Police State

The issue of civil liberty has been debated a lot over the past few years, especially after the 9/11 attacks, but let me describe to you what is probably the most perfect police state that exists.

In this world, every conversation you have is automatically recorded. Everything you say or hear is stored in a large database. The name of every person you have ever talked to is noted down as well as how frequently you talk to them. The state has the ability to control how far your voice carries and whether you are able to shout at all. In fact, you are only allowed to communicate with other people using the tools provided by the state. Anything you say can be erased before it reaches another person's ear. More importantly, anything you say can be instantly altered before it reaches another person's ear. In fact, you can be coerced to say anything you never said.

The state knows exactly where you are at any given moment. It has the ability to teleport you and imprison you instantaneously and without warning. The state can change your name if it doesn't like it and provides no way for others to connect your old and new name. More importantly, the state can alter your height, your gender, your age and any other aspect of your physical appearance with a few keystrokes. It can make everyone equal in every aspect of physical appearance and ability.


The irony of course is that we live in a democracy that abhors police states, but we choose perfect police states as our form of entertainment. Some will undoubtedly argue that MMORPG worlds are inherently fantastical worlds that have nothing to do with the real world, but as real world economies and law interface with these virtual worlds, and as we spend more and more of our time in these worlds, we have to wonder what it means when people spend on average 22 hours a week in a perfect police state.

Others might argue that players can always leave a game if they don't like it, but it is not easy for most players to quit a game because of the emotional and time investment that has been made. More importantly, this particular critique implies leaving one MMORPG for another, in essence transferring between different police states. As more of our work and personal lives become embedded into virtual worlds, perhaps the central question becomes - what does it mean when police states become seductive and fun? What does it mean when police states are chosen as places to escape to?

As our virtual worlds take on social and cultural complexity of their own and begin to mimic many real world functions - businesses, elections, and protests - will we find more or less freedom than we have in the real world?

Addendum (In response to reader comments):

I totally apologize for the unintended downplaying of those who do live in real police states.

I was more interested in pointing out the total control (especially over communication channels) that online environments have. And granted we can currently leave the medium altogether, but how soon is it until everything we do is digitally mediated?

And will those systems always remain separate or are they more likely to merge? And if only a few corporations control most of our communication channels, do we really trust them to be benevolent and working towards the greater good?

What fascinates me is this - Are MMORPGs a glimpse of how work and social life will become in 5-10 years? And if so, how comfortable should we be with the idea of such perfect control of communication and existence?