Macro and Micro Management in Strategy Gaming

Watching footage of lobsters walking for Sunday’s post got me thinking about different macro/micro organizational systems. The many-legged gallop of the lobster is a very good example of a coordinated and constantly adjusted complex of parts working together toward a single purpose and direction. The legs of the lobster are so interesting to look at because each seems to be working independently of the other, feeling the seafloor to find its footing, and yet, it’s action contributes to the same forward thrust produced by the others.

Today I was watching footage from last year’s Starcraft 2 Intel World Finals , which is the major Starcraft competition in the United States (nothing compared to the big tournaments in Korea, naturally). I decided that abstract comparison could be made between lobster locomotion and the micro vs. macro dynamic of real-time strategy games. Fundamentals of the strategy game genre involve developing supply conduits to support tactical units which are used either to defend or attach. Macro gameplay refers to management and allocation of resources. The macro game is about economy, making sure you have he requisite strength and the proper units when the time comes to strike. Micro game play is how you control and maneuver those units.

The average reader may have little interest in the intricacies of strategy gaming, but I posit that the macro and micro management of actors and resources are an accurate metaphor, if not simulation, for societal organization. You begin the game by establishing fixed roles and sort of get the preliminary micro part out of the way. Then you build and build and build at the macro. The assigned roles become increasingly irrelevant as your colony grows and changes, so you are constantly having to go back and reassign. And while you may come to develop a very effective macro strategy for collecting and moving resources, if you aren’t effective at managing on the micro-level your colony actually becomes weaker the larger you become.

There are a number of non-competitive games that actually make this macro/micro organizational tension the central conflict. Pretty much all the Sim games work this way. A personal favorite is Bay 12’s Dwarf Fortress, where every game is destined to end in failure once a point of excess complexity is reached and some devastating crisis occurs.

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