Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Tropico 4 - 9/20 hours

I'm not sure about this game's sense of humor. It's the sort of shotgun politically incorrect sort of satire where audacity and cynicism take the place of any kind of coherent critique. I.e. the "let's be offensive to everyone" idea that sounds like it ought to be really even-handed, but turns out to recapitulate the prejudices of the culture at large while taking mild jabs at safe targets.

Which is to say, everything in Tropico 4 is a caricature. The leaders of the various factions are stereotypes of their political ideologies (the environmentalist is a hippy, the capitalist wears a top hat and has a "snooty" accent, etc), which is fine, as far as it goes, but then you get the representatives from places like China and the Middle East and it gets just the teeniest bit racist.

I don't really want to get into it, you know. At its heart, Tropico 4 is just a charming little city-building game, but, at least in campaign mode, it tries to build a world and tell an overarching story, and . . .

The world of Tropico 4 is one in which every powerful person is a corrupt buffoon. Everyone's working an angle. And, in the rare event that someone is a true believer, they are a tunnel-visioned fanatic. What this means is that Tropico 4 is one of those rare games that really sticks it to colonialism - the Americans are thoughtless clods whose high-flown rhetoric doesn't at all track with their arbitrary demands and casual threats of violence. The Europeans affect a dignified demeanor, but they always have their hands out . . .

What it also means is that Tropico 4 is one of the most shockingly pro-colonial games I've ever seen. The Tropicans are lazy, ignorant, and venal. To rule over them as a dictator is merely to give them the firm hand of leadership that they secretly need.

You could see these two ideas as the different sides of the game's "everyone is awful" ethos, but realistically, they are not equivalent. You can't really be racist against everyone equally. Some forms of racism are more harmful than others.

So, I guess the callous cynicism of Tropico 4's "humor" kind of gets me down. I didn't really notice it last time I played the game, but I've undergone a lot of political evolution in the past two and a half years. I think the quotes from various dictators and murders that you see on the loading screens are in poor taste, even if they are so over-the-top in vanity and world-weary nihilism that they border on self-parody even in their original contexts.

I get what they're going for, but I'm no longer buying what they're selling. Still, it's mostly harmless and I enjoy managing the cities, so I'll stick with it for the remaining 11 hours, but it's nice to discover that I no longer have to worry about keeping up with the series.

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