Plato's Republic Through The Lens of Morrowind (An RPG) -- A Guest Post By Mr. Bryan Michaels
Updated: Sep 11
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(Relevant Philosocom articles: https://www.philosocom.com/post/criticizing-plato-s-philosopher-king-idea
This is an article that will examine the classes of modern society as described in Plato’s Republic. It will be done through the lens of a 2002 RPG called Morrowind. Can we draw any new conclusions about modern society from viewing it in this way? Let's find out.
Morrowind was released in 2002 and still holds up for its immersive gameplay, intricate storytelling, and unparalleled freedom. All this against the backdrop of a vibrant world teeming with realistic depictions of culture and life. Part of the freedom of being able to do anything you want is the ability to join one of three unique houses. The player can choose House Telvanni, House Redoran, or House Hlaalu. Each of these houses corresponds to a different class in Plato’s Republic.
House Telvanni is composed of powerful wizard lords. They hide away in their mushroom towers. and believe that might makes right. If a Telvanni wizard gets into an argument and murders another Telvanni, the house believes that the killer’s argument is correct because in Morrowind magic correlates to intelligence. So, the more powerful wizard must have been more intelligent and must have had a better argument.
The Telvanni represent the philosopher kings in Plato’s book, who sit in their towers and pass judgment from on high. They do not have to put up with the wishes of average people because their power makes them unique. This is true of Plato’s philosopher kings, but they are also supposed to have a great deal of wisdom to govern properly. Do the people who rule this house in Morrowind have a great deal of wisdom, as do the rich billionaires that govern our real-world society?
This is left open to interpretation in Morrowind. These philosopher kings have amassed a great deal of power, so they must also have a great deal of intelligence. However, they do not always make the wisest decisions or govern fairly. They keep sentient races as slaves and treat them horribly. The People in the Telvanni regions are mostly subject to the whims of their wizard lords, some of whom are fairer and more rational than others.
The player can also choose to join House Redoran. House Redoran is a clan of warriors who battle and duel for honor. Their sense of self-worth is not based on raw power (which is easy to attain in Morrowind through magic), but on a sense of honor in being the bravest and most noble combatant. They get validated through this contest of excellence. They favor weapons such as spears and swords. And they have a very confrontationist approach.
They correspond to the warrior class in Plato’s Republic. This class fights literal battles to keep society running smoothly. This could correspond to the modern-day military. The bullheadedness that we see in The military today can also be seen in House Redoran. Does this make the military easier to manipulate? For the philosopher kings? One can make the argument that the United States military has been involved. In a lot of unnecessary conflicts, it's this pervasive culture within the military that allows them to fight in wars that are not needed to prop up the global class system.
Lastly, the player can choose to join House Hlaalu. House Hlaalu is the most unpredictable of the classes. They focus on business and making money. In fact, House Hlaalu is the only house in the game that sides with the invading Imperials. They do not have the nationalist sentiment of the other houses. They don't care if Morrowind’s culture is absorbed by imperial influence, as long as it's good for business.
This house corresponds to the producer class in Plato’s Republic. Can we say that this house is like the middle class of modern America? The people who work in comfortable jobs or who own small businesses. They are the backbone of modern society, but they can also fall victim to rapid changes in trends.
These trends are set by the philosopher kings, and the status quo is enforced by the warriors. The philosopher kings rely on them to "keep the lights on" and "keep the trains running on time".
I believe you can learn a lot about the politics and complexities of the real world by playing and studying Morrowind. The different classes of society all have different motivations, and these can sometimes be seen more clearly when viewed through the lens of a fantasy world.