Open Design: ZIGGURATTI


#21

More world building…

For visually impaired:

SERFS: BODIES OF WORK

Serfs make up 90% of the ziggurat’s population, and inhabit the ziggurat layers closest to the earth, which account for approximately 50% of the ziggurat’s architecture. Serfs are born to do work, and are implanted with adaptive augmentations at a very young age to support this work. They inherit the same work as their parents, unless their DNA suggests that they’d be better suited for a different type of work. There are four categories of serfdom: conduit, fabricator, recycler, and servitor. Each category is composed of diverse bodies of work, ranging from unskilled generalists to highly-specialized roles filling important niches. Regardless of what role has been chosen for them, a serf is a serf, and they all work in exchange for food, shelter, and free movement.

Conduits are technical workers that specialize in repairing, operating, and maintaining the ziggurat’s vast data systems, sensor arrays, and communications fixtures. They are the serfs seen crawling under, over, or inside the ziggurat’s rafters, data closets, and raised floors, ensnared in a morass of cords and fiber-optic cables. Their bodies are augmented to traverse tight or treacherous spaces, resist electrical shock, or transform into useful tools.

Fabricators are manual laborers who support construction projects, operate heavy production machinery, and make repairs to the ziggurat’s superstructure. The ziggurat is always in a state of simultaneous disrepair and optimization, and fabricators are the serfs who must execute on the higher castes’ ever-changing vision. Those not building the new are operating the old, whether processing scrap into sheet metal, or keeping the ziggurat’s reactor at acceptable tolerances. Their bodies are augmented to manage workloads once suited for cranes and tractors, and interface with drones that have either the strength or precision they lack.

Recyclers are salvager crews who leave the safety of the ziggurat to harvest spare parts and raw materials from the dying planet outside, and do so before the recyclers of other ziggurats get to these resources first. While recyclers technically do less active work than the other roles, the majority of their downtime between sorties into the waste is spent in clinics, being detoxified and reassembled. Their bodies are augmented to grant them the enhanced strength, reflexes, keen senses, and toxin resistance needed to survive their dangerous work.

Servitors are service workers who administer systems, process bureaucratic inputs and outputs, and see to the basic biological needs of all humans in the ziggurat (along with the wants of the higher castes). Servitors are the most visible and varied of serfs. Their work can be as impersonal as the cook preparing slop, or as intimate as the sex worker assigned to a knight precinct. Their bodies are augmented to suppress stress caused by acute boredom or interpersonal conflict, and cosmetically transform to match the aesthetic most conducive to their work.

While the different types of serf intermingle throughout society, they are more likely to develop stronger bonds and found families amongst the people that they spend their every waking moment working with. They also self select because the clergy is adept and creating divisions among them.


#22

More dystopian hell… with absolutely no parallels to real life.

WORK OR DIE

A serf works 16 hours a day, every day. The remaining 8 hours are theirs to use for eating, sleeping, socializing, purging themselves of waste, or managing their health to stay at optimal working performance. These 8 hours are called “currency hours” and can be exchanged for goods and services. While a serf’s 16 hour workday ensures that they will be fed nutritional paste and have a soundproof coffin to sleep in, it affords them little else. If they wish to purchase a beverage or meal (or drug) outside of their work requisition, they need to work an additional hour, cutting into their 8 currency hours. If they want to use their AR overlay to take a picture of a friend or family member (to review in their AR when they are feeling down), that also costs an extra hour of labor (and the contents of the image are reviewed by knights). Commodifiable experiences, like viewing an art film in AR, may cost several currency hours, while possessions of material value, like new articles of clothing or coffin decorations, can sometimes cost days worth of currency hours.

Most serfs accrue as much currency hours as they can, but not to purchase goods. Instead, they save up to pay back the Ziggurratti for any workday hours they are forced to miss due to sickness or family emergency. Serfs unable or unwilling to pay back their “time debt” in currency hours in a timely fashion face having their status downgraded to burden. The burden loses their coffin and daily food requisition, and are no longer able to accrue or spend currency hours. They are shunned by serfs they’ve worked along their whole life, because they all wish to avoid the same fate. Knowingly spending a currency hour on a burden’s behalf is the most common way of becoming one.


#23

Another possible occupation is using fixed bike contraptions to generate the extra electricity needed for moving the ziguratt in case of need, be it enemies nearby or lack of resources.


#24

What if characters of one social strata may only interact with those directly above or below them or else be lowered or shamed? What if that’s a part of our game design?


#25

@Gustavo_Campanelli Oooh, never even thought about the ziggurats moving, but it makes perfect sense, especially as they consume up all the resources outside of their area over time. It also sets up a clash between arcologies, where the serfs and knights come to the most harm.

@Dissonance Yeah, I suspect social norms between castes, in some cases restrictive, only makes sense for this kind of setting. How would you envision those social norms in play? Would you see them reinforced mechanically?


