Seeing as how we have yet to actually experience combat in space, the best analog that humanity has come up with for how spaceships would duke it out is naval combat. Like sailing the seas, flying around in space doesn’t give us a whole lot of obstacles like, say, hiding behind a hill does, or using trees as cover does for infantry. As such, space battles — like naval battles — tend to be depicted as either small fighters zipping in between much larger battleships and carriers, making for an exciting and somehow effective scene of maximum kinetic value.
Unlike naval warfare, however, space combat doesn’t seem to be bound by constraints of things like “gravity” or “common sense”. Consider Star Wars, one of the most egregious offenders out there. It seems that with every iteration in the franchise, the ships get insanely larger until they simply said “fuck it” and put a gun inside an existing planet and probably wondered why they didn’t think of that six movies ago. Here on Earth, we’re limited by being on Earth, as well as available resources, and probably someone pointing out the fact that, no, an aircraft carrier the size of Australia would not be “bitchin'” because it would be impossible to pilot.
I was thinking about this in terms of the effectiveness of small ships in space faring games which feature these behemoth weapons of war because here on Earth the scale between, say, a fighter jet and the largest seafaring vessels we have are much closer. I believe that in video games focused on space battles, not having to restrict scale tends to grant carte blanche towards offering super-massive capital ships, which in turn leads the players to gravitate towards these super-massive capital ships as the most desirable because they pack the biggest punch, sport the best survivability, and widen the gap between which ships are effective in a fight against them.
This started because I saw a post on the Star Citizen recruitment forums boasting about the capital-class ship that an organization was fielding. To me, that was saying that their org was well suited to doing whatever, whenever, to whomever because they could use their big ship to intimidate and throw their weight around. That just sounds like they were confident that there weren’t going to be too many other ships out there that could cause them any harm. While that’s obviously false, it made me consider a scenario which had another organization mining in an asteroid field, flanked by a handful of Auroras, or even a few haulers escorted by a few Mustangs, and who suddenly come into contact with this other org and their massive ship who decide that they want to make trouble — because when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. You know that this org will be fielding this ship just to ensure that they have the largest player in the skirmish, anticipating that anyone they roll on won’t have anything deployed that could realistically have a fighting chance.
To believe this, then, there has to be some truth to it, which is what got me wondering. I have a Constellation Andromeda, a popular class of ship which in this particular configuration is considered to be a “light freighter-slash-gunship”. I also have a smaller Avenger Warlock whose specialty is that it has an EMP burst device (which is terrible, BTW). I think that maybe the Connie could help defend a convoy against a larger ship, on account of the fact that it’s sporting a missile rack which can deal heavier damage, but what could the Warlock do to a cap ship? I mean, barring the EMP generator (which is terrible, BTW). How about smaller ships like the Mustang, or the Aurora? How effective would an escort of five Mustangs be against a capital ship? Or a capital ship and whatever escorts they brought?
Games are technically designed for balance and the nutso lack of limitations that space combat seems to engender means that there’s no end to the ladder of effectiveness that devs can tack on to the class progression. This also means that min-maxers are going to be making a beeline towards the largest, most armed and armored ships available, perhaps counting on the fact that most players are going to be flying lower end ships that would be easy to steamroll even in cap ships that were half as effective as whatever behemoth they were flying. If the race to the top-tier ships is how people feel that they must play in order to ensure that they rarely have to worry about losing any encounter that they decide to initiate, then I can totally see how folks on the lower end of the power spectrum are going to feel disenfranchised by those who got to jump the line, either because they had more organizational power to put behind their fleet, or because their members have deeper pockets to afford to pledge for the top-of-the-line ships.