Democracy 3: There’s no better time to play Prime Minister

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In today’s divisive economic climate, it’s the perfect time to put your political views to the test.

In the real world, the UK – along with much of Europe – is crawling out of a crippling recession. Whether our current government can really take credit for this is questionable, and it’s only in the long run that we’ll be able to judge the effects of their drastic neo-liberal approach to running the country.

Already I’m digressing into turning this piece into a platform for my political views, but that’s why Positech’s Democracy 3 has been released at the perfect time. The urge to ‘talk politics’ has become more irresistible in my social circles in recent years, and it seems that in this climate of political and economic uncertainty, everyone – after a couple of pints – has an opinion on how messed up our system is.

Riveting though these debates can be, the question of how we can actually make things better will shut a lot of people up, leaving others to throw around with some buzzwords like ‘Chomsky, anarcho-syndicalism, and localisation.’ At this point, it becomes clear that no one knows what the fuck they’re talking about, and conversation reverts to the usual humdrum.

Democracy 3
… because all socialists dress like they’re about to start a revolution

Thoughts from the game’s maker

Nonetheless, politi-talk is in the air, which is why Democracy 3 has come at the perfect time. It is a turn-based political simulator, where you are elected leader of a country, and manage the taxation and policy-making of said country with the aim of getting re-elected over and over and over again. During each turn, you patiently analyse the political landscape, looking at how various demographics feel about you, dealing with crises, and tweak (or radically overhaul) policies accordingly.

Speaking with ScreenRobot, Cliff Harris agreed that Democracy 3 is likely to gain more traction than its predecessors, due in part to the rise in political curiosity from younger people:

“There’s stuff in the game now that would’ve been considered obscure several years ago. Credit ratings agencies, austerity, Keynesian economics. No one’s made these debates for 30 years, but now people have strong views about it, and Democracy 3 is a channel to test them out through.”

Harris himself is an LSE economics graduate who eschewed the sharp-suited world of money, call girls and cocaine that we stereotype bankers as living in, and instead became the passionate, celibate, and well-meaning person that we assume all indy game developers to be (with the exception of Phil Fish). Harris admits that “it was a narrow escape from the world of JP Morgan.”

democracy 3 home screen
It may look intimidating, but you are running a country after all

The ever-important votership in the game functions through a ‘neural network,’ which means that each person is a certain percentage of different ideologies, and each little policy change you make will alter these. “It’s not quite random,” says Harris. “You’re more likely to get a socialist trade unionist than a capitalist trade unionist, for instance.” But people are fickle, and over time, with the right decisions, you can brainwash ease people from one ideology to another.

Harris stresses that Democracy 3 is politically neutral:

“I don’t want the game to tell people what’s right or wrong. I want friends to argue with each other over what way to do things is best. I just wanted to create a political sandbox.”

You think that taxing the super-wealthy is the right way to go? Or that the only way to control the populace is through police drones? Or that LSD should be legalised? Go ahead and do it, then come back to me after having played this game and tell me if your political banter at the pub actually counts for anything when put to the real test (or at least a videogame that’s as close as games have ever come to simulating real-world economics).

We all say we can do a better job than these two, and now we can find out

The intricacies of running a country

Every change you make in Democracy 3 impacts your society in ways you may not initially see. For instance, investing more in road-building leads to more jobs and less unemployment. Subsequently, this leads to less homelessness, less drinking and less crime. However, if you don’t implement any environmentally aware caps on the road system, then this can lead to pollution and increased health service costs. On the bright side, roads and strong infrastructure are crucial to keeping your economy competitive, and helps it in the long-term. The long chains of cause-and-effect are something you always have to keep tabs on.

Democracy 3 has the one-more-turn addictiveness of greats such as Civilization V, Football Manager, and the Total War series. Overall, it is a simpler game than any of the aforementioned however. It would certainly have spiced things up if there was some focus on the dirty politics of running a country (scandals, phone tapping, media relations etc.). As it stands, the start of most turns will present you with a crucial decision to make regarding an urgent issue along the lines of picking police commissioners, sending your military abroad, and deciding if you’ll let companies frack for shale gas. Important though these elements are, they’re not quite enough to make you feel like a politician, rather than a kind of policy-making taxation overlord.

The game could also use some difficulty tweaking. At the default ‘100%’ difficulty setting, I ran away with elections with over 90% of the vote; a figure more feasible in an African despotship than a European democracy. With that kind of landslide victory, it’s a surprise the UN didn’t send in their peacekeepers to peacefully oust me by means of fighter jets. Mind you, by this point I was a clean-technology, virtually oil-free state, so why would they bother?

Damn it. There I go with my politicised digressions again. Clearly I haven’t played enough of this game to get that opinionated nonsense out of my system. Back to it then… or maybe I should become a political commentator? No, being Prime Minister (or ‘Overseer,’ as I pretend my people call me) is infinitely more fun, and I recommend this experience to all those privy to politicised pub-talk. Stop drinking, get this game, and put your digital country-running mettle to the test.

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