Monday, February 20, 2017

Democracy 3 - 15/20 hours

Hey, I'm still alive, though I won't lie, there were times I wished I wasn't. Turns out my cold got worse. I think at one point, I was more virus than man, and not in a cool Prototype-style way, either. But I learned something - if you're running a fever so high you're sweating in a Colorado February and your lungs feel like they are trying to invert your whole body, starting with the mucous, the last thing you want to do is look at a fucking graph.

Don't get me wrong. I am the last person in any position to complain about graphs in a video game. Indeed, I can think of at least two separate occasions where I've explicitly and in writing wished for more. I've name-checked William Playfair. If there's another video-game blogger our there who is friendlier to graphs in games than me, I'd like to know about it . . . because they sound delightful and I would probably want to read their blog from beginning to end.

That being said, charts and graphs, for all their utility in making sense of a video game world, tread precariously close to the nebulous boundary that separates "play" from "work." I mean, not to be too reductive, but a lot of what we do when we play video games is press buttons with various degrees of precision. It can be fun, but it's not really a life-skill. And, indeed video game skill tend to translate poorly into literal things we can do with our actual flesh-and-blood bodies. If anything, your skill at Mortal Kombat is going to impede your success in the underground kung-fu deathmatch circuit.

However, sometimes a game demands of you scaled-down versions of real-world skills. Often, it is time-management, like in The Sims (though you might argue the difficulty there is scaled-up - very few adults have trouble balancing work, home-life, romance, and not pissing yourself in public to quite the same degree that Sims do). Even more often, though so abstractly it barely even counts, a video game will test your executive functions. And that is often the most pleasurable part of playing a game because in so many cases, your real-life job won't.

And then you have graphs. Graphs are interesting because they serve exactly the same function in the game as they do in real life. There is no metaphor or translation involved at all. You look at a video-game graph for exactly the same reason you look at a real one - to visualize complex data and try and discern trends and relationships that will help you make better decisions. And it is to Democracy 3's credit that I imagine I am getting a simplified look at the President's most important job skill - looking at a ton of bland, interchangeable graphs day in and day out, trying to translate minute and possibly coincidental changes into actionable public policy.

It's not a job for someone who is impatient, intellectually incurious, careless with details, or who is suffering from the worst flu of his adult life. Nonetheless, now that I'm finally coming out of it (fingers crossed), my biggest wish for this game is that it become even more "Graph Tycoon 2011." Allow me to fiddle with the x-axis, make it something other than time. Or better yet, give me an executive report each quarter filled with spurious correlations, fluctuations that could be meaningless or could be the start of a dangerous new trend. And then force me to make my decisions based on those. Just throw me straight into the deep end of epistemic uncertainty and all the subjective, "create your own reality" bullshit and let me try and craft a plan based on my own flailing attempts to salvage meaning from the chaos.

No, on second thought, that sounds terrible. Maybe just a few more graphs with a few more ambiguities. That would probably be enough.

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