This week we saw the new voting system unleashed upon the community of RuneScape, allowing us to decide what the immediate future of our game is going to hold.
Categorised in order of importance and named by arbitrarily chosen gemstones, the first batch of options we're allowed to decide from is a clear indication of how severe the effect of the outcome of the various polls will be. Deciding between a new city or a new skill has a dramatic impact on the game, whereas modifying a drop table only affects some aspects like the economy only slightly, and adding an additional map to an as of yet non-existent minigame has no impact at all.
But we, as a community, have been given choices before, whether you've been aware of it or not.
Somewhere in 2007 we saw the introduction of Guaranteed Content Polls, but few of these had a sizeable enough impact on the game to be of any major concern. Redesigning the Dragon Scimitar, or voting on the looks of the Veteran Cape is hardly game-making or breaking. A similar thing can be said for the most recent decision we've helped Jagex make; the look of the Divination Skillcape.
But some poll results have had a huge impact. While the legitimacy of it has been hugely criticised, voting on whether Free Trade and dangerous PvP in the Wilderness should return has been pivotal in the history of the game. Had these been re-installed at a later date or (say, whenever sufficient anti-bot tech was available) or not at all for example, the game would've looked very different today.
Speaking of altering history, how would RuneScape have looked today if there had been a referendum on the Evolution of Combat? My Abyssal Vine Whip would still poison you, and still have been able to summon a vine that attacks whoever or whatever I was fighting. More than that, there wouldn't still be literally tens of players being milked for every dollar they are worth in the obsolete and withering Old School version of RuneScape.
Back to the present. Both world events too have so far in essence been a poll on which god is more popular. The amount of people lining up on either side of these battles was and is enough to determine the outcome, no matter how hard you or any of your allies have been working. But is anyone really surprised by the outcome?
Before either battle started, was anyone ever of the opinion that Zamorak and Bandos would come out victorious? Similarly, does anyone seriously expect the new skill to win out over the new city?
While there are always supporters to find for an idea, even if it's an extremely stupid one (one needs to look only at Scientology), usually the victor in any kind of election can be seen coming from a mile away. Everyone knew that the first Republican nominee to run for president after George W. Bush was a lamb to the slaughter.
Right now we have on one side the Crystal City we've been waiting on for 8 years, and on the other a new skill coming out less than a year after the previous one. Yes it's a complementary skill, but that isn't enough to change the outcome. Just like the funny-yet-awesome looking helmet and titles you can purchase with your renown from Bandos' quartermaster aren't enough to make a large enough group of people fight for someone who quite literally throws his own followers away.
But, as you may have heard while watching The Matrix; "Choice is an illusion created between those with power, and those without."
It's quite common knowledge in the professions that require a lot of negotiating; Whether to cut a business deal, or do something on the diplomatic playing field, giving someone a choice between A or B will make them agree a lot sooner. It also makes them feel a lot happier about the choice they made (they will not second-guess themselves as much), rather than them having to come up with the options to pick from first.
It is extremely visible in children. It happens almost every time I make the mistake of walking into a McDonalds again and find myself stuck in line behind an idiot with a kid that starts deciding what they want to eat only when they have reached the counter, rather than during the 10 minutes it took to get that far. The mother will ask the kid what it wants to eat and it naturally has no idea. There is so much to pick from and it really wants all of it, including all the toys. The smart and time-saving parent will instead ask if it wants a happy meal or a trough of chicken nuggets, and the kid will pick between them, or provide a third option of its own. Problem solved.
So, yes I want the damn Crystal City, but only because it was the best choice of the two. What I (and a lot of other people) REALLY want is for the current combat system to be reworked in such a way that equipment matters less and combat levels matter a lot more than they do now (in fact, mattering at all would be a start). At the same time they should make enough of an overall adjustment that PvP is also based on skill again rather than the amount of people you bring to a war.
The point is that these choices give us the idea that we're somehow in control of what will happen in RuneScape's near future, but we're not. We are in fact powerless to steer the direction of this game, and this new voting system is just another tool to provide the spokespeople with some ammunition to counter the critical questions.
But even those who are so far in total agreement with me will play along, hoping for the best in the future, turning a blind eye to the larger trends. We still choose to play RuneScape, do we not?