November 21st, 2005


(no subject)

MMORPGs as simulations of society is an entertaining idea. We can't set up different taxation systems next to each other and see which works, in the real world, but maybe we could in MMORPG-world. But for it to be a reasonable simulation, you'd have to allow for citizens to try to evade tax; black markets to dodge sales tax, undeclared income, just flat out refusal to pay. Then you need players to be orcish tax collectors. It's funny how intrinsically dystopic it seems to have taxes in a fantasy world - I think partly because people are used to their fantasy worlds not having taxes, and partly because whenever you see tax collectors in medieval settings they work for the evil king against the happy lovely freedom fighters. Also because usually, in fantasy worlds, road repairs don't cost anything.

This train of thought led to the amusing idea of the poor beleagued tax collectors working for the good king in spite of danger to their lives from the evil Robin Hood. The king is trying to keep roads in good repair, maintain a reasonable sized army against invasion from some nasty foreign types, and keep enough guards in the towns to suppress crime. But how can he be expected to fund all this? He has a reasonable tax rate, but one particularly tenacious bandit gang keeps on stealing the tax money. To make up the difference, and to have a chance of catching the bandits, he has to increase the tax rate to be able to hire more guards and manhunters. Meanwhile the citizens are deriding him and his employees for the evil high tax rate and for failing to protect them and for the roads falling into disrepair. He must be spending all that tax money on himself, the bastard! Robin Hood, on the other hand, is a lovely man because he gives the people free money. Everyone loves him. Sure, he doesn't repair the roads or protect people or anything, but nor does the guy who has all the tax money.

That's right, Robin Hood is the guy who gives everyone tax refunds even though the kingdom's budget is royally fucked. Robin Hood, King of Republicans.

Anyway, back to the original train of thought, it's amusing how poorly a MMORPG would simulate proper society. What character in a MMORPG wants a quiet life staying at home? What character aspires to be a novelist? Next to none, they all want to be out bashing heads. What head-bashing character is going to voluntarily submit to taxation, when there's only a few guards to enforce it? Those guards had better be really frightening. Maybe the answer is to allow the tax-guards to have machine-guns, and limit everyone else to knives. Knives that they aren't allowed to carry outside their homes. Maybe it is a good simulation of real society, after all. The catch is, when people start feeling oppressed in real society, they escape into a fantasy world. When your character starts feeling similarly oppressed, you log out and never return. Or, because there's no risk, you stage a revolution, throwing your worthless carcass into machine-gun fire.

Interesting possibility for analysing the success of different societal structures, though - if the characters are assigned boring jobs that they do whenever the player isn't logged in, the behaviour of the society as a whole could be reasonably extrapolated. Luckily, MMORPG characters do seem to shop just like in the real world - they want a bigger house, better furniture, nicer clothes. Without modelling that individualistic covetous acquisitive competition for materialistic happiness you couldn't tell how a society would behave.