Transitioning from Defending to Raiding
For most of my time in NationStates, it would have been hard to picture me as a raider. At the time I decided to switch from defending to raiding, my history as a defender was pretty well-documented within defender circles. I’d contributed quite a bit to defending, most notably as a former Field Commander of TITO - the military arm of 10000 Islands. I’d defended hundreds upon hundreds of regions, and spent a ton of time building up 10000 Islands - perhaps the most notable anti-raider region in NationStates - and its community. In the process, I moved to The Black Hawks, a region that advertises itself as “the Most Feared Military Organisation in NationStates,” from a region that describes raiders as tyrants and bullies - in short, as a cancer within this game.
Since then, many people have asked me the same questions: Why? How? Was it worth it? The answers to most of those questions are fairly complex, and there are a few things to keep in mind if you’re thinking about doing something similar - or if you’re trying to figure out how to avoid bleeding members to your opponents.
For most, your NationStates Gameplay alignment isn’t too important. Especially for those at the bottom of the totem pole, it’s not such a big deal even in the context of NationStates. Whether you raid or defend governs what regions you’re likely to join, and who you spend time with during update… and that’s about it. Raiders can still have defender friends, and vice-versa. Of course, people who are higher up in a leadership position, or who have invested time into building up a community, often have more to lose from walking away.
For most, switching means leaving a region you’ve been active in for a couple of months at most, and turning your back on a community that might notice you left - but then again, maybe not. For me, switching meant leaving a community that I’d helped build. It meant turning my back on defending while I was at its peak. It meant leaving the only real home I knew in this game, the region that I’d recruited dozens of people to join, the region where I’d spent years serving in civilian and military leadership. It meant leaving a region that preaches a black-and-white gospel where raiders are cyberbullies and defenders are valiant heroes, for a region full of those supposed cyberbullies. In some ways, my decision to switch was agonizing. In others, it was all too easy.
10000 Islands (or XKI) is perhaps most well known in Gameplay circles for its moralist stance. When I was first starting out in NationStates, moralism came naturally to me. After all, I was pretty young, and in a region full of people who were also either fairly young or - as I was at the time - fairly conservative. For these reasons, I was predisposed to seeing things in a very black-and-white manner, and often had my viewpoints reinforced by the people around me. I bought into the myth of raiders being sandcastle-kickers, which made moralism easier: if raiders are cruel, mean people, you’re not really missing much by shutting them out. I embraced these policies at first, and TITO embraced me in turn, promoting me through the ranks to Field Commander - the highest rank that anyone not named Grub would hold until his retirement many years later.
Of course, this didn’t last. Grub and I butted heads from time to time on various issues, and I was starting to burn out from my time in the XKI regional government. When Grub removed me as Field Commander, there wasn’t much motivating me to remain in the region. I had taken on responsibility, burned myself out, and then eventually withdrew from the game entirely in 2009 - a cycle that I’d repeat a couple of years later, from 2011 to 2013.
When I returned to XKI for the last time in 2018, I returned to a very different region than the one I’d left. Nearly all of the friends I had made over the years had moved on for one reason or another. The people I ran into knew me not as a person, but as a character in a story. My decision to take on increased responsibility probably didn’t help matters - when I accepted a leadership role in TITO once more, this probably helped to set me apart from most of the members of that region, and perhaps made me less approachable to newer, less experienced members of the community. Once again, I felt myself slipping into the same familiar cycle I’d experienced a couple of times before: gaining responsibility, burning out, and leaving. This time, however, it felt different. The moralism that resonated with me when I was younger felt cruel and uncaring all these years later. The contrast became especially stark after reading through old TITO threads regarding leadership appointments. Back then, I’d have chuckled at the suggestion that hating raiders made someone especially well-qualified for TITO leadership, or even made a similar suggestion myself. Now, it just seemed harsh. Cold. Dehumanizing, even. I wasn’t completely sure whether the region had changed, or whether I had. All I knew was that I needed out.
So I began looking for an exit route - the next place to go. Naturally, I considered other defender organizations first. The Grey Wardens were smarter and more modern. I’d interacted with them quite a bit while defending, but I was worried that I wouldn’t fit in well with the culture of their group. The Rejected Realms Army was a good group of people that I’d legitimately enjoy being around, but at the time they weren’t so active in Gameplay - I was worried that I’d essentially be signing up as a member of The Grey Wardens with a unicorn flag. The South Pacific was reasonably active, but over the years I’d come to want to avoid what I saw as tumultuous feeder politics. It would be a gut punch to invest a lot of time and energy into this region, only to see political winds of change sweep raiders into power. Creating my own organization might have made sense in a different climate, but not in one where I’d felt myself beginning to burn out.
