Corporatist Paranoia

One of my professionally GM’d games recently ended, which means I’m firing up the ads for a bunch of different systems, which means I’m looking at Paranoia again. Paranoia XP and the closely related Paranoia 25th Anniversary had a thing where the Computer was switching to a more capitalist economy, in an effort to better parody the rise of corporatist dystopia ongoing in America and Britain even back in 2004. Unfortunately, it was all a bit short-sighted. It is very obvious here in 2019 that a corporatist dystopia can get much, much worse than the US and UK were at in 2004, but Paranoia XP was glued pretty tight to the trends that were already happening, just replacing “you get fired” with “you get fired upon.” “Service firms” sold goods and services semi-independently but were wholly subject to the demands of government bureaucracy, the internet was rife with scammers, and they didn’t even have the guts to replace “communists” with “terrorists” for the 2004 release when that actually would’ve been relevant and interesting.

Side note: RED-Clearance edition gave itself a big ol’ pat on the back for switching from “communists” to “terrorists” in 2016, at which point they may as well have not bothered because the moment had already passed by, like, a decade, and in any case RED-Clearance backed away from all the capitalist trappings of XP and 25th Anniversary, which makes direct comparisons to America more toothless and would have made the double think of a de facto communist dystopia using de jure Communism as their ultimate bogeyman more entertaining.

Anyway, reading back over all of this I began thinking: What would an actual corporatist Alpha Complex look like?

Its Holiness, Computerus III, Your Best Friend

Your friend the Computer is more-or-less a fiction used to keep the IR proles in line. Alpha Complex is still a smart society in the “smart house” sense where every door, vending machine, and CCTV camera is part of a vast network, but that network is maintained by a corporate conglomerate, not all of Alpha Complex. Friendly conglomerates have limited data sharing between their compnodes to allow the Computer to keep track of who’s a terrorist and which clones have what clearance when they move between different sectors, and this makes it appear as though it’s only one big Computer. The truth comes out when conglomerates become unfriendly with each other. They cut their compnodes off from one another to prevent hacking or other sabotage, and suddenly what one compnode sees, the other does not know.

Sometimes the vital information about terrorists and security clearances and so forth will go through a trusted third party conglomerate and the Computer in FUN sector will know about the crimes you committed in NUF sector. If there is no such trusted third party, though (and this is Paranoia, so trust is not exactly common)? Once the conglomerate owning FUN gets into a row with the conglomerate owning NUF, “the” Computer is bisected, with the compnode in FUN totally unaware of anything learned by the one in NUF. If you bomb an IntSec precinct while shouting “workers unite! Praise Lenin!” in FUN sector and flee to NUF, you don’t need to change your identity. The Computer has no idea what you’ve done. At least until NUF sector wins the war, takes over FUN sector, and adds the FUN compnode into their network under their conglomerate’s control (or vice-versa).

The problem is, while the war between different conglomerates is pretty easy to keep track of, on account of all the tanks and bombings, generally speaking no one below BLUE clearance has the slightest idea whether or not things like criminal databases are still being shared through third parties. If you commit your bombing for the glory of Communism and flee to NUF, you may find that actually NUF has been getting updates on such acts of terrorism from the neutral UNF sector and you’re arrested the moment you triumphantly stride into the atrium of a NUF sector hab-block, having thought you’d just escaped to safety.

The Computer can also be thought of as The Algorithm, which should fill a clone with the same sense of superstitious fear that is currently rife amongst YouTubers. The Computer is used to perform background checks and administer ability tests that, together, provide security clearances, which determine both that you are loyal and trustworthy and also that you have a skill valuable to your superiors. In corporatist Alpha Complex, nobody cares how trustworthy an INFRARED is unless they also have skills that necessitate giving them power.

As such, low-ranking (principally YELLOW and lower) citizens desperately want to convince Friend Computer that they are both loyal and competent, and because the Computer is always watching, these low-ranking citizens feel the need to put on an act of both devoted righteousness and total capability at all times. When either facade slips, it is important to immediately push blame to someone else.

His Royal Highness, Brett-U-BER, Chairman of the Board

In a corporatist Alpha Complex, service firms are neo-feudal structures, and service groups as we know them do not exist. Forget all about PLC and HPD&MC. Shadowy ULTRAVIOLETs rule over conglomerates whose individual companies with individual jobs are run by VIOLET or INDIGO citizens, and there’s nothing stopping two rival conglomerates from both having a power company.

