Oct 26 2008

Democracy 2

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 16RCN @ 5:25 pm

Review: Alan Graham

Keynesian Economy Simulator
Format: PC
Publisher: Positech
Developer: Cliff Harris (probably in his bedroom)
Price: £15.28

Bourgeois Democracy: Another simulation

Following on from the original Democracy, Clif Harris has released a sequel: imaginatively titled Democracy 2. The game is a simulation of politics. You have been elected President of X country and have to choose which policies to implement or not and how to deal with dilemmas and problems.

The social model

Unlike its predecessor, Democracy 2 has fictional countries which are caricatures:

  • Bananistan:Socialist and Agricultural
  • Biblonia: Religious State
  • Freedonia: Liberal and atheist
  • Gaiatopia: Eco-aware state
  • Gregaria: Wealthy and capitalist
  • Koana: Capitalist Heaven
  • Malaganga: debt ridden, compulsory voting
  • Mexilando: military state, monarchy
  • Zambeezia: Agricultural, poor

One nice addition is the party system, you choose who to be rather than just have opposition. There is a large list, and like all things in this game, can be modified by the player. If you wish to be the SSP with the Tories as opposition, go ahead and add them. Fancy being the Bolsheviks, just add the title to the list.

Balance

Like the first game there is a delicate balance to be maintained. I ran the socialist state, and had managed to get 55% of the population to be members of the Socialist Alliance. The only major problem I had was an Asthma epidemic. The only link I could see was Air Quality and the biggest effect on that was air travel. To cut air travel the only option I could see was a Carbon Tax. This was unpopular with the group everybody but I figured it wouldn’t be that much. Within 4 turns there were 0 members of the party and asthma epidemic was still rife. Further playing around would probably reveal the correct balance to maintain – maybe youth clubs and free school meals with an increase in funding to state hospitals with a very low carbon tax is the answer.

Virtual socialist

Virtual socialist

And that is the beauty of this series of games, it shows in simple terms how sloganeering and promises of policies which appear to solve problems actually work in the real world and not through the lens of sympathetic media assuring us that X policy is the answer.

The one major limitation of the game is the economic model. The worldwide market crashes and there’s a recession. You see GDP plummet so what do you do? There’s no option to fiddle with interest rates or model of inflation. It means the simulation limits itself to policies and their effect but not the economy.

On Income Tax, this game seems to have the same flaw as it’s predecessor: fraud. If there is welfare fraud you can crack down on it. It doesn’t have the option of cracking down on Tax Avoidance by the highest earners. Fair enough, this mirrors real life, and you can add it in yourself, but it means you have to play a reformist by lowering income tax to allow the middle class to be moderately happy.

Policies

There has been an increase in policies to over 100, including ID cards, hybrid cars and micro generation grants. The dilemmas and situations seem about the same, with a few added and removed.

What’s new?

There have been a number of additions, Ministers, political capital, opposition groups, voter detail and encyclopaedia are the most significance.

Ministers

You start off with 6 ministers, each of which have different loyalties and you can fire them and appoint new ones. Maybe it would be a good idea to replace that Tax minister who has sympathies to the Middle Class and Capitalists with John Doe who sympathiseswith Socialists and Trade Unionists? Each minister has different loyalty and experience (these generate Political Capital), the sympathies help influence those demographics to support you.

Political Capital

The major new addition to the model has been Political Capital. In the first game you could bin all the policies and add which ones you like. Now it takes political capital to raise, lower or cancel policies as well as introduce new ones. If each of the 7 ministers generate 3 political capital per turn then you get 21 each turn added to the pool. To raise income tax takes 34, to remove university grants takes 19 whilst introducing Micro-Generation grants takes 1. This reflects how much each change will cause people to support or oppose you.

Opposition Groups

The threat of a coup has been expanded with your intelligence services keeping tabs on everyone from The Army of God and the Socialist Army to the Secular Society. If you have no religious people then you probably don’t have to worry about the Army of God, if you are playing in the Theocracy and fund stem cell research whilst banning the teaching of creationism in schools, then you may have something to worry about from them although the Secular Society will probably back off a bit.

