Positech, creator of intriguingly named games such as Gratuitous Tank Battles and Gratuitous Space Battles, is posed to deliver the third version of their Political Strategy game, Democracy. Despite its sibling status with the ‘Gratuitous’ games, this one will carry the relatively uninspiring name Democracy 3.0. Name aside, the idea behind the game itself was sufficient to pique my interest in taking a look at a preview release.
While most folks have no direct experience in actual tank battles and are even less likely to have ever participated in a space battle, pretty much everyone thinks that they know how a democratic republic should be run. If you don’t believe me, simply check out the reader comments section on just about any political news site or blog. Everyone, everyone, seems to know how things should be done, how problems should be fixed, and that anyone who believes differently from, them is evil, stupid, or in many cases, both. And I am here to tell you, they are all wrong. Just as I am the only person in this country that knows the proper way to drive, I am also unique amongst my fellow citizens in knowing precisely what needs to be done to fix our country.
Or so I thought.
Democracy 3.0 starts out with a tutorial that attempts to explain the complexity of the user interface and the ways in which each political action/policy causes one to many reactions in broadly categorized realms such like Law & Order, Economy, Welfare, Foreign Policy, etc. Adjusting a policy in one realm can influence global measurements such as GDP, debt, and tax revenue as well as localized measurements such as homelessness, alcoholism, and dozens of other things in other realms.
Each and every change to a policy can also change how the populace views your administration. The population is divided into cliques such as Patriot, Liberal, Capitalist, Socialist, etc. Citizens in these groups are also subdivided into additional voting blocs such as Smokers, Drinkers, Retirees, State Workers, and many, many more. In other words, each potential voter is a unique individual that will respond differently to changes in policy. And just so you know, some of them are very angry. Trust me, after surviving four assassination attempts in my first (and only) term as President of the United States, I know of what I speak.
The user interface initially looks to be insurmountably complex, but it didn’t take too long to start to understand how it works and how each of the actions/reactions work together. It is apparent that quite a bit of thought went into finding a way to keep a very complex and dynamic game approachable to the new and/or casual user. Hovering the mouse cursor over a given policy or metric opens a pop-up box describing what it is. It also enables a series of red or green arrows showing the dependencies amongst the disparate items. If nothing else is accomplished by this, it adequately demonstrates the immense breadth and depth of control that has been seized by the Federal Government. It is frightening, in a way, and that is probably intentional.
While the scope of control is fairly complex, the method for managing it is notably easier than in real life. All of the bribing, finagling, threatening, court packing, unconstitutional Executive actions/inactions, and media spinning required to pass any kind of meaningful reform is distilled down into a single currency: political capital. Democracy 3.0 is a turn-based game, with each turn being comprised of as many policy changes that can be accomplished with that round’s account of political capital. Not surprisingly, controversial changes like drug legalization or tax increases cost a lot of political capital, while less contentious decision cost little. Unused capital appeared to carry over into the next round, although without know precisely how said capital is earned, it was hard to tell if all of the remainder was preserved or just some of it. Each turn covers a span of three months, so there are sixteen turns in a game (for the US cycle of presidential elections every four years). At the end of the term, whether you won or lost is decided at the polls - the goal of the game is to get re-elected to a second term. Again, that is the goal when playing as the President of the United States - there are five other counties that can be played: United Kingdom, France, Germany, Australia, and Canada..
As to how well I did in the job of POTUS, well, I lost. I lost BIG. And by doing so, I proved a number of things to myself. First, I proved that to be a successful president, one has to put aside the stark, often rabid partisanship that it takes to get elected to the job in the first place and strive to be president for all Americans. My strategy of focusing almost completely on an austerity plan that would return the country to a budget surplus and a trajectory to diminish the startlingly high national debt was successful in that I achieved the numbers I desired, but at a tremendous cost. Homelessness and crime skyrocketed as I cut welfare programs and federal taxes. Completely eradicating foreign aid (also known as ‘bribes to tyrants’ by the Patriots) caused hideous damage to foreign relations and stirred up all kinds of trouble overseas. Cutting subsidies for Green energy boondoggles pleased the fiscally conservative types, but drove the unhinged environmentalists to violent protest. It would appear that the game is intended to be played with compromise and incrementalism in mind - that is not a bad lesson to learn!
The other thing that I proved to myself is that one might be able to make enormous changes to the fabric of the country by writing off even the remotest possibility of winning a second term (I lost by a landslide, going into re-election with an embarrassingly low 14% approval rating), but it probably isn’t the right way to go about it. With 86% of the popular vote, my successor would have an obvious mandate to undo nearly all that I had accomplished in my term.
While there will certainly be quibbling about how the game rates and ranks the importance and/or triviality of the issues of the day, Democracy 3.0 looks as if it will be an instructive teaching tool in addition to being compelling enough to play again and again, if only to see if it is actually possible to effectively govern a large country in a way that satisfies a majority of its citizens.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
I've been fascinated with video games and computers for as long as I can remember. It was always a treat to get dragged to the mall with my parents because I'd get to play for a few minutes on the Atari 2600. I partially blame Asteroids, the crack cocaine of arcade games, for my low GPA in college which eventually led me to temporarily ditch academics and join the USAF to "see the world." The rest of the blame goes to my passion for all things aviation, and the opportunity to work on work on the truly awesome SR-71 Blackbird sealed the deal.
My first computer was a TRS-80 Model 1 that I bought in 1977 when they first came out. At that time you had to order them through a Radio Shack store - Tandy didn't think they'd sell enough to justify stocking them in the retail stores. My favorite game then was the SubLogic Flight Simulator, which was the great Grandaddy of the Microsoft flight sims.
While I was in the military, I bought a Commodore 64. From there I moved on up through the PC line, always buying just enough machine to support the latest version of the flight sims. I never really paid much attention to consoles until the Dreamcast came out. I now have an Xbox for my console games, and a 1ghz Celeron with a GeForce4 for graphics. Being married and having a very expensive toy (my airplane) means I don't get to spend a lot of money on the lastest/greatest PC and console hardware.
My interests these days are primarily auto racing and flying sims on the PC. I'm too old and slow to do well at the FPS twitchers or fighting games, but I do enjoy online Rainbow 6 or the like now and then, although I had to give up Americas Army due to my complete inability to discern friend from foe. I have the Xbox mostly to play games with my daughter and for the sports games.