The board for any company is comprised of one or more ULTRAVIOLETs, and the CEO is VIOLET. If an ULTRAVIOLET controls at least 50%+1 of the shares of a company, they can replace (or execute) the VIOLET CEO at-will, which means the company must comply with whatever that ULTRAVIOLET wants, which means the company is considered a part of the ULTRAVIOLET’s conglomerate, whether that relationship is made official or not (conglomerates are a meta-entity that people below INDIGO clearance rarely interact with anyway, so there’s little point in playing with words at this level).

ULTRAVIOLETs do not program the Computer, because the Computer is not the all-pervasive, god-like entity that it is in standard, communist Alpha Complex. In corporatist Alpha Complex, somewhere around BLUE or INDIGO clearance you no longer have to care whether the Computer is watching you. You can have it totally excised from your private residence if you want, but there’s no point, because it is subordinate to you and will do whatever you tell it to do unless doing so would countermand an order given by a higher clearance citizen (and these orders are almost never shared between compnodes controlled by different conglomerates the way criminal databases are, so really it’s only higher clearance citizens in your some conglomerate you have to worry about – and once you’re INDIGO, there’s not a whole lot of those).

An ULTRAVIOLET isn’t in charge of anything specific. That’s what VIOLETs are for. A VIOLET CEO is in charge of a company that does a specific thing: Vehicle manufacturing, retail, resource extraction, whatever. Everyone who isn’t at least INDIGO is barely even aware of what exactly ULTRAVIOLETs do, because the guy running the real estate company you rent your apartment from is a VIOLET, and the guy running the restaurant chain you eat lunch at is a VIOLET, and the guy running the security company whose goons threaten to break your kneecaps every twoday is a VIOLET. An ULTRAVIOLET commands a large conglomerate that consists of every company they’ve ever bought out, try to outcompete other ULTRAVIOLET conglomerates, and try to keep their VIOLET underlings from competing with each other (with varying degrees of success, depending on how good the ULTRAVIOLET is at managing their underlings).

ULTRAVIOLETs who need cash in a hurry can sell shares in a company they own, and may even sell shares such that they own less than 50%. In this case, the company becomes contested. Other ULTRAVIOLETs might seek to buy up enough shares to gain 50% control, and with that, the power to replace the CEO with one of their own stooges and thus add the company to their own conglomerate (it does not matter whether or not they officially declare the company to be part of their conglomerate – conglomerates are meta-entities that nobody below INDIGO clearance interacts with, and everyone at that clearance knows what the game is). The company might also end up headless, with the VIOLET CEO unable to be replaced except by a coalition of more than one ULTRAVIOLET board member whose total shares equal at least 50%+1.

His Grace, Sammy-V-ILE, Chief Executive Officer, and His Lordship, Ant-I-MTR, Vice President

A VIOLET CEO oversees a multi-sector enterprise. Individual sectors are run by INDIGO sector governors, whose job is to keep every VIOLET who relies on that sector for resources – including labor – happy. There is technically only one CEO they answer to, the head of an administration company, and that company makes its profits by selling its services as an administrator to other companies within the conglomerate (and sometimes, if a rival is desperate enough for a competent governor to hire one from outside their own organization, without). The VIOLET CEO of the admin company can have INDIGO governors fired (upon) if the other VIOLETs in the conglomerate express enough dissatisfaction with the governors, particularly if they threaten to move their business out of the sector entirely. Being a sector governor is thus a very stressful job for INDIGOs, because their job is to mediate disputes between people who have higher security clearances and more authority than they do.

ZAP sector isn’t directly run by the weapons company that runs the big factories, even though they employ a plurality of the clones there. Those clones need food, which will be provided by restaurant chains, security, provided by private security companies, power, provided by electricity companies, and the INDIGO governor’s job is to keep all the VIOLET CEOs of these companies happy with his results. Some of those VIOLET CEOs might actually answer to different conglomerates altogether. The weapons manufacturer definitely wants to build the heart of their business in a sector administrated by their own conglomerate, but a restaurant chain is happy to open up franchises in ZAP sector whether or not their conglomerate controls it. Now, the INDIGO governor is only part of the admin company’s chain of command. They answer to the admin company’s CEO, and no one else can replace (or execute) them. However, dissatisfied CEOs of the same conglomerate can usually lean on the admin CEO to have an unpopular sector governor replaced. Even if the power company’s CEO is locked in a bitter feud with the admin company’s CEO, the power company can take it up to the board, where the conglomerate ULTRAVIOLET (or a coalition of them, if the board is contested) can force the admin CEO to replace the sector governor under pain of death.

