I'm taking a brief hiatus. In the meantime, enjoy this throwback post from my old gaming blog. Enjoy this post from 2015 which discusses one of my favorite games of all time, Achaea, Dreams of Divine Lands. I've written a little bit about Achaea on here before.
This also ran as a series at Visitant Lit (formerly PDXX Collective) starting here.
Achaea, Dreams of Divine Lands. Heard of it? If so, please feel free to drop me a line, because I think I may know you! Otherwise, you’ll probably be like most of my readers who stick to the more visually engaging spectrum of gaming, but I have to tell you, if that’s you then you’re sorely missing out.
Achaea is a game that has been around since 1996 and has been going against the norm since day one. First of all, let’s just rip the bandage off: Yes, this is a text game. A text-based MMORPG, to be exact. It is also what’s called a MUD.
Yes, it’s really all text.
No, there aren’t any pictures.
Here, just check out their website.
This is what the gameplay looks like on their default web client where you can play right in your browser:
But, to be fair, I logged in just to take a screen shot. There’s generally a lot more action and intrigue. I swear! Learn more about it here.
It might not look too flashy, but before you write it off, think about what it’s like to read a novel. You’re just looking at words on a page, but in your head, you’re seeing a rich tapestry of characters, settings, and action; in short, you’re seeing and can even feel like you’re experiencing the story firsthand – that is, if it’s well written.
Now imagine that instead of reading a novel, you’re taking part in one. You’re your own main character, but just like in real life, you’re surrounded by others who are main characters in their own stories. You’re all interacting, joining sides, flirting, fighting, falling in love, and yes, even certain other F-words that I’ll avoid mentioning in such polite company. Unlike most other games, what happens in this one is truly in your hands. Your character’s description, gender, race, motivations, personal creed, likes, dislikes — you name it, they’re all in your control. You can join organizations or try to take other organizations down, you can be a pacifist or a warlord, you can be a politician, a househusband, an explorer, a preacher, a thief; in short, you can do anything. You’re writing your character’s story in real time alongside others whose story is being written live, right next to you. It’s truly amazing!
Some original player artwork depicting what one player sees as they play. Click here for more.
One other amazing thing? They’ve been ahead of their time since the beginning in terms of gender, same-sex relationships, and feminism. Some of this is thanks to the creators and coders behind the scenes, but a lot of it stems from the players themselves.
So, how does the game tackle feminism?
To start, women can rule over cities (the highest player-run offices of the land) and are equally respected politicians who lead armies with and against their male counterparts in charge of other cities in the game. Men craft jewelry and design clothing for characters and compete with women of equal skill for spots in shops so the other adventurers can buy their creations. The gods – which is what the people who run the show from behind the scenes are referred to — do a lot of coding and bug fixing, but they also have an in-character presence where they grant boons to players, run worldwide competitions, and often facilitate devastating war or peaceful, fun-loving events that bring everyone together (at least for a short time). These Gods are represented by people of all genders, and are equally respected as such.
In short, in Achaea, all genders are seen as totally equal at every level, from the highest offices to the lowliest NPCs.
In fact, I have an anecdote that proves just that: There’s an organization in the game which has named itself protector of all innocent beings and the destroyer of those who wish to do bad in the world. The idea of what’s “bad” in the game varies from faction to faction, just like in real life, and this is one of the most interesting (and my favorite) parts of the intellectual gameplay. That is, however, neither here nor there. In the game, of course you can kill things and gain experience, much like nearly every other game in existence. This particular faction had rules about what you could and could not kill. You could kill no “innocents,” of course. Only what they deemed as the bad guys were open game. In the beginning, a player who was running the organization decided that they’d make a list of the things you could and could not go after when hunting or fighting. One of the things the list said was that you could go to what we’ll call Village X and kill everything “except the women and children living there.” It didn’t take long for someone else to say, “Hey, the kids I understand, but the women? They’re just a strong, just as intelligent, and just as capable of understanding their choices. They shouldn’t get a free pass just for being women.”
So, there you go. Now you can go to Village X and slay (or be slain by) men and women indiscriminately.
Or, you know, if hunting in Village X isn’t your thing, maybe check out Heavily-Armed Fortress Y. More original player art here.
