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Imagine a game where about the only premise you get is that every player controls a nation. If they want, they can interact with others on a forum on the internet, about those nations.

This is the premise of the browser-based game NationStates. Despite (or because of) the very limited premise, NationStates can be played several ways, be it narratively (decide how your nation evolves through daily ethical issues that you alone can solve), competitively (try to become the world number one in Basket Weaving or some other area), creatively (Roleplay your nation on web forums, act out wars, resolve diplomatic crises, participate in World Cups or develop your Region) or even to play an aggressive metagame (using the game mechanics to "Raid" the regions of other players and vandalise them, or "Defend" against this).

As you might guess, NationStates means something different for everyone.

Partly based on and partly an advertisement for Jennifer Government by Max Barry.

See also Cyber Nations, a nation sim game with more focus on gameplay.

NationStates (the actual nation-building simulator) contains examples of:

  • Added Alliterative Appeal:
    • The "Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes" issue provided us with this gem:
    “Bwaahh?!?” exclaims moustache-twirling driving-goggle-wearing charlatan RANDOMNAME, who was definitely not trying to tie your secretary to his toy train tracks. “Police with cameras? This is a breach of my civil liberties! What about privacy? Do we not have the inherent right to go about our daily, lawfully abiding lives without fearing these paparazzi pigs parading our precious picturesque moments to the putrid public as perfidious publications? Say no to copper cameras! Keep your eyes off my private business!”
    • "Space Spectacular Sours Small Stargazers", featuring a National Association of Adolescent Astronomers.
  • A.I.-Generated Economy: Nations have private and/or public sectors which their policies can influence, whether for good or for bad, so every nation has one of these out-of-universe. However, it's also possible to get an A.I. planned economy in-universe as well.
  • Anachronism Stew: Forum gameplay notwithstanding, the game's issues can send your nation back to The Middle Ages or give it AI-run government and cloning vats. Or you can do both and make genetically engineered dragons. The ability to do the latter at all suggests a 20 Minutes into the Future time frame, but you can ignore it if you choose.
  • Anarchy Is Chaos:
    • Played straight. An anarchist nation is described as "in a state of perpetual fear, as a complete breakdown of social order has led to the rise of order through biker gangs." Contradicted and averted by the various performance indicators of a nation, however, most notably in that almost all nations of this sort have very strong economies.
    • In game terms, the Anarchy classification comes from having maximum freedom/no regulations in every aspect, including business. Completely unregulated businesses can fuel extremely powerful economies, at the expense of safety, happiness, and life expectancy.
  • Anti Poop-Socking: Taken to the extreme. Issues cannot come up faster than four per day after the first 20 are resolved, and it only takes a few minutes to read each issue and make your decision. Same goes for your occasional World Assembly votes. Beyond that there is nothing to do in this game. The Meta Game, on the other hand, can easily take all day if you let it.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: In one decision, the description starts out with "In a recent high profile trial in [nation] City, notorious mobster Maxine ‘The Octopus’ Barryotti was accused of murder, racketeering, grand theft, and jaywalking."
  • Artistic License – Economics: The game's simplistic economic engine leads to oddities such as nations with the strongest possible economy ratings having 100% tax rates (but sometimes higher for the wealthy), no private sector, and no government funds spent on economic production. And that's before we get into the economic models some players propose their nations run on. Some nations even deliberately fail economics for the sake of roleplaying.
  • As You Know: If you rule your nation with a sufficiently iron fist, you can encounter an issue where you survive an assassination attempt. The opening text?
    As you very well know, a masked stranger with a pistol made an attempt on your life but moments ago while you were out on your lunch break.
  • Author Appeal: The name of the nation, the type of government and its leadership (Monarch/President-for-Life/Sporting Superstar/Chief General/Jedi/Sith) is all named after the creator. It's their nation, after all.
  • Author Avatar:
    • Pretty much the premise of the whole thing. Not all players though; many people use it to play as different characters than themselves.
    • The creator of the game has been known to appear in issues in various forms. Most notably there are many references to author Max Barry, such as Max Barry the author in issue #46 (Jennifer Government Censorship Row), Max Barry being named a beauty pageant queen as a result of pro-equality choices in Tiara Sign Of Oppression, Declare Feminists, and even a computer game called Super Barry Brothers.
