virtual nation building

From: Reason (
Date: Sat Feb 23 2002 - 02:56:34 MST

I'm pretty sick of society at the moment; restrictions, idiocy, double
standards abound. Makes you want to set up afresh. The traditional options
for doing so are not all that great:

a) build your own island in international waters
b) get off-planet in large numbers

and suffer from the problems of other people being able to stomp on you
before you get big if they don't like your style of government.

So following on from some topics touched on here in recent weeks and finding
grumpy fantasies better than gloomy pontification on the state of freedom in
the world, I'm postulating at a way to kickstart a virtual nation in such a
way as to garner significant economic clout within a couple of years. With
economic clout comes political clout.
Assumption #1: there's no better way to start a nation that with an MMORPG.
I'll take this as read, but convince yourself of this if needed. My thesis
here is you need a fairly large number of potentially right-minded people,
and you aren't going to get a sufficient number who can be swayed to
participating in nationhood any other way. There is only one online
pseudo/proto-nation of any note; Everquest []. It wasn't
designed to be one; it's the natural end result of a critical mass of people
playing a crude escapist simulation of real life. It's an unrecognized
dictatorship with many part-time residents from real-world nations who trade
Everquest intangibles on black markets in America and Europe.
On the other hand, you have to be very into the whole virtual nation concept
to have heard of any of the attempts at deliberate virtual nation building
from any other starting point that do exist. (Serious or otherwise;
Existing MMORPGs are seeding off into some interesting ideas on value,
political systems and exchange rates.
	(flawed Norrath study showing that one can consider MMORPGs to have an
economy that can be related to the real world)
Everquest (Norrath is a region in EQ) is a game, but nonetheless is probably
the closest thing to a real virtual nation around. If it had a formalized
exchange rate with the US dollar, decentralized servers, and the players had
more control over the rules of the game (a la A Tale in the Desert)...
	(Nomic meets the MMORPG; players make rules, programmers change the virtual
world to implement them)
A Tale in the Desert shows that people are interested in playing games that
are basically about politics. [Hell, politics shows that people are
interested in playing games that are basically about politics]. But aTitD
also shows that one can craft the boundaries of the politics in a virtual
world to lead people to play political games in a particular way. And enjoy
it too.
	(Entirely vanilla MMORPG in development)
Project Entropia isn't really expected to go anywhere in a big way, but it
shows that other people are thinking about economic issues in the boundary
between real and virtual. It does establish an exchange rate and, unlike
other virtual worlds which are currently wrestling with currency and control
issues that real nations have wrestled with for hundreds of years, is pretty
straightforward about expecting people to bring capital into the game. In a
way, immigrating for part of their time, or establishing a second residence.
Necron [] is also worth mentioning as being close to
the same viewpoint, but without the same explicit handling of real-virtual
[Aside: it's interesting to watch the de facto dictatorships (i.e. owning
and managing companies) of these pseudo-realms practicing trial-and-error
international monetary policy, black-market suppression, border control, and
macroeconomic policies. The governments are supported by cash imports
(player fees) and export intangibles through various black and gray markets.
Needless to say, they follow in the missteps of real world governments quite
Lots more games in development, many with equally interesting twists in
player-ownership, governing structures, economic relationships with the real
world, and so forth:
So in theory, there's nothing stopping you making an MMORPG which guides and
rewards the formation of governing bodies of your choice, while still being
fun to play. A libertarian twist on a traditional MMORPG, for example.
Because it is a game, it could garner a large and persistant
userbase/populance/part-time inhabitants within a few years. EverQuest
boasts 300,000 subscribers, for example.
A problem with existing MMORPGs for virtual nation building is their
centralization. Too easy to shut down by a physical world nation state that
wanted to nip this thing in the bud. It's hard to wield economic clout if
you have servers that can be shut down easily. One would have to take the
next logical step and build an MMORPG around a decentralized peer-to-peer
system. This would probably have to be built on top of some form of early
model internet-scale operating system
Existing scalable peer-to-peer structures in development
probably suffice on their own if they weren't just regarded as a service.
Big difference between something that's a service (Napster, Gnutella) and
something that is, in effect, a second home (MMORPG).
Although the line between the two paragraphs above is pretty blurry.
Anyhow, so lets say you have your ultra-cool, libertarian-leaning,
player-run MMORPG with 300,000 players based on the next Gnutella as a
platform. Or freenet. Or whatever. And this will happen; it probably won't
be libertarian-leaning, but we'll have an ultra-cool player-run MMORPG with
at least 300k players on a decentralized peer-to-peer platform five years
from now, I figure.
So at that point, you have the real seed for a true virtual nation, one
which could start to try for recognition by real nations through economic
leverage and the traditional routes of extablishing exchange rates,
legitimizing existing black and gray markets, etc, etc. It seems to me that
this could head to a nice place to live a whole lot faster than building
your own island or getting out of the gravity well.
[And since I'm running out of steam, I won't start in on processing power
and memory as currency in decentralized systems, analogies to imports and
immigration, future tech advances that will make virtual space more
habitable, etc, etc. Left for the readers to discuss].
But I am still pretty sick of society. We're overdue getting someplace to
start over.

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