In a sense, are we not all MMO tourists? We don’t really live lives as citizens of a virtual world, we just punch the clock and reel in the loot, saving the real citizens who just won’t stay saved from threats that just won’t go away. (Does the Lich King have Joker Immunity?)
Some MMOs have player housing, but for the most part, that housing is less a measure of citizenship and more of a trophy room or Simsish minigame. Some games even use housing as a currency/time sink, charging “property tax” for the privilege of maintaining the place.
What is citizenship, though? What is the point of taxes in the real world? What do they buy?
Perhaps oversimplified, I view citizenship as a state of being where people who live within a community take an active interest in that community. It is a mixture of responsibility and reward. Citizens are not only interested in the people but also the place and the governing policies of the local politics, likely also the history of their chosen locale. This is manifest in simple ways like picking up the trash as you walk past or cheering for local football teams, and in more significant ways, like taking part in politics or local business. There are very good reasons to “buy local” and support your neighbors, since you’re stuck with them if the larger political structures collapse.
This sense of spatial importance is one significant thought process where rivalries and wars tend to stem from. After all, few things are more visceral than protecting your home turf. Personal insults can slide, but challenges to your space are immediate and tend to elicit stronger responses. Barbarians or undead at the gates tend to prompt action. It’s also easy to demonize the “other” who lives over thataway. If there’s not someone somewhere else to criticize, we may have to own up to our own flaws.
Taxes are a way for the government to respond to those threats, imagined or imminent. Not everyone wants to serve a stint in the military, after all, or work on infrastructure. Taxes are the cost of living somewhere, and they go to maintaining, protecting and improving that place. (…at least in concept. The reality doesn’t always correlate, but I’m not really angling to flame broil well nurtured beefs with taxation and representation today.)
So, what exactly is the point of maintenance costs on MMO housing? What does it do beside keep the place impossibly clean and perfectly locked in a pocket universe? Maybe that’s all that it needs to do, but what if property tax in an MMO actually were tied to a place, and players had more citizenship within those places? What if it meant something to the rest of how you played?
To be sure, the lion’s share of that concept weighs on the shoulders of the players. Still, if there were game design mechanics to make place matter, and give players a reason to take up citizenship in certain places, what might that do for factional warfare and immersion? Could there be local politics, either NPC or PC based, where elections have a real impact on gameplay? Could home town pride make PvP more interesting and impactful? What if you could raze enemy players’ houses to the ground, and rebuild your own when the inevitable retaliation hits? What if that were subverted by paying taxes, with an NPC security force? What if you had to pay the salary of Stormwind guards?
…some of that sounds pretty onerous, actually. Not unlike really being a citizen and giving a flying feline fiddly bit about politics. But what if a game could capture the good parts without the costs? Is it possible to make location an important thing again in these MMO worlds, beyond just finding the sweet grinding spot or binding to Dalaran so you can get to the best vendors? Can PvP be interesting and tied to a location without being a huge inconvenience and griefing tool?
Do we care where we are in MMO worlds, or are we just passing through, looking for the next sweet loot drop?