    • The staff working on the game have references to themselves inserted within the issues. For example, the Pokemon-pastiches of Charchivemander, Noqoran, Gnejgar and Sleepypuff are all derived from the nation names of the Issue Editorial Staff.
  • Badass Army: Many nations want one, some have one. Defied by pacifist nations, though.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: The entire Issues game is set up around this premise, with effect lines showing a "corrupted wish" outcome on a decision. Increase aviation safety standards with more inspections? You get told that planes can be grounded for months simply because an inspector "didn't like the color". This is design-as-intended, and the exaggeration and satire is the game's purpose.
  • Big Brother Is Watching: Comes up as an issue in gameplay frequently. Defied by certain highly libertarian nations, some of whom don't even bother to conduct a census.
  • Bland-Name Product: There are several different types of products like this in the game which may appear in some issues. There's some irony here, in that the book that the game is based on openly uses the names of several real world brands as villainous mega-corporations, but in NationStates it's standard practice to use parodic names. Examples include video-sharing site WhoTube, a role-playing game called Trials and Trolls, films called Exterminator 4: Salvation, Xenoform Resurrection and Transmorphers Vengeance of the Failbots. There's also Maxémon Woah, a Pokémon GO stand-in.
    • As well, the game sometimes barely even tries to hide the names of real-life products (e.g. a food company called Qraft) while some are more arcane, like the soda company Eckie-Cola (the in-game answer to Coke).
    • Some aversions to this include early issues, like Issue 3 ("Harry Potter Censorship Row").
  • Bread and Circuses: The issue "We Who Are About To Die Would Rather Go Home" allows your nation to institute gladiatorial fights to simultaneously entertain and to deal with rebellious elements.
  • Butt-Monkey: World Census interns. They always end up being sent to investigate a nation's stats in the worst possible ways.
  • Card-Carrying Villain: Through certain acts, a nation or region is able to be condemned through a vote held at the World Assembly, this game's version of the UN. However, many players view being condemned as an achievement, such as the Black Hawks, who has achieved two condemnations and is proud of this fact.
    Aura 001: It provides them with a 'Condemned' icon next to their region name, and a 'Condemned' tag in their regional tags. It offers no actual penalty towards the region. Due to this, many of the self-proclaimed 'evil' players on Nationstates attempt to 'achieve' a Condemnation. It is one of the WA's failures, as it was originally conceived that Condemnations in this format would drive users away from any regions [or players] with the label. It has typically done the opposite.
  • Common Tongue: Every character within the game speaks English, even if they have foreign-sounding names or if the player's nation represents a non English-speaking one. This may be an Acceptable Break From Reality as the game is created by and for English-speaking players. Also, within the game reality, several issues assume that while an issue is presented and written and English, the fictional people are speaking the native tongue of NATION NAME.
  • Conlang: Given that this is a nation-building simulator, Nation States has many user-created languages in varying levels of complexity and refinement.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: There's lots of opportunity for embracing or battling corporate corruption, which is perhaps unsurprising given that the novel the game is based on is all about this.
  • Crapsack World:
    • As an often-grim parody of the real world, there's all sorts of horrifying things going on, including nations which openly have slave-based economies, dumping of radioactive waste in international waters, intrusive surveillance societies, and so-on. Play your cards "right", and you can do this even in an otherwise "free" nation.
    • This trope is subverted when you look at some of the worldwide stats in detail. For example, the NationStates world has far better average income equality than the real world, and crime has been eliminated or virtually eliminated in a majority of countries.
  • Cult: The game's issues have a whole host of wacky cults (the Cult of Pizza worships pizza, and "Vive la Chèvre" venerates cheese), but the most prevalent by far is the Order of Violet. While not quite a Religion of Evil, the Order is involved in some less-than-savory deeds like Human Sacrifice and religious terrorism (although both are implied to be extremist views). Its influence even sneaks outside the cult; "For the love of Violet!" occasionally shows up as a mild oath. Violet is a common Color Motif in general, with Earl Violet tea and movies like Fifty Shades of Violet.
  • Cute Kitten: The national Compassion stat is determined through "exhaustive World Census tests involving kittens".