It’s possible that two different administration companies will insist their administrator is in charge of the same sector. This difference is almost always resolved one of two ways: The ULTRAVIOLETs heading up the respective conglomerates come to an agreement, or (more commonly) they fight a war over it. When the latter happens, the admin companies involved naturally prefer to hire PMCs from their own conglomerate, and PMCs from the rival conglomerate will naturally refuse any contracts to fight against their own conglomerate’s admin company, but third party conglomerates are happy to sell their PMCs’ services to the highest bidder. Some conglomerates don’t even have a PMC, and rely on being able to hire one third party or another to defend all of their business interests (of course, if every PMC capable of deploying to a sector is part of the invading coalition, then there are no third parties, and it’s going to be a very short war).

PMCs have no particular insistence on only fighting inter-conglomerate turf wars, though. A PMC is perfectly happy to take jobs committing industrial sabotage or extremely hostile takeovers of specific companies. ZAP’s two biggest fast food chains might be from different conglomerates to both one another and ZAP’s governing conglomerate, and they might both hire different PMCs to try and blow up each other’s franchises in ZAP sector. They might both hire the same PMC to try and blow up each other’s franchises, and that PMC may or may not coordinate within itself to avoid friendly fire. That PMC may also end up in a fight with the PMC employed by ZAP’s INDIGO governor to keep the peace, which could start up an inter-conglomerate war over control of ZAP sector between the two conglomerates owning the PMCs, which neither of the two restaurant chains’ parent conglomerates are even involved in.

We spend a lot of time talking about INDIGO sector governors, here. INDIGOs aren’t always governors, but INDIGOs who aren’t governors have the advantage of having much more simple jobs. An INDIGO VP of operations for the ZAP sector weapons manufacturing company is in charge of making sure that weapons get manufactured. An INDIGO VP of sales for the same company is in charge of making sure those weapons are then sold. An INDIGO VP of accounting is in charge of tracking expenses and ensuring that the money brought in by sales exceeds that spent by operations. All of them answer to just one person: The VIOLET CEO of the arms manufacturing company. And usually they don’t come up in a game. The INDIGO governor is the guy who appears to be in charge of the place from the perspective of lowly sub-GREEN troubleshooters, which means he comes up. The VP of production for the big arms manufacturer in the sector is probably not going to come up.

The Right Honorable Roberr-B-RON and the Good Sir Bigg-G-OON

BLUE clearance citizens are in charge of GREEN clearance citizens, and GREEN clearance is the point where you’ve got a skill valuable enough that the conglomerate doesn’t want to let you go. This usually means either IT, medicine, or violence. A BLUE citizen can, descending down the established hierarchy as we are, be a manager of a specific factory or fleet of delivery vehicles, but they can also be in charge of a relatively small IT department, medical ward, or military unit. Such field-command level jobs are usually the purview of someone who is GREEN at best and often YELLOW, but in order to run a hospital full of GREEN doctors, an IT department full of GREEN programmers, or a battalion full of GREEN soldiers, you need to be able to hand out demerits, demotions, and decapitations, which means you need to be BLUE. GREEN clearance is made up almost exclusively of such experts. A YELLOW factory foreman is promoted straight to BLUE factory overseer. There’s just no GREEN job in between to occupy, so you need to pass both background checks and competence tests at the same time to get any further – although if you’re being considered for promotion to a BLUE job, that means you’re being considered by an INDIGO, who can grant you a security clearance regardless of what the Algorithm says. They’re already over the hump, and the Computer works for them, not the other way around.

There’s also some GREEN jobs that answer straight to a higher-clearance citizen just because they need to be well-trusted not to be attempting to poison the upper class. A VIOLET CEO’s personal chef needs to be GREEN clearance because anyone lower hasn’t passed the background checks necessary to ensure that they aren’t an anarchist or an assassin.