#26

I half-jokingly worry that this game might inspire actual Republican policy…


#27

Do y’all love cops as much as I do?

For the visually impaired:

KNIGHTS: WORK THROUGH PAIN

Knights are the caste immediately above serfs, and compose approximately 5% of the ziggurat’s population. Their contribution to the ziggurat is protecting the property of clergy and Zigguratti, quelling serf uprisings, and ensuring that no one is using ziggurat resources to harbor burdens. Their bodies are augmented to be extremely resilient to physical trauma and to sync with military ordnance that does not operate in the hands of serfs or burdens. While their martial augmentations are fearsome, the serfdom is more afraid of the knight’s voice. It has been modified to project powerful sonic waves that cause fear, disorientation, or rage. Though the knight’s voice can be used to deescalate situations before they become violent, it is often used to escalate situations to a justified use of force, which the knight has a monopoly on.

Unlike the serf, who works 16 hours a day for a single slab in a coffin farm and a steady supply of nutritional paste, the knight patrols 8 hours a day and is rewarded with their own domicile and an allotment of 8 currency hours per day that they don’t have to earn. While there are knight precincts scattered throughout the serf layers of the ziggurat, knights live in the layers directly above. Their homes, their bases of operation, and the entertainment districts they frequent all reside in a space that is considerably more spacious and pristine that the layers below.

Similar to how serfdom is hereditary, knights are born from knight stock. Those who are genetically unsuited to assume the knight’s enforcer role are assigned tasks that cannot be trusted to serfs (e.g. maintain ordnance, manage prisoners, remotely monitor AR feeds, etc.). If a knight is unable to perform even these tasks because of sickness, injury, or disability, their parent or keeper can forfeit their allotment of currency hours to cover that knight’s lack of work.

Knights protect their fellow knights from descending into serfdom or burdendom by pooling currency hours. What this also does is support the narrative that if a knight does fall in caste, they must have been unloved and unwanted enough to deserve it. Knights disdain fallen knights, but as much as serfs do. Murder is quite rare in the ziggurat, but retributive violence against fallen knights is not unheard of in the lower layers. It is not the considerable material benefits that compels the knight to absolute loyalty to the clergy and Zigguratti. Rather, it is their powerful fear of losing their caste, or lacking the currency hours to protect their most vulnerable.

There are rare instances of serfs becoming knights when the knight population diminishes faster than their sanctioned procreation can absorb. When faced with these circumstances, knights recruit serfs with a propensity for violence or a history of reporting acts of sedition or burden-harboring among their fellow serfs. They often have to look no further than the isolation rooms in their precincts to find these candidates.

Despite the rarity of upward caste mobility, there are still many serfs who are knight informants and collaborators, clinging to the dream that when conscription into knighthood becomes necessary, their ticket will be called.


#28

OK, some aren’t going to like this passage/conclusion, but I need to get real for a second…

ZIGGURRATTI

Who, or what, are the Ziggurratti? No serf has seen them and lived to tell the tale. Are they immortal trillionaires engaging in beyond the pale hedonism to alleviate their boredom? Are they mortals who have merged with the ziggurat to achieve godhood? Are they the harbingers of the singularity; the next step in human evolution? What the burden understands, viscerally, in a way that none of the castes seem to understand, is that the answer doesn’t matter.

The salacious excesses or the enigmatic grand designs of the Zigguratti are good fodder for speculation, but mean nothing to the material facts on the ground. It is the clergy who has writ the burden’s death sentence, the knights who carry out that order, and the serfs who turn a blind eye to it to avoid the same fate. The burden’s torment is not a conspiracy. It is in plain sight, executed by humans no different from themselves.

There is nothing to be gained by discovering, exposing, or even destroying the Zigguratti when there are clerics who would replace them, knights that would swear fealty to the new regime, and millions of serfs who only wonder how the change in power would impact the conversation rate of their currency hours. The Zigguratti is not the ringleader of the crime. Their mere existence is a crime being perpetuated by the millions of humans living in the layers below.

The prisoner doesn’t need to understand who built the Panopticon to burn it to the ground.


#29

I have a question: Are these ziggurats over- or underpopulated? If everyone has to work so much, it sounds like they are underpopulated and need everyone to work … but if they are underpopulated, that would leave empty spaces for the burdens to hide or congregate in.

Also, that question would lead to how birth control is managed. Should the population be allowed to grow? No? Then one child to many would be a burden, even if there’s nothing wrong with it. Maybe even an un-augmented burden, because they would need to be hidden? But if growth is the goal, then what averse factors are playing a role? High mortality? Low conception rates?

I’d find both directions interesting. As well as the game concept!


#30

@SabineV5 Thanks for the reply. I don’t know the answer to your questions. What do you think best serves this game idea? I’m totally open to suggestions! Also, I’m fine with sort of hand-waving practical/logistical problems and taking somewhat inconsistent positions like “they are overpopulated AND everyone has to work all the time.”