  • Department of Redundancy Department: The Averageness of a nation is measured on the Average Standardized Normality Scale.
  • Dirty Old Man:
    "You know, there's always a compromise," says local pervert Tim Christmas while watching you from a nearby tree. "As I see it, the best way to keep both sides of the argument happy is to remove all restrictions on what adults can view and increase restrictions on minors. But at the same time, lower the age of majority by a lot. What Could Possibly Go Wrong??"
  • Disproportionate Retribution: It is possible to create a nation that punishes even minor crimes like jaywalking with public flogging.
  • Double Standard:
    • You can, after enforcing nudity, make it so that only women are forced to be nude. The game gives this decision, should it pass, an appropriate description.
    • The fact that you can't make it so only men are forced to be nude is an example within the game itself.
  • Drill Sergeant Nasty: One of the issues is soldiers complaining about sergeants forcing them to crawl through muddy minefields and climb grease-coated walls. You can side with the grunts or the sergeants, or eliminate training altogether and send out troops who don't know how to shoot, or start raising children from birth to fight.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: Many of the early issues written by Max himself are noticeably different to the later issues contributed by the community. Many of the issues are often more grounded or mundane, have very limited and polarizing options, and perhaps the most striking, references real life subjects like Harry Potter or Christianity in contrast to how later issues uses the in-universe stable of references.
  • Emergent Gameplay: The World Assembly Delegate election system gave birth to Raiding/Defending, where organizations compete to take over or protect regions by forcefully electing someone and using the delegacy's powers such as regional appearance or ejecting nations.
  • False Dichotomy: The limited options for some issues have been known to frustrate players despite the ever-present third option (simply dismissing the issue). It's considered part of good issue writing to make sure that every choice feels like a bad choice. The issue writing guide suggests that any decision made should always leave a player wondering if they've made the right choice. Of course, this doesn't always happen, usually because the choice given just isn't bad at all. One issue is about slavery and clicking the appropriate answer reads "Slavery is outlawed." That's it. Yet others will have puns instead; for example, allowing the flying of reigonal flags gives the message, "It's been a banner year for local vexicology."
  • Fantastic Measurement System: How almost every statistic is measured in the game. Authoritarianism, for example, is measured in "milliStalins", and nudity in "cheeks per square mile".
  • Felony Misdemeanor: In an issue regarding the possibility of direct democracy:
    Our citizenry nowadays don't know what's good for them. They're too busy milling around at the mall and buying sneakers WITH LIGHTS IN THEM.
  • Fun with Acronyms:
    • The "Citizens Raging Against the Police" in the "Police too Pushy?" issue.
    • The "Time To Get Serious" issue gives us "Scientific Centre of Analytical Metadata".
    • "Agents Undercover to Neutralize Troublemakers" in "The Woman From AUNT" issue.
  • Gambit Pileup: Roleplays tend to turn into this once they've been alive for long enough. Regional political structures often do it right from the start. There are numerous players trading favors and outmatching each other to get World Assembly resolutions passed or killed. Most regional alliances are set up as growing space for these. The more branches of the Broken Base one is familiar with, the more it appears that the entire game is one big Gambit Pileup that's been building up for eighteen years.
  • Grey-and-Grey Morality: More freedom isn't necessarily a good thing by the game's standards; maximum freedom in all respects is classified as "Anarchy". Even an "Inoffensive Centrist Democracy" can have ethically dubious policies. In the end, much of it depends on personal opinion and interpretation.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: There is one issue which deals with abortion and whether or not it should be legal in your nation; you can enforce or defy this trope depending on what you choose.
  • Government Agency of Fiction: More likely than you'd think.
  • Guide Dang It!:
    • A nation's World Assembly Classification is determined by (among other things) Economic Freedom, but the stat displayed on a nation's front page is Economic Output. This can get confusing if your nation is a Psychotic Dictatorship with no freedom whatsoever but a powerful economy.
    • While the forum has a list of the game's issues and their respective options, it doesn't list the prerequisites for actually getting the issues or their often counter-intuitive effects. This is intentional for the sake of surprise; it's still irritating if you're roleplaying.
