What with Election Day fast approaching for my estranged colonial cousins across the pond, my thoughts have turned to politics of late. I got to thinking about the conjunction of politics and MMOs, and indeed if there even was such a thing. Do any modern MMOs have a recognisable political system? Is there even a place for politics to play a role in MMOs? What I thought I'd do is have a look at a handful of forms of government and imagine how they might be applied to MMOs, and see if that can't get a discussion going. In short, I want you to do my work for me.
Anarchy – At it's most basic, anarchy means 'without rulers'. One of the definitions provided by the Chambers website is, "the absence of law and government without any implication of ensuing chaos, where the traditional hierarchical systems are replaced by an unwritten agreement that each individual's talents, rights, liberties, etc should be highly valued." That has a rather lovely ring to it, don't you think? At first pass, it might seem that most MMOs exist as Anarchic states, with no form of central government in-game, handing out punishments or dictating crimes, etc. Until, that is, one receives a visit from a GM wielding the ban-hammer because you spent all morning griefing some lowbie because mummy buttered your toast the wrong way. A fine theory, but much like Socialism, far too reliant on people being nice to one another for no reason other than being nice. It may not surprise you that I hold little hope for that working well with the average timmy.
Totalitarianism – Not likely to be a good idea. Totalitarian regimes do not have a good track record. A political system where power can be exerted over every facet of public and private life doesn't hold much scope for a thriving virtual community. A regime where a single party holds control over government, where mass media is state-controlled and where propaganda is rife and the rights and freedoms most of us take for granted simply do not exist is not likely to make it easy to run your bank alt up the road to the Auction House is it? Still, there's options there to fight against a system such as that – playing the part of a brave resistance fighter, working secretly from the shadows to undermine the regime certainly holds some appeal.
Dictatorships tie in with Totalitarianism. While a dictatorship is not technically an totalitarian state, in reality most dictatorships throughout history show or have shown totalitarian characteristics. Most people are familiar with the concept of a military dictatorship. A regime where political power resides with the military, and is rarely relinquished except through force? Sounds like a PVP-ers wet dream. Definite potential there.
Democracy – The political system most of us should be intimately familiar with. Democracy can be subdivided down into various types, but we'll stick with the generalised application of the term, in which political power ultimately rests with the people. Equal rights and Democracy go hand in hand, as does freedom of speech, press and political expression. Basic, fundamental human rights and the equality of all people are also assumed to be part of Democracy. Take a good look, and I doubt you'll find any MMOs out there running this system. I maybe wrong, and please correct me if that's the case, but I doubt I am. I don't remember voting Thrall for Warchief, nor choosing Velen as the leader of the Draenei?
I'm not talking about real-life political figures rallying in-game, I'm talking about a game with a fully-implemented political system, ideology or regime in place which controls, effects and potentially limits how the game is played. Depending on the system, players would have a greater or lesser degree of control over the system. With Totalitarianism, you may manage to become a member of The Party, even climb its ranks, but you'll never change the fundamental nature of the system. With Democracy, if you don't like something then protest, demand change, campaign to have yourself voted into power and make changes yourself. With Anarchy, if you don't like something, go do it differently somewhere else, and see if anyone else comes to join in.
As I said at the top of the page, I'm not a student of politics, so I may well have made some glaring errors here. If so, please let me know via a quick comment, below. While you're there, let us know what you think about politics in MMOs. Good, bad or indifferent, let us know, I promise we won't laugh. At least, not to your face.