Monotremes: Ruse

ruse screen
A hybrid of abstraction and naturalism.

Ruse was an interesting game. Partly because it was a mainstream real-time-strategy game which attempted to encourage a semblance of realistic combined arms tactics (the almost-but-not-quite rock-paper-scissors relationship between infantry, tanks and artillery, modified by terrain and intelligence — Company of Heroes is the only other mainstream example of this I can think of, though Ruse did it better), but also because it demonstrated an interest in another aspect of warfare. Ruse is one of the few games (and even fewer computer games) to attempt to model the rather grey nebula that is staff work — in this case, intelligence, deception, and operational planning, as practiced by various uniformed specialists behind the lines.

The game does this via a very abstract system of deception plans which can be purchased with a slowly accruing currency whose name eludes me. Basically, each player receives a drip-feed of staff work which can be used to execute the eponymous ruses. Most of these — camouflage, false intel, radio silence, decoys —  relate to the game’s particular implementation of the traditional ‘fog of war’, an unusual, boardgame-esque twist in which enemy units can be seen but not identified until spotted by your own units. Others make units faster or encourage them to fight to the death. Though the individual ruses are highly ‘gamey’, the result is a game of second-guessing, feints, ambushes and upsets which, like Ruse’s impression of the rock-paper-scissors of WW2 tactics, bears enough of a semblance to historical reality to make you feel that you’re playing more than just glorified chess.

It’s probably worth mentioning that my use of the word ‘semblance’ here is inspired by Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy, where he distinguishes semblance from mere naturalism, the first being ‘Apollonian’ and therefore rational and ordered, the latter (if I recall correctly) more like mindless repetition. I think this distinction may prove useful when talking about games, in order to distinguish between naive or obsessive attempts at simulation (not always a bad thing, depending on one’s taste) and deliberately simplified or abstracted systems which nonetheless attempt a form of simulation, as opposed to games qua games like Chess or StarcraftRuse stands between abstraction and simulation like one of Nietzsche’s beloved Greek statues, godlike and sublimely indifferent.

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