  • A Hell of a Time: If your Region's Founder or (if empowered) Delegate is displeased with you, they can banish you to an outbox region called "The Rejected Realms". After years of Gameplay Derailment, players have given this region its own culture, identity and government, and it's now a well-respected participant in interregional politics that prominent players frequently emigrate to on purpose.
  • Hello, [Insert Name Here]:
    • You can pick your national animal and currency, which appears in the description like this (and may also appear in some of the daily issues you are given):
      [Nation]'s national animal is the [animal], and its currency is the [currency].
      • Every time an issue involves animals, they insert the name of the national animal even if it wouldn't work with the given situation. Said animal will actually be affected by the nation's environment, even if they are fictional animals, so you can sometimes see dragons and phoenixes "teeter on the brink of extinction due to air pollution".
      • For the currency part, this may result in Weird Currency. For example, some nations use things like Diamond Ingots or Corn Chips as their currency.
    • The nation's capital city, leader, and national religion (if you want them) can be unlocked when your population reaches a high enough level (250 million, 750 million, and 1 billion respectively; it takes about 6 months to get to 1 billion).
    • Full nation names follow the format of The [Nation classification (e.g. Federation)] of [Nation], and you can make your own custom classification when you reach 500 million. Some have made weird or amusing names using this, such as The Water Bottles are Full of H2SO4note .
  • Human Sacrifice: Just another thing you can legalize in your country.
  • Hypocritical Humor: A general in the "Budget Time: Accountants Excited" issue supports increased military spending with a warning that "tinpot dictatorships" will invade otherwise, which can come off as a little awkward if you yourself are playing as a dictatorship.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: One of the issues gives you the option to legalize cannibalism in your nation.
  • Immediate Self-Contradiction: Sometimes, the headline for a choice on an issue will contract the statistical effects of the choice. For example, choosing to promote eco-tourism results in "Hordes of Tourists are Ruining the Environment..." but the stats say that environmental beauty has increased.
  • I'm Not a Hero, I'm...: Parodied in one newspaper headline: " I'm No Hero, Says Heroic (Insert Demonym Here)"
  • Impossibly-Low Neckline: Referenced in the issue "Tiara Sign of Oppression, Declare Feminists"; the second option has a Moral Guardian supporting a nationwide dress code for women, with "necklines that never drop below the base of the neck".
  • In Name Only: Whether you're a President, a Prime Minister, or a dictator, you always have complete say over the nation's issues, and neither the Congress or Parliament or any other organization can overrule any of your choices. There are seemingly no checks and balances.
  • It Makes Sense in Context: Probably three-quarters of the forum-related stuff on this page, especially nation-specific examples, fall under this.
  • It's Up to You: Everything of importance that happens in your nation demands a personal response from you, the president/dictator/first citizen/god-emperor/whatever. Responding to these things is the entire game, but it can still come off silly, as lampshaded in "A Proselytizer To Burn":
    News media is abuzz this week as prominent atheist and anti-religious author Gary Montague has threatened to burn a copy of <state religion>'s most sacred text in order to desecrate it and offend its adherents worldwide. As usual, everyone and their mother are demanding that you do something about this.
  • Jaywalking Will Ruin Your Life: In the description particular issue, an ex-convict was denied a job and is facing a lifetime of poverty for jaywalking. You can also choose the option which allows this to happen.
  • Karma Meter: On a national scale, represented by World Assembly Categories. It's not a good vs. evil system; instead, it's a three-axis system based on Economic Freedom (conducting private enterprise without government influence), Political Freedom (choosing the system of government without government influence), and Personal Freedom (making life decisions without government influence). Note that more or less freedom isn't necessarily good or evil, and even moderate nations can have less-than-savory policies despite their "freedoms"..
  • Lampshade Hanging: Several cases. For an example in the "Hey Kid, Have a Cigar" issue, one of the options is:
    "I have a reasonable third option!" interrupts passing minister RANDOMNAME, right around the time someone normally interjects with a crazy third option.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Quite literally in the issue "Dogman Deconstructed".
    “Look, we’re not living in a comic book. This is real life, not a work of fiction,” reminds by-the-book police officer RANDOM NAME, leaning on one of the four walls of your office.
  • Lord British Postulate: It's a nation-building political simulator where players answer issues a few times a day (at most) and maybe chat on a forum. Players managed to create a combat system anyway.
