An Ode to Symmetry
Symmetry is known as a mathematical property. Little do we petty humans understand the error of this way. In truth, Symmetry is simple perfection, a true beauty to behold, giving reason to chaos and anarchy, uniting objects into fluid excellence to create a flawless compilation of lines, squares and cones.
Symmetry appeals to all of us and with the notable exception of the would-be hipster, we wouldn’t disagree. Under the order symmetry brings us, under this veil of perfection, lays our inner-most desire for peace, discipline and stability. It is easy beauty and thus warms us all, it is no impudenceand thus even those that lack the eye for the accentuating accent in style will have no real trouble to set up an orderly system with clear forms and purpose.
Symmetry plays a part in nearly every game I play. Even though the days in which I would utterly refuse to march out of my gates without an even number of troops who, if it was not completely necessary to have the opposite would also be of the same kind, are long gone, a realistic ratio of units, together with even numbers and beautiful formations was daily business a few years ago and back then, I wouldn’t have it any other way. ‘What idiot would only build these “monstrous-in-your-face-I-pwn-everything-units” that, in reality, only existed in few numbers, if you could have a whole field of useless, pitchfork wielding men that do no damage and endure even less?’
The beauty of order and perfection
Granted, I didn’t think exactly along those lines but the result was the same. It didn’t matter what game was played, whether it was Empire Earth, Age of Empires or Stronghold, the story was the same: My army would head out with evenly counted troops accompanied by only a select few elites – for them, I liked the number eight for some reason. In the rare cases where I would by accident find myself wielding an uneven number, an unfortunate pixelman would be bestowed the honour of taking one for the team with a quiet press of the ‘Delete’ button. You fell for a worthy cause, buddy. My obsession went as far as having the impulse to curse my opponent if he had failed to kill an even number of my troops. Indeed, it felt worse to lose one man instead of two and whole offensives have been known to halt should somehow a single man die before the actual battle commenced.
Even games like SimCity, TrackMania or Combat Flight Simulator were not spared my symmetric fury. A city had to be built according to exact specifications and the land changed accordingly. A car had to be fabulous and advertisement placed on the exact same spot on the opposite side of the chassis. As for Combat Flight Simulator? Actually, this game was one of the worst nightmares for me. Yes, Mircosoft’s WWII Simulator brought forth horrendous attacks for numerical perfection to the point where I would take less fuel and ammunition on my planes to ensure that I would not go flying into a dogfight with the grievous offense of having an uneven amount of bullets loaded and some awkward amount of liters in my tank. No Sir, Bis18marck70 does not go into battle unless he has exactly 2000 7.62cm MG rounds in his little warbird – it was a matter of principle and style. It was also bloody insane.
Every Empire is build upon Order, Structure and Dicipline
As you can see, symmetry and realism – in that order for as you noticed, symmetry beat realism in the case of my trusty Focke-Wulf - played the foremost role in my battle plan, and the sheer notion of setting up an unbalanced rabble of bits and bytes made me cry in agony for it stood against all reason, order and discipline. Now, with the wisdom of an elder, I know the error of my ways, but this nasty feeling of heresy whenever I fight without the reassuring surrounding of even numbers and a clear, logically set-up remains. And when I talk about logic, I talk about my logic – the one that sheds away unit stats and efficiency for favour of look, realism and formational beauty.
I often think back to the moment when I finally realized what silly madness had befallen me all those years. I remember it clearly for it shattered my perception of PC Gaming, myself and the World itself. It was during a multiplayer match in Stronghold: Crusader where I, until this moment in time, considered myself to be a true expert. Building up my base, I noticed that something peculiar was happening on the other side of the map. With my pitiful arms industry geared towards perfection and my castle built more with beauty in mind than its defensibility, I was shocked to see what horrible creation unfolded before me. Walls, ugly but strong, littered with an uneven number of batista's, catapults, bow- and crossbowmen, towers more numerous than one could count and knights as far as one could see. Heresy! My flimsy army of spearman would hold them if I can just funnel them into a small gap but the massive amounts of stones being flung upon my walls made the probability of this a far-fetched fantasy.
Curse the enemy for not creating craters in a symmetric fashion
I lost - Obviously. My faithful guard of eight knights made a heroic last stand – which lasted, ironically, about eight seconds - and that was it. I understood that things had to change, I needed to adapt, to play big, to outgun and outnumber my foe. To do this, I went absolutely crazy when it came to building things. I adopted the Russian saying of ‘Quantity is a Quality in itself’ and paired it with my German sense of perfection and competence. Henceforth, only the best would roll out of my base in numbers that would not only obliterate my enemy but utterly eradicate any trace of his existence. Victory became paramount.
Yet, even with sweet victory following time after time after time, this environment ignorant of order and beauty felt somewhat distant. What did victory mean if it was achieved in these circumstances? A compromise had to be made between efficiency and order, victory and splendor. After countless hours of debating with myself on this issue, a working system was finally established and this pleased both the perfectionist and victory-hungry within me. Differentiating between the expendable and essential, from this point on my base would be a place of symmetric perfection while my army was geared towards efficiency and obliteration. This ‘Overwhelmnation’ – It’s a word now, deal with it – went on to find its way into many a game, ultimately changing my tactics as a whole. Indeed, in nearly every game I have given templates for base layouts from which I deviate only should the situation require it. My army however, is a grand mob of hundreds of expendable units for which my past protectionism was long gone. The times where the loss of a single man brought me close to despair were over. As Spock said: 'the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.'
This obsession is not only one of my own making, I see it in many an opponent and somehow it does not surprise me. Videogames are there to give us some time-out, an alternative reality to indulge our fantasy. Why not use this time to build up something to perfection? The real world is an imperfect place and using one's free time to shape an imaginative yet immersive world into a beautiful place of order and stability with which one can identify, can hardly be said to be gamebreaking?