Of course, some of you may be thinking, “That’s not what feminism is about!” But that’s where you’d be wrong. Being taken seriously, whether it’s beneficial or not, being considered equal, whether in a positive light or a negative one, that’s exactly what feminism is about. Women can be exactly as good — or as bad! — as men. Achaea’s playerbase figured this out a long time ago. No women and children first on sinking ships at sea (which yes, Achaea has). Every man (and woman) for themselves! And as it should be.
Ok, so what about same-sex relationships?
Achaea has been LGBTQ friendly for years and years now. Given that states are still (yes, still!) trying to pass laws saying that we should be allowed to turn away anyone who isn’t straight from our businesses, and government workers are walking off their jobs because –gasp! – they may have to award a marriage license to two people who have similar genitalia, I think this is a big step and very before its time. (Like, very. This isn’t a new option in the game; it’s been around at least since I started playing way back in 2006. (And for you people who still think of “last decade” as referring to the 90s, bear in mind that 2006 was nine years ago.))
In the game, your character can marry another character. Without getting too into the specifics, other players are able to see your character’s various achievements and affiliations. That includes if your character is betrothed or not, and to whom. Achaea has long since allowed characters to marry others of the same gender, and even took that one step further when they allowed these same-sex text-couples to adopt other characters and register the adoption, again so other players can see who is related to whom in game.
And the best part? The players don’t give it a second thought. My character happens to be interested in both men and women (I mean, what’s not to like?) and has been married to both a gentleman at one point and a lady at another. Scandal! Except, actually, it’s no scandal at all. Nobody cares. It doesn’t change the way anyone interacts with your character. It doesn’t change the insults your enemies fling at you from across the battlefield. It doesn’t change anything.
One famous example (as famous as politics in a text-game can get, I guess) is, way back in the day, there were these two huge, powerhouse organizations. They were both run by men who were married to each other in-game. Those organizations had their share of scandals and enemies, but none of it had anything to do with anyone’s gender or sexuality. It’s how I’d like to imagine the United States will be in … well, maybe my grandchildren’s lifetime? That might be having some high hopes, but in any case, you see what I mean. Achaea has been doing things right much longer than many societies have in general.
Also, in addition to marrying whomever you like, Achaea lets you be a cat if you want. Ha! Take that, society! More original art by players here.
Finally, let’s talk about gender.
In Achaea, you start, of course, by creating a character. That character must be either male or female. (I’ve had it confirmed by the powers that be that this will not be changing in the foreseeable future. Unfortunately the gender binary is, quite literally, hard-coded in, and cannot as of now be changed.) That, however, is where the strictness stops. There are very famous (and very respected) characters of all genders and gender expressions. There are female characters who wouldn’t be caught dead in a dress. There are characters of both sexes who are in conservative battle armor half the time and in gender-bending clothes the other half. There are, of course, female characters who primp and polish and are in extravagant dresses suited for the most formal of occasions and male characters who live in boots and pants and a leather jerkin, with stubble on their face and nary a word to say that you wouldn’t hear among a group of very bawdy sailors. It’s whatever. You’re whatever. That is – whatever you want to be.
When it comes to this game, sure, ok, you have to pick option A or option B, but you can do with that option whatever you like. And no one will care! If you are a fearsome fighter, no one will be the least bit concerned with what gender you are or how you choose to express your gender when you smash faces on the battlefield. If you’re an incorruptible politician (or, ok, even a corruptible one), no one will be interested in what clothes you have on, how you’ve grown your hair, or any other inconsequential-to-your-political-goals choices you’ve made with your character. Can you lead a text-city? Well then you’re a shoe-in, no matter what shoes you may have on! In Achaea, you can stand at the pulpit in front of your congregation or take the podium to hold a rally in the town square or lead an army to press on toward the enemy on the battlefield as a character, female or male, expressing yourself in the way that fits your character the best, period. The players care about what you do, what you have to say, and what action you’re going to take. They do not care what gender you are or how you choose to express your gender while you do it.
A player’s visual interpretation of their character. And why yes, this is the same link from all the other images.
So, in the end, I have to give Achaea an A+ for being as accepting – both the admins and the playerbase – as any game I’ve personally ever played. It’s got what most would likely consider a steep learning curve, but once you get into it, you become so emboldened by your options, the myriad ways of expressing yourself, and the fantastical nature of the game, which makes it feel like you’re both writing and taking part in your very own novel, that you find yourself whiling the hours away with no pictures on your screen but a captivating scene laid out before you all the same. I highly recommend giving it a try!
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