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Article - 'Social Estates' by Sauhnik

An item about Game Design posted on May 17, 2004


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The Social Estates of Pre-Revolutionary France

This article is to explain how you should create social/political "estates" in your game. By categorizing your character in an estate, it will allow you to add another dimension to the character making him/her seem more realistic and more interesting. Social/political estates will also allow you to add more interesting scenes within your game and perhaps decide how characters in a party will react to each other and treat each other (Say if they're in the same group with different rankings). Furthermore, by using examples of real members who were actual members of these actual estates, you could use the models of these characters for your own characters, which will help in making your character more believable.

When I use the term "estate" I'm not talking about a piece of land, but I'm talking about "ranks" of people among a nation. I will be using France as an example because I know more about French estates than other countries and mistreatment was a lot more serious in this time. The three estates in France are:

First Estate The Clergy - These people were those who were most different from the rest. They were cruel to their people and they received a lot of money. Usually they were born into their "rank". A good character that I found in a book who was under this category of “estate” was “Monsieur the Marquee” who was a French aristocrat in the Dickens’ novel A Tale of Two Cities. Monsieur was of course a very wealthy aristocrat who controlled his own little village. As you could imagine, the village wasn’t in very good shape at all. Everything ranging from the roads, the buildings, and even the people were in bad shape, all because of this cruel leader. In one instance in the novel, Monsieur ran over a child, killed him, and simply tossed a coin to the devastated parent for “compensation”. Already we can see how using history can not only affect small things like “estates” but larger things like characters.

Second Estate The Nobility - The nobility were those whose ancestors fought in wars or battles to protect the kings of France. Nobility was mostly given to those who had helped France in some way. Some of the nobility were not completely rich however. They were given a piece of land and they were expected to mainly profit from that land and only that land. In fact, they were forbidden to trade in the market. This doesn't mean that the nobility weren't rich. There were about 4,000 Nobilities owning around 1/5 of the nations land which was more than the church. The nobility were allowed to wear a sword in public and to display a Coat of Arms.

Third Estate The Bourgeoisie - There are two groups to the third estate each of which will be defined in this section. Bourgeoisie simply means "Town Dweller" though over time and near to the French Revolution, this had changed. The Bourgeoisie (Pronounced Berg - wa. The "G" using the "G" sound as in "Genre".) ranged from doctors to silk merchants to small shopkeepers to beggars. As time progressed though, it became mainly comprised of lawyers, doctors, and other professionals who didn't have to do manual labor for a living.
Peasants - The largest segment of the third estate was mainly made up of this group of people. These people were typical commoners who worked the country. They usually farmed and did hard manual labor, but when they couldn't find work they would go into town and find work from craftspeople etc. The peasants were almost always hounded by tax collectors. Over time in French history bread became hard to get so the price raised making it harder for peasants to buy food. Most of them resorted to stealing and petty crime to eat something. In a technical sense, your main character will most likely be a peasant or a member of a lower or poorer estate. Most games are and this is what will help you further shape your main character. As an example character, I will use Zack. He was born into the local orphanage and doesn’t know anything about his parents. At age thirteen, the orphanage was shut down, and Zack was left alone on the streets. He tried to earn money the honest way, but being a thirteen year old orphan without any experience wasn’t exactly what most employers were looking for, so he committed himself to being a petty thief. As you can see, we already have shaped the background and well the basis for our main character. While I’m sure this example has been used numerous times, it will still give a great example on how estates will set a boundary for creating your main character and your plot.

Some History of the King and Queen
During the time before the French Revolution, the king and queen were Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI. Put simply, these rulers were not exactly the most aggressive rulers during this time. Louis XVI was a quiet king who doubted himself. He was a clumsy king who stood seven feet tall. Some people knew him as a kind king who resented hearing disasters and mishaps of people. Marie Antoinette was a little different though. She was a young queen from Austria who was very outgoing and outspoken. She often spent so much of the nations money on clothing and other petty things. People expected Marie to be a model for the rest of the nation, yet she cried, threw fits, laughed and even teased her husband. She often reacted on impulse and even bought a miniature country village made for her on Versailles so she could dress up as a dairymaid and play a country maiden! If you've heard of Marie Antoinette before, she was famous for saying a famous quote when the people of France needed food. "There is no food for the peasants!" Marie responded. "Then let them eat cake!" She was guillotined sometime after that.

The lives of these two people were of course average among all French leaders at that time. While these two leaders weren’t necessarily awful leaders, they didn’t do a very good job in trying to stop the revolution, or even fix the problems which later caused the revolution. They were regular leaders who did what they were born to do, and that was live the life of royalty. Louis XVI didn’t really want to be a king, and even wished he could resign from his position. Despite that, he did it anyways because he knew he had to. That’s what caused him to be a poor leader. As I mentioned before, Marie was a young Austrian girl who never really had a childhood and wasn’t really taught what was right or wrong since she was married at a young age. In the end, these two leaders were simply at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Applying this to your game
When creating an estate, you'll probably want to find estates that will create most interest in your game. Say we create three rankings for the city. Royalty, Wealthy, and Peasantry. The king respects the Wealthy for their hard work, so he gives them taxing abilities and the ability to throw the peasantry in jail. The Wealthy abuse this feature and use it so much to help themselves for their own good. Conflict starts and a party of about 3 people leave. One of the three people is apart of the Wealthy rank. Doing this, it'll create more conflict among your characters and make the game seem more interesting. By using ranks, it'll allow you to add so many dimensions to your game through plot, and your characters.

Using history in your game
As future developers, it’s your goal to make the better RPG. Not just some typical RPG with a cliché storyline about stopping the evil country from getting all the magic crystals, but a storyline that has some meaning and can somehow relate to the players life. History, of course, affects everyone and can be an extremely useful inspiration when creating a storyline for your game. Using histories of wars or the progression (or digression) of a country will also be useful in creating a storyline for your game. It makes the plot seem more full and professional, and add a little realism to it. Not only is history itself useful, but historical figures will also help very much in your storyline. By studying people from the past, you can create a realistic believable character. Earlier in the article I described Marie Antoinette who was a very outspoken, careless queen and became famous by saying “Let them eat cake!” Using character models like Marie Antoinette in your plot can help decide how a plot can turn out, why something has happened in a plot, or how the characters dominion is affected by his or her actions. Believe it or not but history can be an extremely useful thing!