# “Leveling up” as a cultural/societal function?

I asked a similar question here on the site but it was too broad, so I'm attempting to break it down into smaller topics for people to dissect: this will likely be one of many.

I am attempting to write a project/start a thought exercise on how a society could be built on the rules and conventions of an RPG. Specifically, I would like to know how the practice of "leveling up" could be measured and enforced in this society.

There was some confusion last time I asked this question because I wasn't very particular on what I meant. In this scenario, "leveling" is not a magical occurrence; there's no flash of light initiating it or some magical wall you have to get over to gain XP, etc. You still get stronger or better at a task through training and experience, as you would normally; but in this society, your progress is tallied and measured, and eventually cataloged and rewarded, for your effort.

I imagine there must be a system in place that would be regulated and enforced by the governing body, or an organization within that body, that takes this information and does the necessary scrutinizing of it to make it work. Citizens are probably expected to keep up with their own progress, but there are also systems in place that test these assumptions to sort out liars and bad math, etc. I liken it kind of to like being audited, even though that's not quite right. But if all goes well you are eventually assessed and your level becomes a permanent part of your record, and later, your worth to this society.

I was initially looking to the recent trend of "gamifying" your life, which I'm sure I don't have to explain here; but given that this isn't a technological society I am proposing that might be an issue (it is based on agrarian and feudal concepts, which I'm still trying to refine). I also didn't want to rule out any other source of inspiration, like tabletops, card games, MMOs, what have you, so pull from whatever helps you with the discussion. If I need to divulge more information I will, just let me know.

• en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twelve_Level_Cap_and_Rank_System, a real world example, the Chinese and Koreans had similar systems. Only for government officials, but could be useful comparison/starting point. – Ville Niemi Jul 6 '16 at 16:22
• What Ville said. Also look into freemasonry, those guys have different level systems around the world. – The Square-Cube Law Jul 6 '16 at 16:23
• Artisans' guilds also had a ranking system, from apprentice to journeyman to master. These were more or less official rankings given by the guild based on the particular artisan's quality of work. – Kys Jul 6 '16 at 16:40
• It's not a direct correlation (because it is magically getting better), but it's a great example of world-building what a objectively leveled society is like. – Bobson Jul 7 '16 at 0:03
• Skillset Plugins. – RBarryYoung Jul 7 '16 at 19:26

In the Marine Corps I was an Avionics technician on a specific aircraft. After training, I was issued a service log that detailed EVERY task that could be performed on the aircraft, within my discipline. Other disciplines included Hydraulics, Airframe, Powerplant, etc. and they all had similar service logs for their disciplines.

Service logs are exhaustive documents and each task had a proficiency level that needed to be demonstrated and then signed off by a senior technician, who had obtained a mastery level of the discipline. Each proficiency level was a little more difficult to demonstrate and achieve. 75% or more of the service log had to be demonstrated at a mastery level before a technician was certified as a master technician and allowed to train and provide quality assurance for junior technicians.

This was a paper log. Schools have grade cards. Martial arts uses belts. Unions and other organizations use written and practical exams. But in every instance there is a Master and an apprentice, there are tasks and achievements, demonstrated through proficiency. Life is already gamified in this regard.

If you wanted to make this a social requirement, you'd have to take it to another level with bio-tracking and an enormous database storing all of the data for every member of society and every task that could be performed by that individual. Soft skills would be an included skill set - patience, compassion, listening, etc. Additionally, every task for every skill set for every hobby and career would be in the database. The bio-tracker would automatically contact the master database, sending out detailed data when certain tasks were completed - time, bios, proficiency, location, etc. Mentors and masters could also send data to the master database in lieu or in addition to the bio-trackers.

Constant scans of the database would alert the individual and a specific guild or interested party when specific skill sets were completed and an invitation to demonstrate the skill set would be issued. This would ensure that corruption is mitigated. The individual could accept or decline, but only acceptance and successful demonstration would allow the individual to level up. If the individual accepts and fails to demonstrate proficiency, this is noted and the data adjusted to reflect observed proficiency

Skills proficiency would be rewarded with job offers, promotions, societal benefits, etc. More difficult tasks and challenges could be assigned with more confidence to those presenting the level of proficiency required.

