You and Who’s Money?
Money is a strange thing. It dictates the direction of nations and the general wellbeing of the citizens within their boundaries. Without money, you can do very little in the modern world as everything has a cost. Yes, money appears to control us in many ways, but have you ever stopped to think or research how modern currency exchange systems came to be? British people, have you ever wondered why your £10 note says ‘I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of ten pounds’? Well money as we know it has taken different forms throughout history, but in order to understand it, you need to remove the view that money is this all magical collection of papers and coins that make things happen without any logical reason.
I’ll begin to go back in history by talking about the present first of all. Aside from a strong working economy, a large determinant in the printing of new money is the amount of gold in the government vaults because of all the metals in the world, gold is the most valuable in terms of practicality. Sure, 50 Cent and Jay-Z may have moved on from gold in their crazy music videos but gold has been a staple in much high end manufacturing for as long as there has been industry. Its supreme quality as a metal (it doesn’t rust, its a good semi-conductor, its strong, the list goes on) means it has myriad applications in the production of many things, including the most basic of tools and weaponry; cue the time machine. The renaissance, the medieval times and all the way back to the Romans, Greeks and Egyptians has seen gold used as a powerful bartering tool. Since gold had all these brilliant properties, civilisations saw much use for them, statues, symbols of office, buildings, weaponry, armour etc, basically the amount of gold your nation had determined how industrious your population could be.
As you move along the timeline, soon coins were made of out gold, the more gold coins you have, the wealthier you are, which was the premise Robin Hood worked off. Move along even further and soon you’ll find that gold was too valuable to move around in peoples pockets and purses and so was locked away in vaults, paper-based notes representative of the gold was issued so owners of gold could still command their wealth, and guess what (British people, because we did it first) what unit the gold was measured in to appropriately issue paper notes? Yes, pounds. 1 pound of gold will give you a 1 pound coin, 10 pounds gives you a 10 pound note. Behold the birth of money. Money is merely a representative of gold long since owned by anyone that aren’t the governments of this world, its just an IOU for something we can never truly pay.
So in EVE’s economy, is there an underlying system of control that has become a mere shadow of it’s former self, or is the number representing your ISK the set standard that ultimately determines how much power you have in game? If this is true then people of a certain mind would suggest the fiscal system in EVE is far superior to that of RL; one currency, universal to all nations, cultures and groups that can be taken anywhere without the need for exchange rates, conversion or anything else. It’s not based on non-existent ownership of a valuable metal, it’s simply a numerical determinant of how much you’re worth which in turn determines exactly what you can get from others (be it a product or a service). I accept that item-for-item bartering through the contract system does exist, but even then ISK equivalencies will come very strongly into it (unless you’re prepared to give 500 mil of stuff away for something extremely rare but otherwise worthless).
So I hope you’ve enjoyed your history lesson and my thoughts on in-game currency. One day I imagine RL currency will be very much like ISK, universal and unchanging throughout the world, things would certainly be a lot easier. But, for now, we’ll leave the forward thinking to game designers and not politicians; it’s always been the way, hasn’t it?