Bitter 326

At first it sounded like Nigel wanted to create a fair world where everyone had the same everything, like some kind of communist utopia. And how well had that worked out when people tried it?

But that wasn’t what he was suggesting.

This was a world of kings and queens after all. People with privilege and tiaras, and thieving and running around dungeons trying to claim treasure that didn’t belong to them.

Injustice and backstabbing were rife. Nigel seemed perfectly happy with leaving that stuff as it was.

“If you want this world to be a better place, shouldn’t you be more concerned about making it fairer for nice people who trying to do the right thing?”

“Wouldn’t work,” said Nigel.

“Why not?”

“Because being good and playing by the rules will never give you an advantage. People who cheat have an edge, and it either wipes out the goodie two-shoes, or convinces them to join the dark side. If you want to make a change, you have to focus on the ones who matter. The players who want to win.”

“Nice people want to win,” said Britta.

“Not enough.”

She wasn’t sure where he’d got his view of humanity from, but he was convinced the ones who mattered were the players who were willing to do whatever it took.

His main concern seemed to be people who navigated all the obstacles and managed to succeed, accumulating wealth and power, and then turned around and changed the system to prevent themselves becoming the victims of someone better at being a devious scumbag than they were.

It was a very specific subset he wanted to focus on.

Britta accepted that it was a natural human inclination to use your advantage to create disadvantage for others. Why continue to compete on a level playing field when you could use what you had earned to unlevel it? What was the point of being rich if you couldn’t use the money to buy yourself better odds?

People complained about it, but they also accepted it as just how things were. There didn’t seem to be an alternative.

Take the laws that supposedly applied to everyone. If you had more money, you could hire a better lawyer who could manipulate those laws to a more likely win. Justice was routinely denied.

It was a flawed system, but no one had come up with anything better, so you had to make the best of if.

Nigel didn’t want to make a nice, safe place for all peoples to hang out and do yoga together. He had identified the problem as the Big Bastards making progression impossible for the Little Bastards. He wanted to give new players a chance to climb the greasy pole while making sure no one was pouring on more grease from above.

“It used to be like that in the beginning. One person kills another, and takes his stuff. Then someone else kills him, and takes what he had. And so on. But eventually people had stuff they didn’t want to lose, so they changed the rules. They made The Law, so if you killed someone, you didn’t get their land and home and animals. It just went to the dead man’s children. Not fair at all.”

She could see what he was saying, but that was how societies became more civilised. If someone saw a nice house they liked, and just had to kill the occupants to claim it for themselves, suburbia would quickly descend into a bloodbath.

“Isn’t that why people enjoy games?” said Nigel. “Nobody gets sued for wrongful death when you’re playing chess. If you’re in the right position at the right time, you take the square. You get to challenge who you want, and if you outplay your opponent, you win. Everyone plays by the same rules. What we need is a storyline that makes that difference clear to people. Here, there are no limits. There’s no shortage of land to build on, no end to resources you can use. If someone’s controlling distribution of gold or diamonds or iron, go find your own. No one can stop you doing what you want. Once they understand what’s possible, they’ll start making their own stories. It’s what they’re good at. People used to be in the great tales they told each other, they didn’t just read about them.”

It felt like there was something not quite right about his proposal, but he was presenting it in such a reasonable way, it was hard to pin down exactly what.

“You want people to know they can get away with being a terrible person here?”

“If that’s how they want to play,” said Nigel. “It isn’t the only way, though. You can get stronger, learn new skills, become the kind of person you think should be worth playing as, and then see how you do. It’s not like your world where you work a job you hate to make less money than you need to pay off a debt you acquired when you were a child. What fun is that? No wonder people end up playing computer games well into adulthood. What else do you have to make you feel like you’re getting anywhere?”

Britta felt like she should defend the human experience. It wasn’t all bad. There was plenty to do to make yourself feel happy. For a bit.

“I’m not sure it’s going to be very easy convincing people their lives are so awful. I’m not even sure I want to. What if it is better in here? Why would anyone go back?”

“If you’re afraid it would be better here, what does that say about the kind of life you’re living?” said Nigel.

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