The Societal Impact of Teleportation

I know game designers are smart. They create an entire world out of whole cloth, wrap it in rules and then publish it for the world to play. This requires intelligence.

Clever as they are, in the process of world building, they miss the forest for the trees. What I mean is that a power exists in the world that would, in the real world, create massive social upheaval, but is ignored during the creator’s world building. Take, for example, the magical art of teleportation.

Since there are many versions of this power, I will define the term “teleportation” as follows:

2000 mile maximum range

Less than 1% of the population can teleport, either through training, mutant ability or other means

Must have seen the target location in person

Maximum amount transported is as much as you can carry in your arms, or up to four additional people. (Yes, I know that does not make much sense, but that is how the Dungeons and Dragon’s spell works, so go with it)

I will use “Greyhawk” as my world for this discussion, since many people are familiar with the world. It is a generic gaming world, without the technology that makes teleportation obsolete/less powerful, ie telegraph or high-speed transport.

Now that we have a baseline, think about the society that has access to this ability. In your world, where you live right now, what could a teleporter do?

Anyone that mentions the film “Jumper” is penalized 20 points. Besides being “Plan 9 from Outer Space” bad, it took the low road and did not put much thought into what teleportation means to a society.

Teleportation directly impacts society because it moves more than just objects or people. It moves information, the most valuable commodity in any age. Aside from the obvious military application of teleporting spies and recon, think of the economic impact. A large city depends on imported grain, a teleporter reports from a distant agricultural region of a blight. Grain is abundant now, but will be scarce in the next month or two, as expected grain shipments do not arrive. Inflation, rioting and hoarding begin immediately. A government might try to contain such information. Teleporters might have to register or are controlled by a guild. Easily done, since they are so few in number (less than 1% of the population.)

Which is my next point. Scarcity. All teleporters should be rich. The market guarantees any teleporter will be extremely wealthy. They have an “in-demand” product that very powerful people need and teleport providers rare. Governments, businesses and the villianous pay top gold piece for quick transport and infiltration. Even in a guild, the guild itself would be extremely powerful. An excellent example is the Spacing Guild of the Dune series. Even the emperor of the universe fears them as the guild owns a monopoly on interstellar transport.

These examples impact the society at a high level. There are significant impacts in the mundane parts of society also. Social interactions, architecture and law enforcement would be dramatically different in a teleporting world.

Personal space can no longer be guaranteed with doors or locks. Privacy minded people would no longer invite anyone into their homes. Perhaps the public’s fear is so great teleporters must wear a symbol marking them as having this power. Discrimination becomes the norm, with “no-go” areas for teleporters. Onerous laws to control teleporters force them to live apart in a ghetto.

For the wealthy and paranoid, teleportation forces them to alter the architecture of their homes and other secure locations. Secure locations cannot have transparent windows. Peeping Toms look in a clear window, see the target and then pop in for a late night visit. Vaults can no longer just have a strong door, it needs teleport counter-measures. For example, you close the door and spikes extend across the room, leaving no space for an unexpected arrival.

When crime occurs, law-enforcement faces new challenges. Alibis become very difficult to verify. Being across town at the time of the crime does not mean anything. Tracking the felon across, not just a city, but 2000 miles is an insurmountable obstacle. Recruiting teleports to hunt other teleports is the only option.

Clearly, there are many impacts for teleportation that are often overlooked. As I have said before, I like some realism in my games. I hope this post provokes some thoughts from my readership. If you have other facets of society that teleportation, or other spells/abilities might impact, drop me a comment.

Trask, the Last Tyromancer



Trask is a long-time gamer, world traveler and history buff. He hopes that his scribblings will both inform and advance gaming as a hobby.