Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Droids and Galactic Society

As I cross over the halfway point in the Droid part of my sourcebook (damn me, I keep adding more to it!), I find myself pondering the role of droids in the Star Wars universe—and just how they would impact the galactic society we see in the movies. It is difficult NOT to think about this when you see the variety of droids and all of the things they're capable of: everything from repairing technical devices to performing surgeries to tending the gardens to serving food in a restaurant, etc., etc.. So the question I ask myself is, if droids are doing all this stuff, how do 'people' (i.e. organic folk) make a living?

Well, to begin with, I think it is worth discussing just how widespread droid labor is. And from the movies, I think we see that the answer to that is: Very. Even a complete backwater like Tatoooine seems to have a heck of a lot of droids running around—in the cities (like Mos Espa and Mos Eisley) as well as the boonies (the Lars farm). Larger planets likewise seem to have a lot of droids, working in starports, dishing out food at diners, etc.. But I think it would be reasonable to assume that droids would be more common on core worlds than they would be on the rim—if for no other reason than the remoteness of those planets. It would be more difficult to ship droids to them and to maintain them (keep them supplied with parts).

So, what does this mean for your basic 'blue collar' worker? Well, it means he (sorry, just going to use the masculine here for the sake of brevity) is going to have a hard time finding work. In the core, most 'manual labor' jobs would be accomplished with droids. Factory-workers, construction, dockworkers, you name it. This doesn't mean that ALL such jobs would be done with droid labor—especially when you consider the fact that many droids (especially labor models) are noted for being dumb. Thus, it seems that organic overseers or foremen would be necessary to keep them in line. Of course there are also 'smarter' droids built to be Overseers, but even these would probably have SOME level of accountability to an organic 'master'. On worlds further out from the core—specifically large agricultural or mining developments, the situation would likely be the same. Lots of droids with a smaller number of organics overseeing them. But on the outer rim? Well, here I still see room for the 'common laborers' to work. Sure, they might have a few droids for the 'heavy' or dangerous labor, but for the most part, things would be done with old-fashioned muscle.

Even so, at first glance it seems that the blue collar worker is doomed. I mean, just how many 'overseer' or 'foreman' jobs can there be? The answer to that is: a lot. If you think about the sheer SCALE of a galactic society like the one presented in Star Wars—the fact that entire PLANETS can reasonably be devoted to just farming or mining or some other industry—then you see that there would be a heck of a lot of need for organic supervisors. In the movies, I can point to Owen Lars as an example. He was a single farmer who seemed to have a labor pool of droids working under him (as well as a nephew to help oversee them). Yes, he was just one Farmer, but its possible that his farm was actually rather large. Thus, the whole definition of a 'small farm' in the Star Wars universe might be skewed from what we consider small. Droids would allow a single operator a much greater scope—i.e. they wouldn't 'replace' farmers, they'd just allow them to operate larger farms. The same would apply to most other blue-collar jobs as well—think of the amount of spaceport traffic a planet like Coruscant sees every day. Even with droid labor pools to load and offload cargo, there would be jobs for a LOT of organics to oversee them.

Overall, then, Blue-Collar labor would seem not to be eliminated. But even factoring in the 'scale' issue, the demand for such workers would be reduced compared to what we consider 'normal'.

Now on to the service and retail industries. I would see this facing the same challenges as blue-collar work, but overall, it would have a slightly better time of it. Sure, you can have droid waitresses or cooks or store clerks, but a lot of folks want a 'personal touch' when they're out to dine or shop. Though some droids can be programmed for 'charm', a lot of organic species just don't relate to them as well as they do to other organics. If you need proof of this, just look at how many people dislike automated answering pools when you call a company. If you need an example in the movies, look to Dex's diner. There was a droid and human waitress working side by side, and Dex himself seemed to be a charming and personable guy who gave his diner a distinct 'personality' that a droid cook may not have been able to. So again, the demand for such labor would be smaller than what WE know, but still not as low as one might think.

I imagine that the rule we see emerging here—organics taking on a supervisory position to droids—would apply to a great many 'industries' in the Star Wars universe. So the big question then is what does everyone in the Star Wars galaxy DO for a living? Well, the 'white collar' professions seem to be relatively safe from droid displacement. Business and Government positions still exist, relatively undisturbed. Sure, 'lower' positions like secretaries and aides would see a lot of droid labor, but your basic executives and officials would be going strong. Why? Because organics run the galaxy and no matter how well programmed a droid is in psychology or sociology, political sciences or business, they just do not understand the motivations of organic species on the same core level.

