Games that communicate political messages are well among us. In some cases, one might consider them as where "simulation meets political cartoons" (in the language of Gonzalo Frasca, Newsgaming.com). Wired News recently published a related piece (Playing Games With a Conscience). A challenge is to communicate a caricature of the real-world as entertainment. The designers of the recent computer game Republic: The Revolution reported "...(that) game makers spent a lot of time trying to work out how to convey complex political ideology to gamers."
But this is just the beginning, it gets better.
What about the twist of a SimCandidate (as this TN thread discussed)? Or by extension could the next step for an MMORPG be a "simulation meets political role-playing? Analogous to a Live Action Role Playing (LARP)? The problem is that its hard to get the right outcomes to emerge from the players. For example, a note in this paper described how a Continental Congress went astray, thusly:
We created the Continental Congress and because I knew things the teacher didn't share with the students we ended up not having the Continental Congress, Delaware rejoined the Empire and New York and New Hampshire were at war. Anyway, (laughs) I was accused by my professor of perverting his exercises
So, one needs an in-game political system to make it work. And what would that be? Matthew Michaly, in an interesting article "Constructive Politics in a Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game (Gamasutra 2000, login required), articulates one principle:
Since one of the explicit goals of a political system in an MMORPG is to glorify the participants, and since you do have an admin staff that can step in to stop extreme cases of citizen-abuse, you do not really need to worry as much as many modern governments do about the idea of checks and balances.
If Matthew's implication is right and a "positive" design bias for for MMORPG political systems is what is needed, would this just be an entertainment compromise? Or would such be an inspired choice, a design unleashed by rules elsewhere to balance things out (analogs to "drains and faucets" for economic systems)?
The tenor of the approach suggested so far is top-down, design driven: the designers of these systems will figure it out, we play. Lost is the Woodstock of We The People. Where is the inevitable feedback loop from the masses? In the extreme, is this where Kevin Parker's challenge everything ideology (see this TN thread) manifests? Can we doubt such a force - after all, from here (DrC):
Seems bizarre that writers who lay so much emphasis on emergence would not recognize that any collection of 150,000 interacting people already does have real society and real politics.
If we are barely beyond the beginning, what then of the middle?
Perhaps Eric Hoyt's point here is right. If Virtual Words can portray rules system to people that they can relate to more intensely than Real Life then perhaps it is in the laboratories of MMORPGs that political awareness and activism will become keenly sharpened? Will they there take on an edgy and raw quality unfettered by the tedious checks and balances that the RW finds so necessary?
I am breathless. Which is the tail and which is the dog? Will we learn our politics in VW's and then project them onto the RL around us, or vice versa (see this TN discussion)?