The blood is on my hands. The loss of lives was horrendous. I had grown over-confident and so I sent 100 good soldiers, hardy macemen, to useless deaths.
A new village had been established near one of mine. I nervously watched as its population ballooned to more than 150, knowing these people were busy exploiting their available resources to build a solid economy and a strong army. The owner of the village was unaligned and seemed an easy target for my soldiers and catapults. I knew if I left him alone he could grow big enough to defend himself and sooner or later he would join an alliance, a move that would give him access to hundreds or thousands of more troops and could also make him politically untouchable. If, for instance, he happened to join my alliance I could hardly attack and destroy a brother-in-arms.
The problem is that his village is so close to mine that we will be in competition for the same resources. To win this contest he might try to grow large enough to eliminate me. Experience has taught that the most expedient policy is to wipe out new and solitary villages as soon as the rules of the game permit.
Consequently, I attacked the offending village the same way I've gone after all the ones in my neighbourhood: first by sending in large strike forces to kill off defenders and then by launching wave after wave of rams and catapults to bring down the village wall and reduce all farms, mines, forests and buildings to splinters and rubble.
The campaign went well for a couple of days. Every blow counted. The wall was gone after two attacks and then the interloper's barracks, granary, warehouse, wheat fields and iron mines fell in quick succession. The village's population shrank steadily down past the 100-mark, the 50-mark, the 25-mark. His demise seemed imminent.
However, on the third day, thinking I would finish him off, I sent 10 waves of macemen and catapults - 100 strong, well-trained and brave (albeit imaginary) warriors. They all died. Since no one returned with information, I could only assume they'd been met by an overwhelming defensive force. The village owner must have sought help from another player who gave him one last chance to survive the game.
My losses shocked me, but I recovered. I took revenge. After two more days of attacks his village now has zero population and that's where it will stay.
Welcome to the new free world of online browser gaming. This is chess, this is "Risk," this is "Civilization" writ large. Instead of competing against one opponent or a half-dozen, a player pits his or her skills against thousands of others around the world. More than 11,000 people can play a single match that lasts a year on a virtual board made up of 640,000 squares. There's no real or fake violence, no animated bloodshed, just a whole bunch of players harassing their game-board neighbours and forming massive alliances, all plotting to conquer the fictional world one way or another.
It must be admitted that these games, which go by names like "Travian" and "Civony," have few redeeming qualities beyond being simple, absorbing distractions in an overly complicated world.
Unfortunately, the games have one drawback that people must guard against. Frequent players have been known to become obsessed with the progress of their online villages and with winning their virtual conflicts - to the detriment of their real lives.
More time can be spent playing the game than actually living in reality, until finally the boundaries between fact and fiction blur and the online world becomes the more important one. Fortunately, as addictions go, this one is mild. Often all it takes is a good dose of common sense - like a reminder that it's just a game - to keep a player from losing perspective.
Now, if you'll excuse me, my next-door neighbour's dog is barking again and the noise is disturbing my concentration. I just need to send a squad of macemen and catapults down the street to get myself some peace and quiet.
Contrary to what I wrote last week, volunteer libraries do not get any funding from the Provincial Libraries Board or from the provincial government. Instead, the volunteer library in North West River (for instance) gets half its funding from various independent funding sources.
Michael Johansen is a writer living in Labrador