People are germs
Agar.io is ostensibly a micro-organism simulator. You play as a small dot and eat other small, static dots in the pursuit of growing bigger. But there are other mobile dots—other players—sharing your micro environment. Bigger dots can consume smaller dots. Communication between players is impossible. As much as Agar.io is about microbes, it also serves as a beautiful insight into human nature—and it’s an ugly little world.
Agar.io has a neat little feature whereby entering in certain nicknames colours your dot certain ways. Choose the name Netherlands, for example, and the dot takes the form of a scrawled version of the Dutch flag. Likewise for numerous other nations, and certain other names: CIA, doge, and various planets also have custom dots associated. I read one article discussing the interesting connotations formed when a bunch of nations face off against each other: imagine a minuscule USA being devoured by the old USSR—I saw it plenty.
But the most interesting element I have discovered revolves around behaviour and the W key, which shoots a little blob of your mass out into the micro-universe. These thoughts began to form after encountering two dots: feed for team and pls dont eat me. These two players tried to break down the communication barriers and work with others, and it made me hopeful… right up until pls dont eat me ate me. Jerk.
The other player was onto something, though. In another server, I came across a player who was bigger than me. They weren’t actively chasing me, but they were uncomfortably close. So I tried something unconventional: I shot some mass at him. He rolled over it, absorbing it into his mass, and then fired a shot back. That was it; we were a team.
There was no noise, not fanfare, not even a definite confirmation. But I knew we had a shared understanding, and together we might conquer the leaderboard. (I regret not making a note of his name, but my familiarity with Korean characters is not high.) We branched out, avoiding the juggernauts and consuming both inanimate and animate blobs as we saw fit.
And for a time, life was good. We bumped into each other (not literally, thankfully, as one of us invariably would’ve been absorbed) a few times, the larger shooting a few blobs of mass to the smaller to reaffirm our status and help the other out. Things were good, until I overcommitted trying to consume and eradicate ISIS and ended up a victim of somebody else. Probably the moon.
It was devastating, certainly, but I was preoccupied with this bizarre feeling of connectedness. Without language, we had established an alliance in a game where becoming the largest seems possible only through the death and exploitation of the weak. Journey provides a beautiful cooperative experience—arguably the most beautiful—but the other player is never a threat, so finding someone to trust never requires a leap of faith.
Even the concept of now devouring anything and everything in your path seems contrary to the ‘winning strategy’. For the first few attempts, I vowed not to eat another player. This ended poorly; you can’t grow big enough to ward off would-be predators surviving only on the static dots. Then, in a fit of desperation, I assimilated a dot called Nazi and decided that eating bad guys was a little more justifiable, if I must be carnivorous. Bad guys with bad names it was (and there are a lot; be wary of Agar.io if foul language offends).
But by the time I encountered my team mate, I was well past the point of playing Agar.io as anything other than a survival of the fittest game. Everybody smaller than me became a part of the collective. I was consumed by the desire to consume others! And then it all changed, just like that, with a single blast of mass in self defence.
So I guess that, even if life and human nature seem fixated on the notion of survival of the fittest, hope still remains for a brighter tomorrow. Even through communication barriers, those who are willing can find a way to work together. Maybe we don’t need to grow or evolve at the cost of others.
But when it comes to names, people are still grubs. You can play Agar.io for yourself here.