Sounds sinister, doesn’t it?
Even with the plethora of games embracing ideas – or rather aesthetics – of humanity outgrowing its physical boundaries and even its very physicality, this particular idea and image of mental collectivism seems to remain largely antagonistic or outright anathema.
We could probably debate endlessly why that might be the case – or if it even is the case in the first place – but I have no great interest in that sort of discussion. Possibly because I already have too many other bones to pick with too many games and gamers. What I am interested in since a couple of years is to look at ways of how concepts of gestalt entities, shared consciousness and hive minds can be realised in games.
Instead of diving right in and presenting ready-made modules for different games – though that might come at a later date – what I wish to do with this article, is to go over some initial and generic thoughts on the subject.
Perhaps the easiest way to introduce a – playable – collective intelligence into a game is to handle it just the same as a non-collective intelligence, i.e., as a regular character assigned to a single player. The player impersonates/controls/narrates/makes decisions for or as/… (whatever you think it is that players do with “regular” characters) the collective intelligence just the way he would for any other character. In a way, you can think of the player representing the consensus of the collective (with possible dissent or internal debate handled the way a non-collective character’s own doubts and decision making might be handled) and/or the will of any central controlling part of the collective such as a hive queen or master control program.
You can still incorporate some neat tricks in such a setup by giving the collective character access to unique shticks and abilities meant to represent their nature, but these will probably focus on the aspects of the character and game governed by specific rules (sub-)systems such as combat. Some games already come with such abilities in a ready to use format, although they might be meant for antagonists in their original context. For others, they will have to be created from scratch, and for yet others, they will be unnecessary as they will be subsumed under more general rules.
Maybe a bit less simple although no less straight forward is it to retain the single player but now with multiple – i.e., a collective of – characters under their control. Pretty much all of the above still applies here, although some of the “special powers” may now be rolled out into the simple provisio of using multiple characters at the same time.
This sort of solution may assist with underlining concepts where the gestalt still has this very strong bond and imperative of consensus and/or a controlling force but at the same time is made up of discernable individual components contributing to it.
The next option is, of course, to have multiple players join forces in playing the hive. Again, this can be done either with a single – shared – character or with multiple characters.
No matter the number of characters, having more than one player allows – makes? – the focus to shift on the actual decision making process and the possibility of dissent within the collective, simply because now this can be meaningfully (inter-)acted out at the table. This means at least some thought should go into how these processes are to be handled.
Should consensus be incentivised in some manner, e.g., by having positive modifiers apply to consensual actions?
Should dissent be penalized, e.g., by loss of resources or resource access?
Should non-unanimous actions be outright impossible? (An option that lends itself very well to be implemented in the multiple players to a single character constellation by having the character only carry out actions all players agree on.)
Should some sort of decision by majority be implemented, or should tie-breaking, veto-powers or even the final decision making be delegated to single members of the collective, e.g., depending on “individual” skills and abilities?
Speaking of individuals, with different players controlling the characters participating in/forming the collective, its simple to move these from being merely different faces of the gestalt consciousness to being different facets of it, focussing more on the parts than only their greater sum.
As a final thought and looping back to the remark about overcoming physicality at the beginning, multiple players and multiple characters does not have to imply a character being assigned to one player exclusively. A different type of collective and experience might be reached by having each player control only one character at any one time, but freely reassigning which player controls which character at a given time. With characters’ minds separate from their bodies, this might even be done at multiple levels with players, minds and bodies equally shifting around.