Having ruled out defender organizations, I began considering something that would have seemed unthinkable to nearly everyone - including me! - just months before: joining raiders. I’d met a raider by the name of Miss Bad Life Choices a few months prior, and she seemed fairly nice and trustworthy. Having made friends, I reached out about raiding, and about joining The Black Hawks. In my mind, there were only a couple of obstacles I’d need to overcome, namely, their natural skepticism of an entrenched defender, and my massive distrust of specific raiders (and raiders in general).
For many people, changing gameplay alignments isn’t so big a deal. Maybe you try one side - at first. Maybe you find it boring, or you just can’t get into the region, or maybe you just get stomped every single time you go on a mission. It’s easy to think: “what if I had joined the other side?” After all, it’s just a game, right? Nothing’s stopping most people from joining up with the other team. For most people, the next steps are pretty straightforward - you find an active organization on the other side, and you ask to join.
Of course, most people don’t make a career out of moralism, and then defect to the side they’d been trained to think of as “the enemy.” I’d been warned by Miss Bad Life Choices that, should I want to join The Black Hawks, I should inform their leadership beforehand of my true identity. In other words, that sneaking in unannounced would be an intensely bad life choice. To do this right, I’d need to have a meeting with the Council of Hawks - the leadership of The Black Hawks. They’d have questions for me, and certainly I had questions for them. They’d want to be reassured that I wasn’t just joining to gather information about them and report back to other defenders, and naturally I wanted to be reassured that they wouldn’t just take my application and tell me to h*ck off as they reported me to other defenders for a laugh.
With that in mind, I steeled myself for a dramatic confrontation. Of course, it never came. I had some misgivings about The Black Hawks - especially regarding Souls - and they had some misgivings about me, but these proved not to be fatal. It was a fairly laid back procedure, complicated only by my wish to attempt to leave on good terms. Had I resigned immediately, TITO would likely have had my successor promoted in short order, but I wanted to leave the door open to good relations in the future with the region that I’d spent years helping to build up. Besides, I was preparing a cross-country RL move at the time, so I knew I wouldn’t have much time to make update either way. So I went through with the switch, offically joining The Black Hawks as Julianistan so that I could get to know the rest of the community with a clean slate, and waiting for the right moment to merge the two identities.
Luckily, this moment presented itself shortly after the end-of-year Gameplay Awards. I’d just won Defender of the Year, and it seemed like a natural breaking point, so I went about switching as cleanly as possible. I demasked myself on the 10000 Islands forum, removed myself from the Discord, informed XKI leadership and The Black Hawks at large that I was moving over to The Black Hawks, and waited for a few hours. I figured that would be enough time for the information to disseminate through XKI - they’d probably need to tell people that I wasn’t in TITO anymore, and to not ask me about sensitive information - so after several hours, I felt comfortable announcing my switch to Gameplay at large.
Was It Worth It?
I can honestly say that the choice to switch from defending to raiding was the best decision I’ve ever made in this game. I’d wavered a little at first, but the reaction I received from the XKI community quickly confirmed that my choice to leave was the only healthy choice. Prominent members of the community would proceed to call me names, discount the time and effort I’d spent building up their region, and spread falsehoods about my real life circumstances to try and gain an in-character advantage. Of course, I’d expected some of this to happen, but perhaps not to this degree. I was obviously aware of their dogmatic stances, but expected perhaps a little more patience and understanding from members who were enjoying the fruits of the community I’d helped to build. However, the more I thought about it, the less I cared. I’d left a community that seemed to value ideology over people for one that values and respects the time and efforts of all of its members.
Of course, the decision to leave wasn’t one I made lightly, and it’s one you shouldn’t make without thinking quite a bit about it. Are you compatible with your region and its values? Does your region have reasons for you to stay that are based on the present - not on the time you’ve sunk into it in the past? Can you contribute to your region without burning out? If so, maybe it’s best to give your region a second look before moving on… but if not, maybe it’s time to see if you still feel the same way in a few days, and then to plan your next move. Who knows? Maybe you’ll find something that resonates more with you, and that you’re more suited to.