Lack of skills proficiency would prevent incompetent people from entering into jobs, careers, hobbies, politics, etc. or be assigned tasks they have no hope of completing. They would not be rewarded with societal prestige or perks.

A system like this could allow individuals to remain individual but allow interested parties to identify qualified or gifted candidates for recruitment. A system like this would uncover the gotchas that happen when a candidate looks good "on paper" then fails to deliver, regardless the arena of life.

• Nice system. Biotrackers are perfect tool for a total control. It's nice basis for not only leveling system but for creating Big Bad Boss Personage (or System Of Total Control). Pretty good! – DimXenon Jul 7 '16 at 7:20
• Also we may imagine a full potential for manipulating with all social and skill data of each person in this society. Hackers, politics, untracked persons. Full spectre of system and countersystems issues. – DimXenon Jul 7 '16 at 7:24
• One might imagine a society where even non-military occupations have some sort of uniform with rank insignia (but with different colors and badging to preserve the uniqueness of each specialty. Think of the US Public Health Service, lead by the Surgeon General, whose uniforms look similar to those of the Navy) such that one literally "earns a stripe" (and a bump in pay, etc.) when he passes a certain proficiency exam. – Monty Harder Jul 7 '16 at 16:07
• @MontyHarder, such uniforms or insignias would be willingly worn by the masses as status symbols even. – Steve Mangiameli Jul 7 '16 at 16:33
• @SteveMangiameli you thought of writing a litrpg? =) – Giu Piete Feb 25 '19 at 5:22

In short...we pretty much do this already just in a more piecemeal manner than a character leveling up

Here are some examples

## Education

Basic - Simple, broad knowledge: arithmetic, reading, writing, basic science, history, etc

We, in much of the world, already have this broken into RPG friendly levels and tiers...though studying for a history test isn't as exciting as killing rats in a basement.

Advanced - Less broad categories, more specialized knowledge: This area would be the equivalent of high school and the early college years. More specific than basic information but most people will overlap in places

Expert - Specific knowledge, narrow focus. This is where we specialize, late college years, and on into the workforce and post graduate years.

In terms of education, the system is already in place really, nice and easy.

## Martial Skills

Like many marital arts, you have a belt system which denotes a certain skill/mastery level.

## Rankings

Be it the military, a church, special clubs (boy scouts, shriners, etc) ranks are already in place and in theory should denote a skill/achievement level in line with the organization's purpose or beliefs

## Government

Yep, we already rank people here too.

I could keep providing examples (firefighters, civilian job titles, trade skills etc.) but I think you get the point...heh.

What's it all mean?

Well look at it this way. Games simplify the complexities of reality, because lets be honest, no one wants to take their half orc barbarian to the latrine after he had to cook his dinner of roast squirrel.

If you want to apply an overall level gain idea to real life you have to take into account the complexities of real life.

So what we need is an added layer on top of what we already do today, my suggestion would be a system of proficiency points.

• For each level of mastery in any given subject (based on relevant testing) you get a certain amount of points.
• Quantity of points would be determined by...someone or some group based on criteria, I don't know what criteria, that is for your imaginary leaders to decide
• At certain point intervals, you level up, not unlike experience. If you have played Skyrim this is the exact system. As you get better at things (doesn't matter what they are or how useful it makes you) you level up.
• If you want to push people toward certain skills you simply weight the points gained in favor of skills deemed more useful.

Additional note: You don't mention it as part of the question itself but you could create a class (job) system not unlike DnD. You'd have to create a chart showing what rank in what skills is required to take a certain class. So for example someone wants to be a police officer so they have to have a certain proficiency in diplomacy, combative, weapons, critical thinking/analytics...etc.

So you could create a super complex web of skill interdependency for each profession...would be an interesting exercise.

