I'm hardly an Everquest expert, but I'm in the process of writing an essay about law and governance in Norrath, and I was drawn into a side issue on which I wanted to elicit comments. (So beware, I'll steal your thoughts if I like them).
My primary focus in the essay will be on two issues that I feel more qualified to discuss: first, the general relation of game rules and game governance systems to "real" law, and second, the relation of coded (so-called "architectural") software constraints to legal regulation. Still, in parsing out these issues in relation to Everquest, I feel obligated to discuss Everquest as a text that actually represents a fiction of governance, and investigate, to some extent, how this fiction relates to the other "governance" issues I want to talk about. So here's a (slightly edited) bit of my thinking:
The lack of coherent fictional government in Norrath was a conscious choice on the part of the game's designers. As opposed, for instance, to the fictional world of Star Wars, where the Republic (and later the Empire) control the galaxy, or to the fictional world of Ultima Online's Britannica (Everquest's sister MMORPG), Norrath's fictional space is divided into continents (e.g. Faydwer, Odus, Antonica, Kunark, Velious), and "planes" (e.g. Fear, Sky, Growth, Mischief, Hate) that are subdivided among competing races, religions, and factions...
In the fiction of Norrath, both the player avatars and their NPC and mob electronic counterparts are constrained by political allegiances to various racial, religious, and factional groups that struggle for control of the cyberspaces of Norrath. The players are drawn into these racial, religious, and factional conflicts simply by the nature of their avatar presence in Norrath: in order to traverse the text of Everquest, one must choose an avatar that must owe certain political allegiances. All avatars in Norrath are aligned with a particular race, a particular religion, and a particular profession. This creates a bewildering variety of potential political fractures, as conflicts exist within and between various allegiances. For instance, at the time of the Kunark expansion (circa 2000), there were 17 different deities to whom players could swear their devotion (an 18th option was the lack of faith), as well as 13 different "racial" identities, and over 100 known organizational factions.
Given the diversity of religious and racial divisions, it is not surprising that the various cyberspaces of Norrath are hardly cohesive fictional polities, but instead are overlain with profound divisions, secret enclaves, and alliances between subgroups in order to further goals in larger struggles between "good" and "evil." To take a few examples: on the continent of Odus, the Toxxulia Forest region is claimed by two divergent factions of the Erudite race (the good council and the evil Necromancers). On the continent of Antonica, in the region of Freeport, a war rages between the Paladins and the Freeport Militia. Players (Everquest subscribers) whose avatars are of the paladin "class" are killed on sight by the guards of the Freeport Militia. Players who choose the Wood Elf race will begin the game in their racial "starting city", the tree-city of Kelethin on the continent of Faydwer. However, new players should be advised that it is not in their best interest to kill any Frogloks (frog-like humanoid mobs) that they encounter, because doing this will cause them to "lose faction" (social standing) with the Froglok race. This will create strategic problems in completing quests later in the game. One could go on, but it is hardly necessary-the fictional and factional politics of Norrath are clearly envisioned by the game designers as a profoundly Byzantine affair.
So my first question is whether I'm right that the divisions in Norrath's fictional alliences run a bit deeper than the fictions of governance in other MMOGs? Based on my own experiences with WoW, CoH, DAoC, and a few others, that certainly seems to be the case, but my impression is that Shadowbane, Anarchy Online, and some of the other big MMOGs portray fairly factionalized systems of government. Second, does this diversity peg EQ as a more "MUDish" MMOG? In other words, is there a MUD-->MMOG trend here from complexity to simplicity in fictional goverments? (Putting aside ATITD, which seems like a special case.) From what I've read, the roleplay in some MUSHes entails particularly dense forms of political intrigue that don't translate effectively into the 300K subscriber hack & slash grinds that characterize the more simplified mass MMOGs. Third (and related), I don't have an EQII account yet. Has the factional diversity of EQ been expanded, contracted, or more or less retained in the new iteration of the game? I'm curious about this, because it would shed some light on the trending issue.
Of course, in the classic Terra Nova tradition, feel free to ignore these questions and start a more interesting discussion about Frogloks or something...
Related prior post: Reading Everquest