Category Archives: Politics

On the challenge of giving your interstellar empire a cool name

Have you ever thought about what a challenge it is to come up with an original, yet cool-sounding, name for your type of interstellar empire?

It’s a challenge keenly felt by the major factions in most science fiction game settings, judging by the wide variety of near-synonyms for the word “empire” that crop up in their names. As we all know, every good interstellar empire’s name needs to follow the format [faction name] [government type]. And we also know that there can be no more than one instance of any particular type of interstellar government in existence at the same time. Look at the effort game designers go through to avoid duplicating faction names in, say, the Traveller universe:

Traveller factions (current Mongoose edition)

  • Vodani Consulate
  • Vargyr Extents
  • Aslan Hierate (is that even a word?)
  • Solomani Sphere
  • Hive Federation
  • Third Imperium

Imagine the embarrassment of being unable to think of a cool, unique name for your interstellar empire! The factions of the Battletech universe feel your pain:

Battletech factions (in 3025 or thereabouts)

  • Free Worlds League
  • Federated Suns (Hey, “Suns” isn’t a government type! Sneaky.)
  • Draconis Combine
  • Lyran Commonwealth
  • Capellan Confederation
  • Marian Hegemony
  • Outworlds Alliance
  • Taurian Concordat

The powers of the (sadly defunct) Star*Drive universe had to really break out the thesaurus to name themselves:

Star*Drive factions

  • Borealis Republic
  • Rigonmur Star Consortium
  • Nariac Domain
  • Orion League
  • Orlamu Theocracy
  • StarMech Collective
  • Thuldan Empire
  • Hatire Community

And we’ll close with Hero Games’ Terran Empire setting, which is unique in featuring more than one “Empire”:

Terran Empire factions

  • Terran, Varanyi, and a few other Empires
  • Conjoined Civilizations Republic
  • Thorgon Hegemony
  • Velarian Confederation
  • Mon’dabi Federation

The point is not that these aren’t interesting or well-imagined settings (I happen to appreciate them all). It’s just amusing to watch the settings’ creators jump through vocabulary hoops to come up with unique names for the different factions.

Pity the poor latecomer to the galactic superpower scene, who must make do with being a “Community” or “League,” rather than a much cooler-sounding “Hegemony” or “Theocracy”!

(And real-life country naming conventions are a bit bizarre, too—for instance, the more politically repressive and un-democratic your country is, the more likely you are to have “republic,” “democracy,” or other wildly inappropriate words in your country’s official name.)

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D&D players strike back

If you’re still smarting from those disparaging remarks about D&D by the John McCain campaign, take heart: the folks at Hasbro have stepped forward to champion the cause. Take a look at this letter from a Hasbro exec to the McCain staffer who wrote the infamous press release:

Dear Mr. Goldfarb,

I was disappointed to read the disparaging intent of your comments regarding Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) fans, both in your response to New York Times editors, and on the John McCain campaign website.

Dungeons & Dragons is a global game with millions of consumers in the U.S. and abroad. The brand is owned by Wizards of the Coast, a subsidiary of Hasbro, Inc.

For fans, the game is essentially about heroism and therefore it is not surprising to us that thousands of military personnel play and enjoy the game. Hasbro, in turn, supports the U.S. Armed Forces by sending multiple crates of game products, including Dungeons & Dragons, to our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Recently a soldier who saw your comments online said, “Wizards of the Coast (the makers of D&D) has sent care packages to the troops on many occasions, providing free gaming supplies in support of our men and women serving the country overseas to help them decompress after hours. McCain’s people should really check their facts before they spout off. Does John McCain have no idea how many GIs play D&D?”

We would very much appreciate you not making any more condescending comments about D&D — as it is a great game enjoyed by millions of people around the world. Thank you.

Wayne Charness
Senior Vice President
Hasbro, Inc.

Weirdly, this is apparently not the first time that D&D has been used as a political pejorative by Goldfarb; earlier in August he issued a clever apology for his first such offense [note: looking at this apology, I’m unsure if it actually happened or is just a joke that’s circulating around the web. If you can confirm one or the other possibility, please comment below!]:

If my comments caused any harm or hurt to the hard working Americans who play Dungeons & Dragons, I apologize. This campaign is committed to increasing the strength, constitution, dexterity, intelligence, wisdom, and charisma scores of every American.

OK, that’s pretty amusing, and lends credence to my suspicions that Goldfarb is a D&Der (or a bitter ex-D&Der). I mean, he even listed the stats out in their correct order.

And lastly, faithful reader (yes, I seem to have one or two of them) Raymond points out a very nice photoshop job of McCain reaching out to the gamers his words have so deeply wounded:


(If McCain thinks the Iraq War debate has been brutal, he’d be well advised to steer clear of the D&D edition wars.)

So at any rate, this is all just a lot of silliness, although I’ve seen more than a few gamers online taking the D&D jab a little too seriously. McCain, let us put this regrettable incident behind us. And yes, I admit that I am probably shallow enough to vote for whichever candidate first poses with a D&D Player’s Handbook.

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Alienating the RPG voting bloc!

I’m back from Gencon—pictures and details in a future post. But this morning I’m just trying to wrap my brain around this quote from a recent John McCain press release:

It may be typical of the pro-Obama Dungeons & Dragons crowd to disparage a fellow countryman’s memory of war from the comfort of mom’s basement, but most Americans have the humility and gratitude to respect and learn from the memories of men who suffered on behalf of others.

On the contrary, I thought you couldn’t spend all those years playing Dungeons & Dragons and not learn a little something about courage! Maybe an enterprising DM should volunteer to run McCain and his staff through the Tomb of Horrors?

And is it wrong of me to secretly hope that “Dungeons & Dragons crowd” will become a frequently-used political pejorative this election season like “flip-flopper” or “limousine liberal”? No publicity is bad publicity. Seriously though, unless McCain is secretly nursing a grudge against a DM that killed off his 12th-level rogue years ago, I don’t really see why one would use that phrase as an intended political insult, or what it’s even supposed to mean.

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Is something wrong with the ESRB?

1UP has an interesting and balanced piece on the current debate over the ESRB (the organization that assigns ratings to video games). As you’re probably aware, the rather spectacular “Hot Coffee” incident, which involved the discovery of inappropriate (and inaccessible without a special hack) hidden content in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, kicked off an all-new wave of criticism aimed at the ESRB and the game industry. (Way to go, GTA developers.)

Personally, I tend to side with the ESRB on these issues–much of the rhetoric coming from critics betrays a certain level of ignorance about how game content and rating systems work–but I’m certainly open to earnest suggestions for making the current rating system more useful and effective. And I would wholeheartedly support efforts to instill a greater sense of social responsibility in the game industry. Preferably without government intervention, but we’ll see what happens…

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