A couple of days ago I followed a discussion on piracy initiated by Cliff Harris of the one-man-game-company Positech, who removed DRM and lowered the prices of his game after he got back the results of his survey. This whole thing was covered on RPS and also got slashdotted. I guess he unintentionally got a lot of positive media-attention and sold quite some extra games because of it, including one to me. It’s not that I bought one just to applaud him for making his games DRM free, but it’s a game I’ve always been remotely interested in since I first heard of it, gaming and politics are both appealing to me. Next to that, I already played the demo which I remember enjoying but being frustratingly short.
So I bought it with PayPal and quickly downloaded and installed it, it’s easy to get into, you decide which party you join and which one opposes you (only two-party systems supported), you start as president in your first term and when you get ousted or loose the election, it’s game over.
It’s addicting for a while, I started out playing for the Republican Party in the USA and was very unpopular at start, I promptly resolved that by lowering the income tax with 15%, worsening the debt with my deficit. Then I crushed an environmental “terrorist” group called the Green Brigade by increasing funds for my secret services, allowing phone-tapping and internet censorship. I also forced schools to only teach creationism and not the evolution theory, which outraged the liberals even more, and did a lot more evil things. When election time came closer I promised a 20% tax-cut on both income and corporate tax if I was to be reelected. Of course I got 70% of the votes and could start on my second term.
My first games were pretty much fun, but after that I started to get a bit bothered with the lack of extra details. The amount ‘events’ throughout the game are limited, you’re starting to see the same text/stories a lot of time. The great quotes of famous real-world people also start to repeat themself. I also found the game to be a bit unrealistic (although, I understand making stuff like this ‘realistic’ is next to impossible), I don’t think I’ve ever seen a government that can so successfully quickly implement and radically change policies.
It also feels a bit too mechanical for my taste, I mean, in the real world your average conservative person doesn’t just oppose liberal policy #345 because he actually disagrees with it, but (also) mostly because charismatic conservative leader person tells him to. (And vice-versa of-course, also apologies for generalizations, I hate them myself). The masses rarely react fully rationally (neither do I, I guess), while they do so mechanically in this game. Although you could question the rationality behind supporting schools only to teach creationism, that’s not my point. My point is that the game fully ignores the media and the whole image aspect of politics in a democracy.
Sometimes I tend to think of everything as a ‘system’, this big globalization system in the real world, where everything is connected and affecting each other, having that feeling of epiphany while you walk around on the street seeing the traffic lights go green, that everything can be explained as a system with constantly shifting parameters. It’s a bit silly, I know, but I was thinking about it again while playing this game, seeing it as a start of this great quest to model the whole world into a computer system, starting with something like… democracy. And while writing this thing about Democracy 2, I couldn’t help to look around a bit on the internet, re-read an old interview with the maker and found he has this same fascination:
Cliff: I guess it’s in the DNA of sim-game designers, that we get excitable about the systems behind everything. I read a comment on RPS where someone joked they hoped Will Wright saw the world like the matrix, in code, and that is just so true about me. I find myself thinking about pretty much everything as a game, normally a sim game. If I’m deciding whether to order salad or pasta, that like a gameplay choice to me. There are definite statistics and strategies at play there, and we do it all the time. Everyone is prioritising levelling up their endorphins or their slimness when they order food, or replenishing energy resources. In a sense, the greatest most sublime and intrictae game in existance is real life.
Interesting, the human mind is a bit too incomprehensible to really do it successfully of course. It’s also the reason why I thought things felt a bit too mechanically to me earlier. You get these silly things in The Sims as well, where you can somehow shit faster on a toilet of $2000 than on one of $200 and where your happiness somehow increases with more expensive furniture. I sometimes think Will Wright just wanted to promote the idea of consumerism in our unconsciousness, he probably succeeded.
Ah well, I’m going off-topic. I’m curious about Kudos 2 now and hope that new Democracy versions will continue to add more and more real-world things into a computer system (/game).