Side note: Clearance level denotes (in part) how unlikely the Algorithm thinks it is that you are a terrorist, which denotes access to weapons, which means that all soldiers are GREEN clearance so they can have assault rifles and bazookas. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a chain of command within PMCs. A GREEN sergeant can have authority over a GREEN private by virtue of the fact that the private signed a contract giving his superiors within the internal hierarchy of the PMC the right to discipline him (lethally, if necessary), and indeed, probably signed that contract because the only competence test they need to pass to hit GREEN clearance is a basic physical assessment to make sure they don’t have flat feet or whatever. So long as they can pass the background check and don’t have any medical problems precluding intense training, the PMC will take care of giving them the training they need for their GREEN clearance job, all expenses paid, and the only downside is that the contract is probably for at least ten years, often twenty (nobody really cares if a 38-year old clone decides not to renew their contract, because the PMC already got their best years out of them).

Most people see BLUE clearance most often as a BLUE judge patrolling the streets. BLUE judges are employed by admin companies to make sure no one’s causing trouble in the sector, and are generally speaking empowered to serve as judge, jury, and executioner on the spot, according to their own judgement, for anyone who is GREEN clearance or below. A judge does have to justify the cost of replacing the killed worker to their employer. Consistently bloodthirsty judges may find themselves fired (upon), plus, it’s a lot of hassle, but of course, the lower clearance someone is, the less valuable they are in general. The local INDIGO VP doesn’t want to spend an hour haggling over the cost of a few dead INFRAREDs anymore than the judge does. Still, it’s relatively rare that they actually shoot someone, especially someone from another conglomerate, because they can, and everyone knows it. When a judge says “jump,” anyone who doesn’t jump is liable to be executed, so everyone jumps and no one gets shot. Judges who need back up usually have a SWAT team full of GREEN goons waiting back at the precinct with an APC, and if that’s not enough, they can phone in to their boss, the INDIGO governor, and ask them to call in a PMC. There may even be a platoon (or several) in-sector, kept on retainer for exactly that purpose.

Jonn-Y-BOY, Domin-O-PZA, and Ann-R-KEY, assorted peasants

YELLOW, ORANGE, and RED form a little sub-hierarchy of their own, beneath the auspices of the higher clearances. Whereas someone GREEN clearance or higher has a valuable enough skill that their company is loathe to trade them away, clones of YELLOW or lower clearance have their contracts sold off to other companies – even companies outside the conglomerate – all the time. This can necessitate changing job descriptions, sectors, and in some cases being immediately fired (upon) because your contract was only purchased so that a rival company could winnow down your original company’s stuff and then remove the workers from the job pool permanently so they will be unable to rehire except at much greater cost, which they won’t be able to afford, which means even if they manage to stabilize their finances they will be unable to expand back to where they were.

Generally speaking, YELLOWs get to be in charge of a single small facility or one floor of a larger one. YELLOWs run a single franchise of a food chain or manage a single floor of cubicle drones. ORANGEs are a shift manager or are otherwise in charge of about three to six people. REDs aren’t in charge of anything, but they have a security clearance at all, which means they’re cleared for rations that aren’t dosed up on tons of happy drugs that keep them constantly docile and submissive to authority. As such, REDs are the grunts for things that require focus. Factory workers who just need to stamp the press down over and over are INFRARED, but the guys who operate heavy machinery, drive delivery trucks, repair broken trucks, they all need to be RED so they can focus.

And, of course, if you have a potentially dangerous problem but you don’t want to tie up an expensive judge or PMC squad on it, you can always send troubleshooters, everyone’s favorite economy option for security, disaster relief, and industrial espionage/sabotage. Clones with good track records can sign up for a PMC and be catapulted to GREEN status almost instantly, but this rapid ascension brings with it stiff competition, which means the PMCs have their pick of healthy clones with spotless records. Got poor eyesight, a history of scowling at security cameras, or some other tiny black mark that disqualifies you from the hordes of PMC applicants? Sign up to be a RED clearance troubleshooter, where the turnover is high so the standards are low. Untrained, armed with only a basic sidearm, and still at a low enough clearance as to be constantly performing for the Computer (and pushing blame for any apparent incompetence or terrorism to others), troubleshooters’ selling point is that they’re totally expendable. INFRARED riot in a non-essential part of the sector? Send the troubleshooters. The Computer says they have a 70% chance of success, and who cares if it also says that an average of 0.3 will come back alive?

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