  • Missing White Woman Syndrome:
    "After the kidnapping, rape, and murder of a young blond girl made national headlines in COUNTRY, the concerned parenting organization Mothers Against Youth Doing Stupid Stuff (MAYDSS) has raised concerns over the use of social networking sites by the nation's teens."
  • Non-Entity General: Originally played straight, now merely optional with the addition of nameable leaders.
  • Noodle Incident:
    • One particular issue is full of this:
      "Following a public safety disaster of unimaginable magnitude - so extreme that members of your government only mention it in hushed voices, and only then in the vaguest of terms - [Nation]'s tourism industry has hit the rocks."
    • The same issue goes on to mention within the options: A shark breaking into an oil refinery, an ant epidemic ruining farmers, and the nation's capital being coated in pink frosting.
  • Noodle Implements: The issue "Dial L for Loan" centers around the government going bankrupt after an incident involving "a foreign casino, a gambling-addicted crime lord, and a secret agent that was a bit too confident in his poker-playing abilities".
  • Non-Player Character: There are several NPC nations, most of them hostile to the player's nation, who will appear in certain issues. For example:
    • Bigtopia is a hostile dictatorship and the closest your nation has to an NPC Arch-Enemy. Among its offenses include harboring anti-player-nation activists, calling for the extermination of your people, and sucking away your nation's jobs with its cheap labor. Some issues imply that it has been (and might still be) at outright war with your nation. On the other hand, its emigrants suffer discrimination from both the player nation and other NPC nations.
    • Blackacre is another dictatorship, seemingly engaged in a Cold War with your nation. In addition, its dictator harasses and threatens other nations on Twitcher.
    • Brasilistan is yet another dictatorship that abducts people (including its own citizens' children) to work in its diamond mines. Its mistake of kidnapping some of your nation's tourists prompts the "An International Incident" issue chain, the closest thing NationStates has to a proper Story Arc.
    • Brancaland, on the other hand, is a cultured, friendly nation that's popular among tourists and retirees. Considering its multilingual policies, cold climate, and a violently separatist province, it seems to be the NPC nation equivalent of Canada.
    • Dàguó is an authoritarian country akin to the People's Republic of China and often acts as your nation's rival. (The nation's name means "big country" in Mandarin Chinese.)
    • Other notable NPC nations are East Lebatuck, Lilliputia, Marche Noir/Noire, Maxtopia, Tasmania, United Federation, Smalltopia, Skandilund, et cetera.
  • Number of the Beast: Issue 666 references a fairly popular conspiracy theory that links microchip implants with the Number of the Beast.
  • People's Republic of Tyranny: A nation is capable of becoming this not just because of its name but also from giving your citizens high political freedoms while keeping personal and economic freedoms low, turning a nation into a literal example of this trope.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Taken to a truly absurd level in "Good Guy With A Gun" issue.
    A gunman took to the mall and shot dead three people before a nearby coffee shop waitress dispatched him with five rounds from her automatic pistol. Unfortunately, as she stood over him gun in hand, a mall security guard thought she was the threat and took her out with his submachine gun. He in turn was shot by a libertarian who thought the state was finally coming to take his gun away. By the time the police arrived (and gunned down more would-be heroes who they had mistaken for terrorists), the death toll had reached fifty-seven.
  • Privately Owned Society: With the graphs, you can see your nation's economic division between private and public companies, which includes the possibility of this happening.
  • Ret-Gone: The highest possible punishment the moderators can dole out is to outright delete the nations of rule violators. On top of that, continuing to violate the rules with replacement nations can lead to a Delete-On-Sight (or DoS) order—an effective permanent ban from the site.
  • Ripped from the Headlines:
    • Quite a few of the issues; one referring to a particular Supreme Court case was written in less than a week. A lot of the time, when a real life tragedy occurs a whole bunch of copycat RPs emerge with similar things happening to their nations.
    • Exaggerated in "Controversial Coup Causes Commotion", where a former general of your country stages a coup in a peaceful backwater, which is based off an in-game headline of the former Arch-Chancellor of the FRA (a Defender alliance) overthrowing the democratic government of the South Pacific.
