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Jeromai over at Why I Game has been doing some pretty interesting (not to mention long) posts recently about the experience of Guild Wars 2’s WvW mass combat – or zerging, if you prefer. The most recent one, entitled I Hate Dying So I Got Better talks about the experience of being in disorganised zergs and how they get routed and slaughtered by more cohesive ones. But it’s not the old story of “guild groups rule, PUGgers drool” that you here from the ‘elite’ (elite being defined as “fortunate enough to be in a guild that runs their own zerg” in many cases), because he also talks about how good commanders train and pull randoms (the militia, as he describes them) into successful forces.

Which brings me, because my mind makes some pretty strange connections, to Rudyard Kipling.

Kipling’s not as popular as he once was, because he was very much a man of his times – which means an unabashed supporter of colonialism with a condescending, paternalistic attitude towards anyone not fortunate enough to be born an Englishman. What he was, however, was a superb balladeer of the soldiers and solid working folk who were the sinews of the British Empire, and there are some pretty cogent points for MMO gamers, believe it or not, to be found in his poetry. I’m going to paste one of his poems, “That Day”, about an army unit that routed, below – but first, I’m going to paste a chunk of Jeromai’s post about how zergs break. I suggest you read that, then the poem, then think about the zergs. Maybe if I’m very lucky, someone who has read this will pay attention to following the commander (no more “we made it out a favour if an order was obeyed”), stand their ground, and not get cut up like sheep. That’d be good. If someone just thinks “I liked that poem”, well, that’d be good too.

Jeromai on zergs:

“A self-interested individual looking on sees downed arrows on his team, and a swirling red mass of uncountable names (no one said everyone was great at estimating numbers on each side properly, red names always look more scary and numerous) that move in a lot more organized unison in a killing wedge, and starts to think the better of remaining around.

He books it.

Other people on his team sees green dots moving away from the fight. Good lord, they don’t want to be the last ones hanging around here either.

Before you know it, it turns into a rout.”

“That Day” by Rudyard Kipling

It got beyond all orders an’ it got beyond all ‘ope;
It got to shammin’ wounded an’ retirin’ from the ‘alt.
‘Ole companies was lookin’ for the nearest road to slope;
It were just a bloomin’ knock-out — an’ our fault!

Now there ain’t no chorus ‘ere to give,
Nor there ain’t no band to play;
An’ I wish I was dead ‘fore I done what I did,
Or seen what I seed that day!

We was sick o’ bein’ punished, an’ we let ’em know it, too;
An’ a company-commander up an’ ‘it us with a sword,
An’ some one shouted “‘Ook it!” an’ it come to ~sove-ki-poo~,
An’ we chucked our rifles from us — O my Gawd!

There was thirty dead an’ wounded on the ground we wouldn’t keep —
No, there wasn’t more than twenty when the front begun to go;
But, Christ! along the line o’ flight they cut us up like sheep,
An’ that was all we gained by doin’ so.

I ‘eard the knives be’ind me, but I dursn’t face my man,
Nor I don’t know where I went to, ’cause I didn’t ‘alt to see,
Till I ‘eard a beggar squealin’ out for quarter as ‘e ran,
An’ I thought I knew the voice an’ — it was me!

We was ‘idin’ under bedsteads more than ‘arf a march away;
We was lyin’ up like rabbits all about the countryside;
An’ the major cursed ‘is Maker ’cause ‘e lived to see that day,
An’ the colonel broke ‘is sword acrost, an’ cried.

We was rotten ‘fore we started — we was never disci~plined~;
We made it out a favour if an order was obeyed;
Yes, every little drummer ‘ad ‘is rights an’ wrongs to mind,
So we had to pay for teachin’ — an’ we paid!

The papers ‘id it ‘andsome, but you know the Army knows;
We was put to groomin’ camels till the regiments withdrew,
An’ they gave us each a medal for subduin’ England’s foes,
An’ I ‘ope you like my song — because it’s true!

An’ there ain’t no chorus ‘ere to give,
Nor there ain’t no band to play;
But I wish I was dead ‘fore I done what I did,
Or seen what I seed that day!

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