Sim: Democracy [by Positech Games]
Game Review: Democracy
Reviewer: Moritz Voss
Release Date: 17 April 2005
System Requirements: Directx7 Win98 32MB Video 256 MB RAM
What would you do if you became the president or prime minister of your country? Positech Games’ Democracy lets you find out how you would fare as the leader of a well-developed country, such as the USA, Germany, or France.
Democracy is a highly educational game and is advertised as such. You manage the country’s finances and policies, internal affairs and security concerns, and are frequently asked to deal with a crisis or a dilemma that recently emerged. The greatest difficulty lies in finding the right balance of taxation, funding, and legislation to ensure that your country doesn’t go bankrupt and that your next election will be successful. Everything you do has a positive influence on some things while negatively impacting others.
In one game, I was the prime minister of Great Britain… I did away with all the silly traditionalist legacies and made it a country where there were only very few unemployed or homeless people, where health care was free and universally available, and whose universities were among the world’s best. I carefully worked to reduce alcoholism and drug addiction among the general populace, and I downsized the military and spent that money on education and stem cell research. I cut the national debt in half and still experienced a great surplus of income – despite massive tax cuts that everybody loved me for.
Wait… everybody? Ultimately, two thirds through my second term of office, some patriot nutcase shot me in the chest for betraying our heritage and for not doing what’s “right” for England. Ouch!
My most successful attempt at running a country was spoiled because I deemed the feelings of a certain minority of the voters – the patriots – to be irrelevant and inappropriate in these times. By first ignoring and later offending these people over and over again, I made my own enemies. I created the monster that eventually caused me to lose the game.
Democracy is a very demanding simulation of politics, and it will quickly teach you that what’s best for your people will usually not be very popular with all of them, and that there will always be some dissatisfied citizens that you need to entertain to prevent them from becoming fanatically opposed to your government. Also, your voters are harsh and unforgiving and will scorn you whenever one of your mistakes leads to another scandal.
Democracy is a completely menu- and icon-driven game. In front of a background image (usually your country’s flag), you see various icons, gauges and sliders.
I personally liked the icons, because they are intuitive and well-made – which is very important if there are two or three dozen icons visible on your screen at all times. Because this is a menu-based game, though, it has to be said that a few more graphics – maps, minister portraits, or dilemma illustrations – would have helped a lot to make Democracy look more alive and appealing to a greater audience.
There is hardly any sound in the game, but there is a rather decent soundtrack (which is off by default) and a selection of effects that occasionally play when special events occur – an election, game over, and so on.
Game Play: 8
At first, Democracy overwhelms you with it’s detailed, but confusing tutorial, simply because there is so much on the screen that you can click on. And then, during your first couple of games, you’ll face the painful realization of how difficult it is to make the right decisions at the right time – which is when the educational value of the game becomes apparent. You will, once you learn to predict the outcomes of your actions, find that the game is actually very easy to control and relaxing to play, because basically, all you have to do is check the situation, make a decision, and adjust some sliders in the countless policy windows. Admittedly, this can be tedious and sometimes boring – some variety in the kinds of policies would have been a great addition.
I can’t help but think that most scenarios that come with the game feel similar, especially since it’s always a developed nation, and all of them seem to suffer from the Cheap Imports and Tax Evasion crises in the beginning. Detailed background info on the featured countries could have made Democracy an outstanding “edutainment” product for students; as it is now, it’s just a very educational game.
Among the menu-driven economy simulations I’ve played so far, Democracy’s interface struck me as one of the most innovative and, after a while, also one of the most intuitive. Everything has its place on the screen, and the many positive and negative influences of each item on the screen become visible when you move the mouse over them – basically, the game doesn’t need any more documentation than the initial tutorial and the explanations in the crisis, policy and dilemma detail dialogs.
Some dilemmas aren’t obviously dilemmas, depending on your current strategy – somewhat less radical wordings would have been more sensible.
Democracy is not entirely fun and games. It’s hard work when compared to other, more forgiving games, and it can be downright frustrating when you have solved numerous self-made and random dilemmas and then a terrorist attack causes you to lose the upcoming election (and thus, the game). Instead, it is a very complex and interesting game with lots of educational value. You’ll never look at politicians the same way once you realize that, in order to remain in power, you will have to compromise a lot. An awful lot. I caught myself radically changing some oddball policy because I needed more votes from smokers in the upcoming elections – despite the fact that this policy was completely against my public health strategy.
Positech Games’ Democracy is a great educational game which is definitely worth looking into. It offers a lot of nice details and very challenging game play. Losing a game of Democracy is almost as rewarding as winning your next election – because you know for yourself that you learned a lot about the scenario and the political processes involved. There is always the motivation to do better next time, to shamelessly tax another minority and make more voters happy in your next term of office.
Added: July 9th 2005
Reviewer: Moritz Voss
Related Link: Democracy Homepage
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