  • Running Gag:
    • Until late 2010, "Repeal "Condemn NAZI EUROPE" " and "Victory for gatesville!" were extremely common, and slightly annoying.
    • One particular Running Gag recurring in issues: Whenever an issue concerning your political or social freedoms springs up, you can be almost certain that one of your closest relatives (brother, cousin, sister-in-law, your aunt's best friend, etc.) will come up and kindly suggest that you Take a Third Option and simply set up a totalitarian dictatorship. Whether or not you actually do it is up to you.
  • Satire: Of the Government Procedural genre.
  • Schizo Tech: It's possible for your nation to have a space program while banning computers at the same time. In fact, the "Failure to Launch" issue requires both of these policies.
  • Shout-Out: There are a lot of these, probably more than there are issues in the game. Some examples include:
  • Silliness Switch: The Liberal and Conservative interface themes, which change nation classifications to satirical exaggerations. For example, the "Moralistic Democracy" classification is called "Ordinary Decent Hardworking People" by the Conservative theme and "Narrow-Minded Backwoodsy Bigots" by the Liberal theme.
  • Skeleton Government: No one wants to make up and explain all government ministries and offices, unless they want to.
  • Straw Character: The entire game runs on this trope, and unless you dismiss all or most of the issues that come up, your nation will inevitably become this. Even the forum guide to creating new issues states explicitly that all solutions to all issues must be wrong in some way, and the results of your decisions usually sound like they're straight out of a corrupt-a-wish game.
  • Super-Soldier: Selecting the right answer for a certain issue will result in your soldiers becoming this.
  • Take a Third Option: Even when you feel an issue could only have two logical solutions, there's often another option that may or may not make sense. Example: allow public nudity, ban public nudity, or enforce public nudity. Others are just a nonstandard extreme/ideal that would be really hard to bring about in real life. Not to mention you can just dismiss the issue altogether if it appears to be Failure Is the Only Option. This is lampshaded by the issue "Hey Kid, Have A Cigar!" with the third option saying...:
    "I have a reasonable third option!" interrupts passing minister (RANDOM NAME), right around the time someone normally interjects with a crazy third option.
  • Take That!: Toxicity is measured in Kardashians.
  • Teens Are Monsters: If your nation is hard enough on youth crime or has big enough problems with it, that gets a special mention.
  • Unobtainium: Issue 435 has miners excavating unobtainium ore, named as-is.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: One issue in the nation involves dealing with the aftermath of a terrorist attack. One of the options is to make terrorism a legal form of protest, effectively letting anyone in your nation embrace this trope as they please.
  • Videogame Caring Potential: You can make your nation into a blooming utopia.
  • Videogame Cruelty Potential: You can make your nation into a "Psychotic Dictatorship" where you refer to your citizens as "Your Little Playthings" and the phrases "Political Freedoms" and "Civil Rights" do not exist in your vocabulary.
  • Violation of Common Sense: A serious problem when trying to make a specific type of nation, especially given the game's damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don't issues. For example, even reasonable decisions such as banning incest or cannibalism can result in a decrease in personal or political freedom. Banning anything, no matter how vile, can be seen as a restriction of freedom by the game's logic.
  • Zerg Rush:
    • You can't go to war with other regions in the actual simulator. However, you can get a large group of nations on your side to join a region, have them vote your nation the one in charge, then kick out the original members. It's cruel, but not against the rules.
    • Which gives rise to the entire raider (who do this) versus defender (who prevent this by either giving additional support to the original members, or by voting the raiders out before handing the control back to the natives) game.
  • Zombie Apocalypse: 2013 April Fools gag was a giant zombie apocalypse, with nations having to either kill, cure, or export the zombies in their country. It now repeats every Halloween, lasting 36 hours and giving a special issue. Each nation has some of their population turned into zombies and gets three options; set the military on the zombies (converts zombies to dead), research a cure (after a few hours you get cure missiles which allow converting zombies to survivors not only in your nation but in other nations of the same region) or joining the horde (creating more zombies and getting hordes to infect other nations in the region). The options encourage regions to work together as a team and there are several leaderboards to show success with each strategy.

The World Assembly & Security Council (United Nations Simulator, minus the veto) contains examples of:

Some NationStates RPs with their own pages are:

Alternative Title(s): Nation States