• " lets be honest, no one wants to take their half orc barbarian to the latrine after he had to cook his dinner of roast squirrel."..I mean, I like to play The Sims from time to time, it's no squirrel cooking orc man, but you do level up that way! – Timmy Jul 6 '16 at 20:07
• "studying for a history test isn't as exciting as killing rats in a basement" - speak for yourself! :) – Emilio M Bumachar Jul 6 '16 at 21:24
• Like many marital arts TIL marriage is like karate. – user17905 Jul 7 '16 at 0:29

Since many people have already pointed out the various ways we do "level up" in modern society, I should step in with some of the negatives so the discussion can fully consider the implications of this.

1. Cronyism/Gatekeeping

There are potentially millions of people with the intelligence to become doctors, lawyers, electrical engineers etc., but there are actually only a limited number in today's society. Much of the reason for these shortages is artificial, using various methods of gatekeeping to limit the number of people who actually can practice these various professions and keep the relative wages high compared to the rest of society. Entry into so called "elite" schools is also put through an elaborate gatekeeping system; there really is little difference in lessons in a specific subject taught in an "Ivy League" college and a mundane "State" college, but the credentials count for a great deal more.

1. Recognition/credentialism

This is somewhat similar to point one, but can be extended over a much greater sphere. In Canada, a person can be trained as a vehicle mechanic in the Armed Forces, and even p[ractice the profession for many years, yet discover on release that their credentials and experience count for nothing. (Alternatively, a "Class A" licensed mechanic until recently would still be forced to take a military mechanic's course in order to work as a soldier). On line training such as the Khan Academy or even university level courses are not universally recognized, and of course we all hear horror stories of fully qualified doctors coming to a new country and being forced to work as taxi drivers.

You can go to school, apprentice at Hogwarts and even write bet selling books on the subject, but unless you actually perform the skill on a regular basis, your ability to do the job will be deteriorate. Eventually you will get to a point that you will either be incompetent or actively dangerous if you attempt to carry out the skill set you are credentialed in. Even actively performing a limited skill set isn't going to be much more helpful, you could work in a Taylorized factory and be an expert in your own task, but still be unable to fill in for a sick worker on a different station, or explain how "your" job fits in with the bigger picture.

So while we "level up" in society and life, it is not an entirely open or iterative process, nor does "levelling up" either fully open all doors or lasts for life.

• I'm really glad you brought up the negative points of this sort of thing: I was really hoping someone would. This will figure heavily into my thinking on this project as well. – bsideswiped Jul 6 '16 at 20:07
• on negative part, it can create a very stratified society in which some individuals(apprentices) will be perceived as less human then others(masters). See the caste system. – valentin Jul 7 '16 at 9:59
• another negative note: the relations between master and apprentice is an asymmetric one in which the master has extended powers other the apprentice. Chances of various physical/psychological/sexual abuses/aggressions are not negligible – valentin Jul 7 '16 at 10:08

This absolutely happens in nearly every part of our daily life. Its almost impossible to go through a day without running into it.

The tricky part is realizing what "leveling up" must mean. Leveling up must be a change in state which can be captured numerically. Given that it's not magical, it must be a change in perceived state, showing how society views you and your skill level.

We use this all the time. If you drive to work, you have a driver's license. Most of the time, we keep track of our own driving skill informally. However, when we get pulled over, we have to produce this license to prove that we have "leveled up" enough in driving skill for the government to grant us the right to drive. This involved a written test, a driving test, and proof that you hadn't gotten in any DUIs and lost your privilege since then. This is functionally indistinguishable from "leveling up."

Virtually all of our first-pass estimations of people's abilities stem from observing their level. If you want to go get an engineering job, you don't get there by showing prowess in engineering. You get there by showing a piece of paper from a good Engineering college known as a diploma. You might even have to show your GPA. Want to enter the IT field? I don't care how good you are at managing Cisco routers, you won't find a job unless you have attended the proper courses and gotten your Cisco certification. Even the lowest paying entry level jobs at least want some proof that you've leveled up enough to have an address (and a shower you can clean up in).

This process is natural. Many skills take quite a lot of time and energy to observe properly. We can't waste that much energy, so we assign symbols to signify the exertion.

The drawback to the process is that you have to presume someone knows exactly what skill you have sufficiently well to test you. Arts in particular are notoriously difficult to pin down with a test. There's just too much subjectivity. You also have to be careful to avoid people teaching to the tests. In America, we've been pushing standardized testing for years as an effective way to measure the progress of students. The result has been a laughable failure. Students are entering college and complaining that they are woefully unprepared for college life because their entire school life, from elementary to high school, has been centered around how to pass the standardized tests.

