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PBM: Gameplay So Deep You May Just Embrace the “Dark Side”

As of this writing, I am playing in a Galac-Tac PBM game using the name/email account of “Neil York”.  In the recent past, I briefly played in Phoenix: Beyond the Stellar Empire as “Kevin Neal”.   My real name is neither “Neil York” or “Kevin Neal”.

If you have read this far, you are probably wondering, “Why would someone create an alias to play in PBM games”?  Why go to the trouble of juggling multiple email accounts and setting up fake cellphone numbers to create an alternate online personality?  I even recently considered setting up a fake Facebook account so that I could post as my “Neil York” alias.  Yes…it may be time for an intervention. 😊

The answer is simple.  PBM’s deep gameplay often requires a large personal investment in time and effort to be fully enjoyed.  When you put multiple hours a week for YEARS into building your space empire, your mafia family, your fantasy kingdom, etc., you typically become HEAVILY invested.    If someone attacks your empire/mafia family/kingdom you may get angry.   I have been threatened with physical violence because I attacked someone’s space empire in a PBM game.  It does not happen often, but I am sure I am not the only one to have experienced this extreme reaction.

How many of us have recruited our friends into a PBM game?  What happens to that friendship if one player is perceived to have “betrayed” the other within the game?  Most healthy individuals would agree with the belief that “It is stupid to shatter a friendship over what happens within a game.”  I agree with this sentiment and yet I have lost several best friends because of what happened in a PBM game.  I have terminated a friendship because I felt betrayed within a PBM game and another one of my best friends terminated our friendship because he felt I had betrayed him in a PBM game. 

I use an alias now when playing in PBM games because I do not want those with vendettas against me to wreck my current space empire/mafia family/kingdom in retaliation for perceived past transgressions.

Many of you are probably (justifiably) collectively shaking your heads at the gross stupidity of losing lifelong friends because of what happened in a PBM game.  My friends and I embraced “the Dark Side” because we were so heavily invested in an open-ended PBM game.  I play board games and video games as well as PBM games.  I have never embraced “the Dark Side” because of events within any board or video game.  Simply put, (in my opinion) PBM games offer a deeper level of gameplay than any other style of game available. Gameplay so deep, you may just embrace your Dark Side!

4 thoughts on “PBM: Gameplay So Deep You May Just Embrace the “Dark Side”

  1. I understand where you are coming from. Interestingly enough, I do the exact opposite in games and use my real name to humanize the relationship. I have found it tends to result in better diplomatic outcomes. In the cases where it does not, then I get to fight back against an aggressor and usually get help as I was the one who was attacked.

    1. Thank you for commenting, Raven!
      Using an alias does not result in a “dehumanized” relationship, in my experience. I still form friendships and I still create adversaries even though other players know me by a different name. While using an alias, I am not roleplaying a different person. For me, I am still ruled by my personal set of ethics while utilizing an alias. If I make a promise while using an alias, I will move heaven and earth to keep it. If my ally (formed under an alias) is injured by another player, I feel anger and try to help my friend. In short, I have found that playing PBM games while using an alias to be every bit as “humanized” as when I played under my own name.

      The primary reason I use an alias is to prevent a grudge (formed in a previous game or maybe the same game if open-ended) from impacting one of my new positions. Sadly, we live in a world where some stranger on the highway may attack you in a fit of “road rage” because of some perceived slight. Is it a surprise that games like “Phoenix: Beyond the Stellar Empire” that goes on for DECADES, costs significant amounts of money (if you wish to compete), and requires an enormous investiture in time/effort has some EXTREMELY heavily invested players? Go look at Phoenix:BSE’s forums on any given day and you will probably find two factions at war and their members savagely attacking each other.

      When emotions run that high, how likely is it that a player who has been on the losing end of a war might just decide to get some “payback” when they encounter a former adversary in a totally different game? Call me a “glass is half empty” kind of guy, but I think it highly likely.

      I love PBM games. I spend hours creating spreadsheets to handle the enormous data requirements required to be competitive. To have my space empire/mafia family/fantasy kingdom destroyed because a player in a previous game decided to get some “payback” on me would ruin the whole experience. Using an alias offers some protection against the Pearl Harbor style “payback” attack.

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