Monday, June 04, 2007

With Great Power Comes... Greater Power

Most fans of Spider-Man, either through the comics or the recent string of successful movies, are familiar with the phrase "with great power comes great responsibility." The phrase is so ubiquitous that Weird Al is able to say in one of his parodies, "if you missed it, don't worry, they'll say the line again and again and again"! After learning a harsh lesson early in his career, Spider-Man resolves to use his power for good whenever and wherever he can.

It's a good phrase. A good moral lesson for our time. I wish that more people seemed to share it.

I've taken to playing the classic game, Risk, quite a bit recently. My family has a now-legendary tale to tell from last Christmas, where I picked up a game already in progress with my nephew. His great-uncle had been playing with him, and was doing rather poorly, but it was getting late, and so he decided to turn in, leaving it to me to serve as "custodian" of his failing empire until it could finally be defeated.

The game lasted several more hours, until just before sunrise, when my nephew finally threw in the towel, needing to get some sleep before his parents woke up again. By the time this happened, I had successfully taken the small army I inherited to take over the bulk of my nephew's forces. The writing was on the wall, but it would likely have taken several more turns to finally finish him off.

My more recent attempts to play Risk have always been on the computer, which goes considerably faster than the board game version. I don't always win, but I think I've figured out more or less how to strategize the game to its greatest potential. Because the game allows a player to continue attacking indefinitely, so long as one has enough troops, and an adjacent enemy country to send them to, one can do considerable damage so long as one doesn't fight oneself into a corner. The other important element is the use of the cards. These represent technological advances, and when played, grant an immediate boost in the number of troops one gets. If you can survive long enough to be able to play your cards, you can turn the tables around very quickly. Moreover, if you completely destroy one of your opponents, you get all of their cards, as well, enabling you play a set again in the near future (Of course, this element did not come into play in the 2-player game with my nephew).

Since troops are given at the beginning of a player's turn based on the number of countries one possesses, it is quickly apparent that whoever has a greater number of countries gets a greater number of troops, thereby enabling them to take over other countries with greater efficiency. If this is coupled with the extra cards one receives for destroying one's opponents completely, it becomes quickly apparent that whoever is leading at any point in the game has the odds tipped rather heavily in their favor to win the game entirely. Other players have little recourse but to try to survive long enough to get a lucky card draw (and it's concomitant boost in troop levels), but this becomes more difficult the more other players are annihilated, since the leader is better able to play card combinations earned through this tactic.

I'm afraid that life seems to be more like Risk than it is like the Spider-Man series. More often, people with great power use that power to achieve even greater power, rather than to "responsibly" help other people. That's not to say that it's impossible for someone in a "lower" power position to achieve better, but more often than not this accomplished through a fortuitous turn of events rather than from any effort on the "power deficient" person's part. While the person in the lower position can do certain things to improve his/her position (and by all means should do all he/she can), it remains much more difficult for such a person to do anything to improve his/her position than it is for the person who already has great power. And if the powerful person continues to use his/her power to achieve more power, rather than using it to help those who have less power, the situation is only made worse.

I wish there were more people like Spider-Man out there, who use their great powers to help others. It doesn't help matters that Spider-Man is a fictional character. We need people with his philosophy in the real world. But if more people did follow his motto, "With great power comes great responsibility," the world would certainly be better off for it.

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