Regarding birth control, I think that has to be an important element of the setting, even if it is only discussed in a few lines. The serf is so preoccupied keeping themselves afloat that they literally can’t afford to have children, let alone interface with their actual or found families… unless the parents and likely others basically pool their currency hours to raise and sustain the kid.


#31

CONTENT WARNING: Police Brutality, Murder

And related, I’m starting to realize that this dystopia is becoming profoundly dark in both it’s banality and completeness.

BURDEN PATROL

When knights are not responding to emergencies or engaged in criminal investigations, their default task is to ensure that the burden’s sentence is being observed. The burden’s neural jack, assuming it has not been tampered with, monitors both the vital signs and movements of the burden and reports it in real time to the nearest knight precinct. If an analyst gets reports that a burden has either eaten recently (likely the result of theft or burden-harboring), or has not moved in a long period of time (likely violating vagrancy laws), they contact the nearest knight via AR overlay and dispatch them to investigate.

Upon arrival, the knight will take away any food that the burden has, or, if they are sleeping, stir them awake with an augmented roar or a kick in the ribs. A particularly motivated knight may even force a burden to purge if they have eaten recently or appear to be under the influence of drugs, but most don’t bother. Only the most sadistic of knights relish in upholding the burden’s sentence, but few will ever ignore a dispatch to mete out this justice. Afterall, the knight’s vitals, position, and AR overlay are being monitored, too. If sensors indicate that a knight is permitting burdens to eat in plain sight, or congregate, or violate vagrancy laws, that knight is risking accusations of burden-harboring themselves. In fact, the sadism that some knights show towards burdens is a performance for those who watch the watchmen.

If a burden is willing to tolerate this abuse, their encounters with knights will rarely escalate towards bloodshed. If “shut up and take it” is a viable strategy, it is certainly not an easy one to endure. Burdens who have been harassed and humiliated to no end, while suffering under a forced regime of starvation and sleep deprivation, will inevitably snap and lash out at their abusers. Perhaps that is by design. If a knight must escalate to higher force options to neutralize a violent and unhinged burden, that is an application of violence that the serfdom can live with. And it’s one less burden.

Sometimes knights do approach burden patrol with the intent to inflict grievance injury or death. This is particularly the case when a knight has to deal with the same burden for weeks on end, or when they must traverse dirty or dangerous environments to ferret out a burden who is sleeping on their watch. Knights who commit murder have their currency hours docked for weeks. Knights who commit a murder that is witnessed by serfs have their currency hours docked for months. This economic lever may be only control preventing knights from committing summary executions with frequency. The severity of this punishment, however, is also why knights often conspire to hide these crimes when the happen. The analyst deletes the AR footage; the partner says the victim pulled a knife, and so on.


#32

Oh, they should totally be overpopulated. The labor requirements are not to meet to demands of survival, but the lifestyle of the upper castes.

Of course, it’s widely propagandized that this is necessary for survival.


#33

@dunadhaigh I think that’s a good observation and approach. Just earlier, I was thinking about the idea that food is actually plentiful in the ziggurat, but it is meted out stringently to maximize it’s influence over the serfs. Literally, the entire thing is a sham.


#34

The hereditary nature of the caste system you’ve outlined does soften the social commentary on capitalism, by removing the myth of meritocracy and upward mobility that fuels most of capitalism’s self-justification. I don’t know if that fits with your design goals or not.


#35

Good call @dunadhaigh . I don’t know what the exact design goals are yet, and open to ideas. One thing I did want to reinforce with the hereditary nature of castes is that where and to whom you were born accounts for 99% of your economic situation. It’s an… asymmetric… attack on meritocracy, in a way. If you have ideas on how to nail both of these notions, I’m all in!


#36

If they sleep in coffins, what is the family life of a typical serf? Can they even have children? Or perhaps they are required to have children to serve their zig-lords? Are emotions another commodity? Are there serf sex workers, and if there are, are only serfs sex workers?


#37

Can the Ziggurratti swap bodies to be immortal? As in, swap into someone else’s body, perhaps for a day, to walk the world, or perhaps forever, if into a younger body? Perhaps this is a legend of the ziggurratti, since they are never seen…


#38

If the serfs work so hard to only maintain themselves, then the likelihood of maintaining a child or a pregnant mother is almost null. That leaves us two alternatives that I can see.

  1. Serfs have enforced reproduction in specialized areas
  2. Serfs are cloned and cloned again

#39

Re: serfs and reproduction.

I’m imagining some sort of hellish daycare situation where dozens of serfs pool their hours to pay 1 nanny to watch after their children during their normal work day.

Or a more institutionalized communal child rearing situation where all children (of serf, knight, and clergy castes; separately) are raised communally by the clergy and taught the values and ethics of the Ziggurat. Of course, such an education would be pure, awful propaganda.


#40

Mmmm, that makes sense, the daycare and education would be free for the parents, but, along with the implant costs, it’s the origin of the debt of the new serf