Likewise, jobs that have a creative core to them would not see much droid labor. Artists, Craftsmen, Entertainers, Writers, Journalists, Advertising folks (had to include that, since I'm an ad guy)—all of these would be almost exclusively 'organic' jobs. Scientists and inventors would fall into this category as well. Even though they live in a world of facts and physics, both jobs require the spark of creativity that most droids seem to be lacking.

As far as military applications go, droids do serve in supporting roles, but the Clone Wars seemed to have spelled the end of large-scale use of droid armies. Afterall, overwhelming numbers of automatons proved inferior to well trained and motivated clone troopers. So, oddly enough, the military seems to be a haven for organic employment—at least until the stigma of the Clone Wars wears off. This is seen most readily in the Original Trilogy, where you don't see any combat oriented droids at all–just organic soldiers on both sides, duking it out. I realize that some of this may simply be due to the fact that Lucas didn't have the special effects budget/technology to pull off droid armies, but its easy enough to extrapolate a logical, in-universe reasoning for it as well.

Police and security duties are a bit more ambiguous—at least in examples from the movies. On the one hand, we see the organic "Wing Guards" on Bespin, but on the other, we see Droid Policemen in the Clone Wars cartoon. I could easily see this industry having both, but I doubt most societies would enjoy being policed solely by droids for various psychological reasons—not the least of which being that droids were created to SERVE organics, and to put them into a position of power over their 'masters' just seems wrong.

Exploratory operations would likely incorporate a lot of droids as well–especially on particularly hazardous worlds. In fact, under the Empire, I could easily see scout droids as being preferable to organics—since the Empire isn't interested in making 'first contact' with new species or pushing back the boundaries of knowledge. They're looking for two things: Resources to exploit and rebel bases to destroy. Droids are a more reliable way to do this (as they can be programmed not to have a 'conscience'). For this, witness the probe droid of the Empire Strikes Back.

Freight hauling seems to be dominated almost entirely by organics. Ship captains like Han Solo seem to be the norm, and though some folks may have droids as crewmen, it seems that there is a mistrust of droids in that role, at least in the Outer Rim (who says there can't be huge, droid-controlled freighters plying the safer core-planet routes). This all goes back to the argument that droids don't handle unexpected situations as well as organics. This can be argued both ways, but seems to be backed up by what we see in the movies and (more extensively) in the various novels and comics, with dozens of different organic ship captains at work.

So as much as I hate to make comparisons between genres, I would say that in Star Wars, the bulk of the citizenry (at least in the core worlds) has been 'elevated' out of having to do 'tedious' manual labor. So, much like the citizens of the Federation in Star Trek, they are able to pursue other (presumably) higher goals. This means that the ratio of blue-collar workers to white-collar would be heavily skewed from what we know in the 'real world'. And even the blue-collar folk would likely be in a more supervisory role.

Of course, this isn't to say that there wouldn't be instances where organic labor would be cheaper or preferable for other reasons (an environment hostile to droids, perhaps?), but this certainly wouldn't be the norm based upon what we see in the movies. And in many cases, Slave labor would be cheaper than droids—hence institutions like the Spice mines of Kessel. But that opens up a whole other can of worms as to just how the slave trade is profitable enough to compete with affordable droids. For that matter, it opens up the the question as to whether or not droid labor constitutes slavery. But.. that is too metaphysical to go into right now.

In any case, it is obvious that droids have a huge impact on Galactic Society in the Star Wars universe, but it is equally obvious that they do not completely dominate the workforce. Rather, they seem to be just another 'tool' used by organics to complete the tasks they need done—albeit a more self-sufficient tool. I've often thought about this topic before, but this is the first time I've ever put anything down 'in writing'. And that always helps me figure things out. It is also important to remember when painting a picture of the Star Wars universe in your roleplaying game. Details like this help maintain the atmosphere we see in the movies—and I like that in my game.

Oh, and P.S.
How could I overlook the technical professions! I see them as being about in the same boat as other blue-collar jobs. Droids would take over a lot of the work there, but.. someone has to fix the droids (or at least fix the droids who fix the droids...). There would also be supervisory/foreman type positions in these fields and in the case of special modifications or custom work, you'd still need a creative, organic mind in charge.

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