Voter Detail

Fat Cat

Fat Cat

Previously, voter demographics were defined by number and how they support your policies. It seems to have been expanded, with focus groups showing how cross sections of society support you. There is likelihood of them to turnout to vote and to vote for you. Added to this is the party membership, although this is again simplified into two parties with most votes winning the election. Once you lose it’s game over too, perhaps the next in the series will introduce multiple parties and the FPTP system: choosing ministers from your pool. It would be more in depth but move the games from being simulations to explain basic politics to being a simulation of politics.

Flaws

There is still a flaw in the model however. At the start there are new options including the option to set the number of socialists in the country. Having dragged the slider to the end I was happy to see 100% socialists. Woo, I can finally try raising Income Tax and introducing Free School Meals to see my popularity grow. Unfortunately it went down. It turned out that 65% of the Socialists were also Capitalists. Each voting demographic is counted as separate and each individual voter can belong to multiple groups including contradictory ones. My carbon tax example earlier could have got the same result if 100% of people were Environmentalists but 60% were car users and 0% commuters.

Encyclopaedia

Lot’s of policies and voter groups now have some explanatory notes to help you understand what they mean. When choosing Income Tax levels you can see the top levels in various countries and the income scales in the US. Choose Socialists and you can see a page of pretty non-biased explanation and some key dates from the publication of The Communist Manifesto to the abandonment of Clause 4.

Verdict

There are a number of things which seem worse than Democracy: mouse scroll speed is frustratingly slow, lowering accessibility, the movement to caricature countries, the limitation on changing policies. Most of these can be addressed however through customisation. Change capital required to 0 and add your own countries.

Positive changes have included a UI update with new options and the Minister system adds a touch of realism. You can still customise it as much as you want and for a game it is very cheap with a real educational value. There is a demo available of both games which allow you to have a few turns and to get the feel of them. Overall if you don’t have Democracy, try this one, if you have Democracy then only get it if you really enjoyed it.

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Sep 13 2005

Computer Game -Democracy

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 11RCN @ 2:38 pm

Keynesian Economy Simulator

  • Format: PC
  • Publisher: Positech
  • Developer: Clif Harris (probably in his bedroom)
  • Price: $19.95+VAT (Approx. £13 – £14)
  • Reviewed by Alan Graham

(Bourgeois) Democracy: the game

I had heard about this game and was intrigued, so when I saw the demo on a magazine I installed it immediately. Two hours later I shelled out to download the full version from the maker’s site. Most simulation games involve running a household or a business, a civilisation warring with neighbours or realistically flying a plane. How many allow you to play around with the economy, see the likely effects of different reforms and if you’re not happy with the result: edit the data files yourself, add new dilemmas, policies and situations? Well this one does.

A computer game may appear a bizarre way to put across political ideas but most games contain some political elements whether it’s Command and Conquer’s Cold War conflict to Fallout’s post-Apocalypse world dealing with the effects of radiation. What stands out about this game is the portrayal of everyday political decisions on people: either by showing the way governments prioritise with taxation or how mild reforms cost peanuts compared to military spending but could have immediate results if the will was there to implement them from those in power. The simulation genre is targeted at a very sophisticated audience, those who like to analyse the game world and work out winning strategies.

The social model

The full game allows you to run the economy by being the leader of a host of industrialised countries including UK, Japan, Germany, USA, and Russia. It uses a sophisticated neural network to simulate the population and each decision you take reflects on their support of the government.

The population is split into various groups: poor, middle earners, wealthy, liberal and conservative, socialist and capitalist, state employed, trade unionists, the retired, motorists, smokers, environmentalists, the religious, and patriots. Each individual can of course belong to more than one group: the socialist parents who like to drink and commute to work whilst the wealthy self employed may smoke and be capitalists. Not to forget the religious organic farmer.

The game is a constant work in progress so there are problems with the fluidity between these groups but it manages to put across the concept that people are influenced, in different ways, by different policies. A socialist trade unionist who supports your efforts to increase pensions and NHS funding may be annoyed by high petrol tax.

