spoon-fed from birth to death. Then we stumble upon Nova Roma.

Nova Roma relies on people to use the more cerebral elements of their imagination, unaided by any props, except a few web pages of varying degrees of amateurism and a mass of text. I know many new citizens that have landed in Nova Roma, having fought their way through the bramble bushes of the naming conventions and absent paters, only to ask, “what happens now?” That is a very good question, what does happen now?

If they are lucky there will be a full-blown political free-for-all in progress on the Main List, with copious amounts of verbal blood letting. Savage comments will be traded back and forth and from the stands of our virtual amphitheatre there may come the appreciative “ooohs” and “aaahhs” of the watching crowd (probably all 50 of them). There will be the usual wailing about how terrible it is that the list has sunk to its usual level, charges, counter-charges, threats of prosecutions, resignations, peace lists being formed (and disbanded and re-formed), whole groups of people labelled as revolutionaries and plotters, others as modernistic subversives, or Christian evangelists. The whole scene is thoroughly gripping to a new citizen. Just another day in the forum of Ancient Rome! This is spectacular entertainment that you cannot put a price on.

If they are unlucky the list will be as it is now, thoroughly and odiously pleasant. People will be polite to each other and post voluminously on un-edifying topics. It will be just another day on any old Yahoo list. It will require people to think, to read and to construct semi-intellectual posts. In short there will be a total absence of instant gratification.

Are we so different from the Ancient Romans? The nobility of Rome identified the appeal of gladiatorial combats and their usefulness in keeping the citizenry distracted. Between the grain dole, free feasts, and the amphitheatres, they provided the plebs with enough of a narcotic to keep them sedated, most of the time, and if they did break loose in bloody riots in the forum it was usually at the behest of a noble patron or demagogue. Even in disorder there was order and control. Are the citizens of Nova Roma that much different?

The intellectuals amongst us would be horrified at the thought that they need to be stimulated by the base appeal of verbal combat on the Main List, but look what happened when the conflict between the Boni and Moderati / Libra alliance was at its height. People had a purpose, a goal. Break the Boni! Defend the Collegium! Expel Drusus! Save Drusus! Expel Maior! Save Maior! Prosecute Scaurus! Defend Scaurus! On and on went the rallying calls. Everyone participated in the debates, either publicly or behind the scenes in their factions. Advice was tendered by the bucket full and strategies were laid down and tactics devised and revised. Nova Roma bubbled with life and passion. The stands of the amphitheatre were always full.

Now the stands are empty. The plebs can find no great debates, no blood on the sand, not even a pinprick of claret. Now they have to think if they want to participate on the Main List. Threads on reproduction Roman furniture, where and how best to learn Latin, our virtual chariot races, all worthy and noble but not very “gripping”. A mild titter raised over the association of the Gens Minia’s new group, Neo Roma, with sanitary equipment or mild amusement at a post headed “Wet girls”, the product of a re-mailer virus, is the best that can be managed.

If instead of trying to purge the Main List of any passion whatsoever and instilling a mish-mash of Victorian values, some of Nova Roma’s notables could encourage free and bloody speech, if they could seize a few citizens and toss them into the arena and tell them to stab each other with the product of their keyboards, then we may see some vibrant life begin to bubble again in Nova Roma. Then we may retain more citizens, since then they would see a purpose and reason to log on.

It is time to acknowledge that our citizens are no different from our spiritual ancestors who “ooohed” and “aaahed” all day under a beating hot sun as men duelled to the death or were shredded by wild beasts. We think we have progressed so far, have become so civilised, but that is because the arena is brought into our houses by the touch of a button. Television is the arena of this age, providing technicolor images of death and gore, both real and fictional, at the touch of a button. In fact we have become so advanced that we can freeze the moment of death on a CD or even on live TV, make popcorn and return to gorge both our stomachs and our appetites for blood. How the Ancient Romans would have appreciated that function!

So in Nova Roma let us not hide behind this myth that people want an anodyne list, that they want this veneer of civility. Everyone revelled in the gore when it flowed freely and often. Certainly it is necessary to explain to the more “sensitive” new citizen the ways of the Main List, lest they be terrified, shocked, appalled (insert the adjective most used by Nova Roma’s nannies) and run shrieking for the gates and the far beyond, but let us not be so duplicitous and mealy-mouthed that we cannot salute those that are prepared to be beaten by a keyboard for the edification of the masses.

Once more let the cry rip through Nova Roma; “Those who are about to libel and be libelled salute you!”