High Score

Article by Lawrence McCarthy

VaalumXlichtin seated himself at his console in the largest electronic sports arena in Seventh Greatfungus. He didn’t want to spatter tentacles with the likes of FossisDoobn, but protocol was protocol. The referee gave the usual patter and message from the sponsor – a company that made pore-purging devices – and then The Game began in a loud hiss of applause.

FossisDoobn took the first turn, which gave VaalumXlichtin time to survey the computer generated world. Two major land masses, although one portion of the larger was joined to the rest by so narrow a bridge that it was practically a third. At that early stage of the game, most of the simrilqs were hunter gatherers, but there was one roughly triangular piece of the largest landmass, just south of the largest mountain range in the game, where they had developed a civilization. Granaries, priests, decorative beads, that kind of thing.

FossisDoobn took the predictable path of taking control of the largest nearby hunter tribe, violently forcing a number of other tribes into a coalition and then slaughtering the settled folk.

Pah! VaalumXlichtin rasped in contempt. What were these few tens of thousands of points, in a Game in which the final round often saw scores in the billions?

On his own turn, VaalumSchlichtin seized control of one among a number of settled factions among a complex of rivers. He guided his chosen faction into a viciously militaristic frame of mind, subjugated its neighbors and subjected them to an eight hundred sunturn (there was only one sun in the simworlds of the simrilqs, for the sake of programming simplicity) reign of terror, provoking rebellion after rebellion by his cruelty and skinning rebels alive at a rate of thousands a moonturn.

Then it was FossisDoobn’s turn again. VaalumXlichtin could have laughed—he repeated his earlier move, forcing a coalition of violent nomads together and descending upon the the cities of the Fertile Crescent.

VaalumXlichtin had a doubting moment when he saw that FossisDoobn had managed to pull off the trick of teaching his tribal warriors to ride one of the computer generated animals that also dwelled in this simworld, but not to worry – his own plan worked wonderfully. His vicious, militaristic civilization that had racked up so many points for him went on to defeat FossisDoobn’s barbarian invasion, reducing his score that turn to a relative handful of battle casualties.

It was a good move, and earned a prolonged hiss from the audience.

On his own second turn, VaalumXlichtin resumed control of the same state, led it on a campaign of bloody conquest, then engineered its sudden collapse into anarchy before yielding his turn.

This proved to be another good move. FossisDoobn attempted to exploit the anarchy by guiding one of the warring factions on a conquering spree, but so violent was the state of things that by doing so he actually reduced the amount of violent simrilq death. Before long, FossisDoobn was forced to end his turn having conquered his way to a vast, fat, decadent empire, ripe for the conquest.

VaalumXlichtin happily obliged, taking the opportunity play the barbarian invaders himself. He took a semi-barbarian, warlike simrilq faction and forced a nearby group of island city states under his dominion, then raised their kind into the greatest simrilq warriors the simworld had yet known. Then slash and burn, pillage and slay, millions of points. Lovely. The only downside was that his wonderfully violent King died young.

The crowd hissed, because he had pulled off the neat trick of killing a huge number of people but leaving his opponent with a relatively stable world. FossisDoobn would be hard pressed to get a megascore out of the culturally similar successors to VaalumXlichtin’s empire.

But then the crowd hissed again, this time for FossisDoobn. VaalumXlichtin clicked – his opponent really was good at the military stuff. Choosing a simrilq city to the west seemingly at random, he built his chosen state into a frighteningly efficient military machine and led it on the largest, longest, most sustained conquering spree the game had yet seen, then redoubled his skill by deliberately weakening the resulting empire so that it fell to barbarians.

Hiss, hiss, hiss. Millions of points.

That placed FossisDoobn in the lead, and VaalumXlichtin in much the same situation as he had earlier placed his opponent, of having no choice but to restore order, reduce bloodshed and so come away with a very limited score.

With a nervous quiver of the bile sac, VaalumXlichtin realized he was gnawing his tentacles.

He stopped gnawing and started playing. He could do this. The key was to aim for the root of their behavior. At this stage of development, that meant ideology.

Simrilqs shared a strange tendency to believe the products of their own imaginations were real. VaalumXlichtin found one with a particularly active imagination and told its fellows that the creator of their world (BuulmHamamo? Haha! Poor things!) wanted them to conquer it, enslaving or killing all who opposed them.

The result wasn’t great – unavoidably, his followers did a good deal of restoring order whether they wanted to or not – but it put the score about level.

After a few hundred years of carnage, FossisDoobn led some of the more highly developed simrilqs into the ocean, discovering the whole simworld in a few hundred sunturns.

It was an excellent move, placing FossisDoobn well in the lead. The simrilqs in the places discovered were subject to all kinds of diseases that the discoverers were not, on top of which the discoverers took the chance, even without FossisDoobn’s command, to conquer and enslave wherever they could.

Hiss, hiss, hiss. Hundreds of millions of points for FossisDoobn.

What was worse, all this discovery and looting and shipbuilding produced a world that, despite the bloodshed that had gone into creating it, was more wealthy and peaceful than it had ever been before.

VaalumXlichtin had his work cut out for him.

Close to the root, VaalumXlichtin, close to the root.

He worked through artists and poets, giving simrilqs all over the simworld irrational attachments to their tribes, made them so proud of their fellows that they would rather die than see a tribesman embarrassed.

Then he set them against each other, and great was the bloodshed. The simrilqs had learned how to burn carbon for power, and had weapons that killed thousands at a time. Soon, VaalumXlichtin was winning points by the million. Even better, he compressed the fighting into a tiny area of the simworld and made sure that poets and dreamers witnessed it.

By the end of his turn, VaalumXlichtin was well in the lead and had left the world hating war more than anything.

Let FossisDoobn get a high score out of that, if he could!

He could. VaalumXlichtin’s beak went dry as he watched his opponent guide a simrilq of incredible persuasive power to leadership of a tribe, then – with incredible military skill – guide that tribe into a war of stunning magnitude. The other tribes defeated the conquerors in the end, but not before FossisDoobn had leaped into the lead.

It was VaalumXlicthtin’s turn. It was the final turn of the game, and he was losing.

He could do it. His strategy was risky, but he could do it.

To kill simrilqs, first he had to increase their population as much as possible. In the aftermath of the terrible war he guided the world into ever increasing freedom and peace. Violent and dictatorial tribes turned one by one into cosmopolitan traders. Before long, the simworld teemed with over seven billion simrilqs.

Next, he had to strike at the root of their behaviors. The root of their behaviors was epistemology. Control how they decided between truth and falsehood, and every idea and action would be his.

Working through simrilq artists and spies, he taught them that a spatter of colors was great art. Through simrilq musicians he taught the tragedy and ultimate futility of life. Through imagineers he taught that the commerce which so enriched was in fact evil, because although everyone benefited, they did not benefit equally. Through their entertainers he taught them they were powerless to solve their problems, but could only wait upon heroes. Above all, through their philosophers he taught them that their simworld was inherently unknowable and irrational. He even propagated among some of them them the notion that their world was a simulation, notwithstanding that by coincidence this was true.

When the simrilqs were all thoroughly confused, he introduced to them great tribal leaders. The things they said did not make sense, but that no longer mattered. Through two great leaders he separated the simulated billions into two huge coalitions, armed now with weapons that could kill millions at the click of a button.

For all the simrilqs had to lose in the wealthy simworld, VaalumXlichtin knew that counted now for little. The world was ripe for fire. All it would take was an arrest here, an insult there, and the burning would begin.

His bile sac burbled happily.