My favorite compromise is the kyu/dan system used in Japan for Go and many martial arts. You also see mirrors of it in martial arts belt colors. One starts at a high numbered kyu(like 30 kyu for Go), and progress towards lower numbers. Eventually you get to 1 kyu. The next transition is from 1 kyu to 1 dan, then 2 dan, 3 dan, and so forth (typically there are 3-7 levels of dan). The belt analogue is that the colored belts are like kyu ranks, and the different degrees of black belt are the dan ranks.

Many of us assume a black belt in karate means "you know karate." However, that is a bit of a misnomer. A more accurate phrasing would be that a black belt, or a 1 dan ranking, indicates that you are "minimally competent in your art." You know just enough of the basics to claim competency. Black belt is not the end of the road; its the beginning of one.

There is a distinctive shift in the way the testing or "leveling up" process works when one shifts from kyu to dan. To achieve a new kyu rank, the primary focus is an objective measure of your ability to do some skills. In theory, a 1 kyu knows all of the objective skills from the art. Once you enter the dan ranks, the tests become more subjective. To become a black belt/1 dan in many martial arts, one has some subjective portion of their testing. In my Tae Kwon Do class, a black belt was expected to produce an essay "What does a black belt in Tae Kwon Do mean to me." There is no right answer to this; each essay is different.

This shift lends itself to a nice mix of the RPG style "leveling up" with a buffer to permit more expressive arts. At first one is expected to build up basic skills, a. la. leveling up. After that, however, it is recognized that no one size fits all. You have to find your own soul in your work, and you are credited with a 2 dan or a 3 dan rank when the community believes your expression of the art warrants a new level.

With this, you also see a natural check on liars cheats and thieves. At the low levels, if a yellow belt decides to buy an orange belt to sneak into some training, minimal harm is done. On the other hand, if a charlatan buys himself a 3rd degree black belt and tries to open up a martial arts studio, people will quickly check up on his lineage, and spot his failure.

More interestingly, fellow black belts will detect the charade instantaneously. By the time one becomes a black belt, one certainly has the skill and experience to determine whether a fellow practitioner has earned their rank. Thus, if you know a black belt who is teaching, you might ask them to go say 'hi' to the newcomer. They will quickly tell you whether the newcomer is legitimate or not, with or without an official trip to the records room to find his certifications.

• That is a profoundly illuminating answer. I love that you brought martial arts into the discussion, because it's something I was thinking about for another question I might ask later. I had no idea how applicable it would be, though. Seriously, thank you. – bsideswiped Jul 6 '16 at 21:18

You level up through school, 1st,2nd 3rd etc, if you do too poorly you might be held back a year and need to repeat.

People don't worry too much about the newbie low levels, almost everyone ranks through them.

There's separate advanced ranks once you get a little way into the skill tree. Apprentice, Journeyman, Master vs Bsc, Msc, Phd depending on what you specialize in.

Jobs will be listed requiring a certain level in a certain skill tree.

There's a huge structure around the accreditation of institutions who can assess you and decide if you've earned your new level. There's shysters who'll happily sell you a scroll stating that you've achieved the top levels but only the gullible will fall for that because those shysters aren't accredited.

Then there's even levels within organizations.

Of course the system isn't going to be perfect. If the kings son is a little dim and isn't leveling up as he should a few words will be whispered into the right ears to make sure he passes his tests and nobles sons will get the fast track up the level system.

There are a good number of ways this has been done, but the one that I can see actually being most akin to what you're looking for is from an anime called "Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?", or "DanMachi" for short. Strip it of the obvious fan-service and you get an intriguing basis for an RPG-based society. Take away the "Familia" gimmick and you have something that could even be plausible with some tweaking. I will, however, elaborate here since watching an anime is a bit of a time sink. Italics will indicate the anime's gimmicky bits while bold will indicate what I came up with to replace that. This will appear in a [anime / replacement] format because I think that would be easier to read.