Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Protector Universe

For the last decade or so, W. and I have been kicking around the idea of a massively multiplayer game designed for female players.  The high concept is that most traditional video games are designed to appeal to the base instincts of males - killing things, gaining power, and collecting treasure - and have been very successful as a result.  Most games targeted to females, however, have tried to pursue their noble qualities -things like cooperation, art, and nurturing.  I think this is one of the major reasons that these games have failed.  What if instead we designed a game for the base instincts of females?  With this thought in mind, I started working on a game where the primary gameplay involves looking beautiful, gaining the attention of high-status males, and stabbing your friends in the back.  Our working model for the game is "Protectors" - named after the high-status males whose attention - and whose protection - you are pursuing.

I will discuss the gameplay in more detail in future posts, but for today I wanted to share some of the work   I have been doing on the background environment for the world.

Genesis of a new World
Originally my plan was to set the game in the modern world.  This seemed easy if for no other reason than there is a lot of content all around us to use.  In addition, a modern setting has the potential to have tie-ins to the game for real products.  I mean, maybe gucci would want to place some paid content into a world that is based on fashion, right?  But there is a problem:  the modern world is no longer a place where females can pursue female power.

This is not the feminine mystique I had in mind...

Now when I say "female power", you might think that women have never been more empowered than they are now.  And if by "empowered" you mean able to have freedom of choice and opportunity in their lives and have personal control over their destiny, than you would surely be right.  But while feminism has been fairly successful at this, it has done so at a tremendous cost to the sort of female power I am talking about - what we might call, the power of the purely feminine.  One of the ironies of feminism is that it really just allows women to act like men.  They can take care of themselves, have jobs, and be the man of the house.

But what about a woman who doesn't want to work?  Who wants a male to take care of her?  This is just no longer culturally acceptable.  To be fair, the pampered and powerful female has always been something of a myth - not unlike that of the Rambo-like uber-warrior.  But with feminism, it seems that even the aesthetics of this have fallen from favor.  Just compare the girls in the James Bond movies from the 60's with those of today.  In the 60's, girls were delicate objects of beauty that needed protection.  Nowadays, the woman act just like the man - shooting guns and doing kung fu.  There is no place in modern society for the sort of female fantasy I wanted to pursue.

So I started looking at historical periods to see which of them might be the best match for this.  I considered many - from ancient China to French Court - but in the end there was not a good match to be found.  Each period had some advantages and features but just as many disadvantages.  Was it really the case that history had more periods that leant themselves to male fantasy than female?

That was when it occurred to me there was also no good period for male fantasy.  That is why most of the video games are not set in real times, but are in fact in some alternative universe that is more suitable towards this sort of extreme role-play.  Games like World of Warcraft or Lord of the Rings take place in earth-like fantasy worlds populated by elves and dwarves, by dragons and ogres.   Even if they are like other places or based in real places, there is still a tremendous amount of fantasy added in.

This fantasy is important in another way.  It establishes a morality and a set of social norms that allow for "heroic" action.  Whereas in real life killing strangers and robbing their corpse would be unimaginable, in the world of the game such things are rewarding.  This lets the males fully indulge their fantasy without feeling guilty or fearful of judgement.

With this insight firmly in mind, I began to develop a new sort of mythic fantasy based on my notion of female fantasy.

The World of the Protectors
Like Tolkien and many others, I based my world on an exaggerated extrapolation of our own.  Since I already studied world history looking for different aspects of feminine power, I already had many of the components.  I just needed to composite them together into a single form.

For my basis, I took our current world with our approximate current land masses and countries, but moved them into an alternative universe.  This could be a parallel universe to our own, or it could be our world but a thousand years in the future, where some things have advanced but others have gone retrograde.  I actually prefer to think of this latter case, but there are advantages to leaving it ambiguous.

In this new world, most of the countries have collapsed, leaving 8 large nation-states:

  1. The Tang Dynasty - being present-day China.  Their core value is perfection, and they will spend enormous effort for the ultimate piece of silk, porcelain skin, or perfect way to prepare a cup of tea.
  2. Neogami - being present-day Japan, Korea, and some Southeast asia.  Their core value is technology and the power that comes from controlling it.
  3. Saint Stephan - being Russia and most of Central Europe.  Their core value is occult power.  They worship deities that are ancient and secret.  Here is where you find bondage and discipline, witches, warlocks, and vampires.
  4. The Trade Federation - being most of Africa, India, and a few other areas.  Their core value is wealth and making deals, and nothing is worth more than a beautiful woman.  They have an elaborate caste system which makes everything more complicated.
  5. The  Nöords  - being northern Russia into the Arctic, Norway, etc.   Nöords are the magic users of the world.  They keep mostly to themselves in their frozen domain, where their perfect the study of anima - a strange kind of nature magic.
  6. The Merovingians - being most of western Europe and England.  There core values and chivalry and wit.  This is an area filled with Kings and their courts.  Being well-educated with sophisticated taste and razor wit is crucial if you want a seat in the parlor.  
  7. Valenti Style - being most of Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece, and Morocco.  Their core value is fashion, and the power in this area is in the leading fashion houses which create almost everything people see, hear, read, watch, and wear.  Life is a party and anything goes - as long as you don't do it wearing anything from last season.
  8. The Holy Kingdom of God - being most of North Africa, the middle east, and swatches of Southeast Asia.  The core value here is the Will of God, which dictates everything else in life.  They practice a single religion called "the Faith"which is the supreme power in the country, beyond any secular institution. 
Here is a loose sketch for reference:

Each of these regions has its own history, culture, fashion, and morals.  Each also represents a different aspect of feminine power.  Just like in World of Warcraft I might have the agile elfs vs. the strong dwarves vs. the clever humans, in Protectors we have the ultra-sophisticated Tang, the playful Valenti, and the earthy women of the trade federation.

Over the days ahead I will share more details about each of these societies - their history and fashion.  Feel free to share your comments and tell me what you like and don't like.

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