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Democracy in the MUD
by Delphine Lynx October 14, 2002

This article was partially inspired by the excellent work of Raph Koster, and his Declaration of the Rights of Avatars. Please bear in mind that this is not a discussion of whether to accept player input or not -- such would be rhetorical, as it has been repeatedly demonstrated that it is good, if not necessary, to do so.

"No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."

    - Winston [Leonard Spencer] Churchill (1874 - 1965)

The idea of a democratic MUD is one which resurfaces continually, but never seems to progress to the implementation stage. As might be expected, administration is simply unwilling to give up power, even ostensibly, to the degree required by the proposals for democratizing a MUD. Is there, then, no viable solution to this problem? Perhaps, and yet I think the difficulty lies instead with a major point which must be acknowledged for the theory to progress any further toward implementation.

Insofar as is required to explain the following principle, I will refer to the concept of 'God' or a 'Creator', not to endorse any outlook on reality, but because it suits the analogy which I will present for the MUD world. I implore the reader, therefore, to look past the language I employ, to the concept it expresses.

Let us begin by taking the typical structures considered in the forming of Democratic MUD theories -- the fully realized real Democracy, and its MUD equivalent. On the one hand, thus, we have the real Democracy, in which the people are in complete control -- control magically enforced without the assistance of any sort of authority figure, but we can accept that as it is merely an ideal we are considering. They may, without interference, enact any policy they so desire, dictate taxation, and generally regulate anything whatsoever. It sounds like a nice theory, no? And its counterpart in the MUD world, it is typically seen, would be to have the player base as the controlling factor of every aspect of the game world. Administration wants to do a pwipe? Vote! Administration wants to curtail magic? Vote!

And this concept of an equivalent to the perfect democracy may sound lovely. But let us take a step back and see that it is, in fact, entirely invalid. Why so? Let's look at what the citizens of our real Democracy are able to do. Truly, they've far reaching power. Indeed, their power is unlimited -- but only insofar as is humanly possible. They remain unable to alter the fundamental workings of the universe. Unlike those in the oft proposed MUD democracy, these real civilians have no power over 'God'. They are unable to change the laws of nature, and unable to prevent the planet from exploding if it so desires. Why, then, must their MUD equivalent have such power?

It would seem, by simple comparative analysis, that the counterpart to even the most ideal form of real democracy would be far exceeded in power by what is typically proposed as a system of MUD democracy. Even a literal translation of the powers afforded a real government would result in something akin to the following: Players would control the government in place within the game, and thus all policies of justice, taxation, civil service and construction would fall under their jurisdiction.

But what of the true power in the MUD? In truth, it isn't such powers as those aforementioned that most administrations are loathe to the idea of relinquishing -- such things ultimately alter the course of the game by very little, when compared to pwipes, major changes to balance, the introduction of new magical abilities or any other change to the fabric of the universe. And, indeed, leaving control of these aspects of the world in the hands of administration is not at all without precedent; it would be the exact counterpart to the inability of real-life governments to dictate such matters.

In fact, it would be possible, depending on the nature of the world in question, to couch many things as being 'Of the Gods'. Such restrictions would not even contradict a constitution. Look, for example, at that of the United States. Nowhere in there does it state specifically (to my knowledge), 'And no one shall have the power to reverse gravity, prevent an apocalypse or create gold from thin air,' and yet it is presumed due to the impossibility of such things. You're entitled to pray for it or to work on developing science to achieve it, but ultimately no vote could reverse gravity in and of itself.

Democracy in MUDs is touted as a system which would, like its real counterpart, be more just than the dictatorship which presently serves as the system of government. Perhaps, by bringing democracy into line with the analogy upon which we actually base it, we can settle at last on a system of joint control which, to say nothing of the realism and roleplaying opportunities it affords, would at last afford the players the ability to control some of the aspects of the world which they dislike being manipulated, while still allowing administrations control over the worlds they create.

There is, however, one additional fact I've not yet made mention of: There are still authority figures, even in real democracies. There is no reason for a MUD not to have its equivalent of the NSA, provided it serves its intended purpose -- protecting the integrity of the MUD.

Few players will object vehemently if administration interferes to prevent cheating which would destabilize the world. Rather, the players object when it is such cheating as well as everyday events that are policed by administration. By granting true (rather than figurehead) power to player government, the players would be less likely to object when shadow governments intervened, for the cases where it occurred would be of such rarity.

For such a plan to be implemented, administration would ultimately need to pull itself back and out of the affairs of the players, ostensibly allowing the government to dictate policy in every case other than those which may potentially unbalance the MUD world.

I do not, in truth, expect that democracy of any form will be implemented on a MUD at any point in the near future. Even the powers I outlined above entail concessions by administration, as well as a commitment to hard coding methods which would allow players actually to deal with such difficulties as crime and punishment or construction on their own. It is, rather, my hope that by discussing democracy as a method by which players may control their world to the extent which is possible in character, we may progress the notion further than is possible by proposing the democratization of Godhood.

Democracy in the MUD - copyright © 2002 by Delphine Lynx - All rights reserved.

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