Balance

Balance seems to be the driving force of this game: putting political ideas and concepts across in a neutral way and allowing the gamer to see the expected effects of their decisions. From a socialist perspective, the information given can be debatable.

You can block proposed laws. For example, when it comes to a countryside access law you can either block access:

Private land is private land. This is the very basis of private ownership and capitalism. If the owners wish to restrict access to their land, this is entirely up to them. This is nothing more than a thinly disguised attempt as class war by disgruntled socialists.

or support it:

Its crazy to have so much open, and often entirely unused, land in private hands while our cities are so overcrowded. This law will allow all citizens to enjoy the beauty of our countryside, whilst retaining the final property rights and ownership privileges of the landowner. It’s a good compromise.

Supporting such a law pleases socialists but displeases farmers, while improving equality. However the effect is reversed if it is opposed.

Policies

The game includes 75 different policies that can be implemented, ignored or modified, including introducing free school meals and reintroducing university grants. Some policies lead to situations, some bad some good. A high rate of asthma means you need to deal with air pollution, hammering motorists means fuel protests.

I experimented as a neo-con to see the effects. Hammering the poor results in class war on the streets, to tackle it meant either spending lots of cash fighting the causes of poverty or CCTV on every corner and armed police on the beat. If you attack the poor then assassination by Communist guerrillas is on the cards, similarly, maximising income tax leads to your intelligence agencies detecting plots by the capitalist and wealthy elite to organise a military coup!

Dilemmas

Each turn you are presented with a different dilemma and have to choose, sometimes the lesser of two evils: Ban animal testing or allow it, ban a fascist march or allow it to go ahead, meet a foreign minister of a country with an appalling human rights record to try and win them over or shun them for their crimes against humanity. I’ve suggested the following: the media claims you’ve gone to war based on a lie and whether you deny or admit allows you to move forward not back on the issue or have it hurt your popularity by way of the voter cynicism in your politics level if it turns out to be true.

Measures of success

The measures of success in this game are not just measured in economics or opinion polls, there are other statistics to show how good your society, such as lifespan, literacy rate, crime rate, poverty rate, equality, air quality, car usage, and unemployment. These all show how your policies are affecting society.

Decreasing the poverty rate decreases the crime rate as less people are driven to crime, but modifications need to be made. When luxury goods are taxed and Corporations made to pay their fair share, a black market is created and tax avoidance takes place. The crime rate is not affected however! This reflects the reality of capitalist society. In Britain, government spends £millions on campaigns targeting those on the breadline claiming benefits they are not formally entitled to. At the same time, corporate crooks who hide assets in shell companies and offshore tax havens are ignored while they defraud the tax coffers of £billions.

Turn Screen

A nice addition is quotations to read whilst you wait your turn, including Lenin – Capitalists are no more capable of self-sacrifice than a man is capable of lifting himself up by his own bootstraps; and Thatcher – A world without nuclear weapons would be less stable and more dangerous for all of us.

Customisation

The beauty of this game is the option for customisation. All the statistics, data and policy effects are included as standard spreadsheet files. Drag the files into Excel, OpenOffice or Notepad and you can modify existing policies or create your own. On the game’s message board fans can suggest their own modifications.

I was bemused by the ability to provide subsidies for cleaner fuel, rail networks and bus lanes but allowing private companies to reap the rewards, so I suggested the ability to nationalise the railways and the buses. And the customisation is what takes this game and turns it into an economic model. The opening screen changing from The Queen has asked you to form a government… can quite easily become The workers have taken over the factories… The police force can be modified to become the citizens’ militia and any other policy you can imagine can be tried and tested.

Rating

As political simulations go this one is the best there is available to date. True, the simulation is of reforms and some of these need tweaking but overall politics are presented unspun and the effects of government decisions are shown in clear terms.

For me the most important part is the underlying model and the ability to customise this however you wish. At around 12MB I would recommend anyone interested in politics to give it a try. Given the ability to modify it could even become a cheap and quick way to put across a practical demonstration of economic and political ideas.

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