So now that I have a rough idea of what I'm aiming for, I need to figure out how this would actually work. Because what good is a world or a story when the suspension of disbelief can't hold up to the strain you're putting on it?
The biggest problem (that I've seen so far) has to do with those questions addressed in Stage #1 - namely how a single company (for now just called "the Company") can get so big that it literally draws the nation's economy into its orbit. This is where a single company might develop a multi-level monopoly, owning or controlling more or less all the options for many industries (like food, transport, and entertainment).
Since the Company is such a major part of the setting I'm developing, I'll need to make it, if not literally functional, at least believably so. And since one brain is very rarely enough to make such a thing come to pass, I turn to a group of friends I've made through online means (through a Discord server for worldbuilders, if you're interested in that).
Rather than trying to force the world to take form, I started asking questions of my online friends.
"Is it believable for an economy centered on entertainment to have an isolationist foreign policy, and does that exclude foreign trade?"
"If a single company is large enough to bully the national government into doing what it wants, what does that mean for smaller, less powerful companies?"
"If a large percentage of the minimum-wage workers in a nation suddenly cease to be employees and start being goods that can (after a fashion) be bought and sold, what impact does this have on companies that relied on their workers being below the poverty line and willing to work for less than a living wage?"
In short, Stage #2 is an extension of Stage #1 in that I'm asking questions, but these questions are more focused on functionality and believability than on the way things were in the dream that inspired this setting, or what my brain spits out that sounds good. This is not about sounding good, this is about what makes a world feel real.
Thus far, we have confirmed that an isolationist foreign policy does not preclude foreign trade.
Drawing from American history (because that's what I'm familiar with) it's clear that while the Isolationist movement of the 1930's advocated a policy of non-intervention and avoiding entanglement in overseas conflicts and politics, economically the Americans still performed a booming international trade, to the point where before American involvement in WWII, they were the warehouse of the war, selling foodstuffs, war goods, and even ships to the Allies.
This would mean that my fictional country could have an economy more or less ruled by a single company that promoted isolationism to downplay competition, but still perform international trade of goods, technology, and people.
If the Company grew large enough that it no longer needed to work through lobbyists and could put pressure directly on the government, it's likely that at that point the government is more a puppet to the Company than an entity of its own.
In modern-day America, lobbyists are the middle-men for large companies to distribute incentives for officials to vote for policies that benefit the companies in question. If a single company had enough control over the national economy, or had enough political clout through the use of loyal men in high office, the use of lobbyists would no longer be necessary, though the government could in theory recover its power later on.
It's likely that once the government is under the Company's control, it would only maintain the illusion that the government and the Company are separate as long as it was necessary to keep the populace happy. If at any point the people (Players) no longer cared for the government, then the Company could openly run the nation with no major difficulties.
The problem with that second point is that this sounds a lot like a dystopia, and I don't want it to come across like that. Luckily, a lot of this stuff won't be given to the reader, so it's background stuff for my benefit.
Finally, if a larger percentage of minimum-wage workers just stopped working, the companies that had formerly employed them would have options: consolidate and close those branches they can no longer keep in business, automate those positions that previously required people who work for peanuts, or raise their wages so people who won't work for peanuts will take the jobs.
Considering the technology needed for the Company to run the Game (including the ability to generate genetically modified creatures and holographic monsters) it seems likely that most companies would favor a blend of consolidation and automation, reducing the number of jobs required until the automation was up to snuff. At that point they could reopen the closed branches, or if automation failed or bankrupted the companies, then others would spring up in their place to fill the void.
So once the political and economic snarls are taken care of and things like "where do they get their food" are addressed, we can move on to Stage #3 - or what life is like for the average joe in this world. We'll pick up there next time. :)
In the meantime, Inklings, I'd like to hear about your questions! What comes to mind when you're looking at this new world, or when you're building your own?