Using games to defeat global financial meltdown

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I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty easily influenced. Guitar Hero on South Park? Out comes the ps2. Korea’s words are backed with nuclear weapons? Civ 4 time. Car chase on the 6 o clock news? Maybe I can stomach one more mission on GTA 4 after all. But with all the time devoted on the news to the continuing incompetence of world and business leaders, as they plunge us closer to complete financial meltdown, I find myself a little unsure as to what to play.

Where’s the global financial sim genre at? If I want to dominate the world’s luxury furniture market in 1830 I can get stuck into Victoria Revolutions, so why is there nothing to pick up if I feel compelled to nationalize banks, or manipulate the bond market?

Quality business sims are certainly getting progressively hard to find. Soon after I first started playing PC games, the seminal Theme Park was released, and the future for business based games seemed to be golden. Everybody likes making money, and what easier way to do that than vicariously through a computer screen? The Railroad and Transport Tycoon series, SimCity 2000 and 3000, SimTower, Capitalism, even Theme Hospital and Pizza Tycoon, throughout the 90′s there was a constant stream of compelling business strategy games to play, fitting just about every niche you could think of.

So what happened?

What happened is, the industry got carried away. It seems just about every developer wanted in on the action, and there were a flurry of business themed games at the start of the decade. By 2002, not only could you manage theme parks and rail roads, the list was expanded to include zoo’s, casinos, ski resorts, factories, shopping centers, car companies, lemonade stands,  golf clubs, or even tropical islands. In some cases, when a market gets saturated like this, the quality of many of the products rises, so that they might stand out from the competition. Unfortunately, maybe a handful of games stood up to their illustrious predecessors, and a sort of malaise took over the genre. And then it got worse.

By 2005 every supermarket, every retailer with a video games section, had shelves overflowing with progressively generic looking (and playing) business Sims. Carnival Cruise Line Tycoon, Rollercoaster Tycoon 12.5, Big Biz Tycoon, games based on Donald Trump’s Apprentice TV series, the number of business based strategy games was so huge that unless you knew precisely what you were looking for beforehand it was almost impossible NOT to pick up a turkey. And this process of pumping out washy titles, safe in the knowledge that you’ll probably sell a few copies to the uniformed anyway, has continued to the present day. As PC game sections have dwindled in stores, the proportion of generic, fluffy business games has, if anything, increased.

So why has nobody released a game that lets you tackle global financial crisis? They are so many countless angles you could approach it from – the perspective of a bank, of a nation, of a multinational corporation, with all the tools each of those has at its disposal for surviving a recession.So what have we established so far – generic business games are ubiquitous, they’re obviously profitable or they wouldn’t continue to hold so much shelf space, and people often choose what game to play based on what’s going on around them (I’m a person and I do this, my logic is sound!).

The potential for grand strategy is enormous – just look at a government as an example. Managing the printing of money to stop inflation running out of control, issuing government bonds, nationalizing and privatizing public services and banks, fighting phony wars to increase employment and arms revenue, convincing central banks to change interest rates, crisis loans, stimulation packages, I’m getting excited just thinking about it all.

A MNC or a bank has just as much potential for a great strategy game – entering and withdrawing from emerging and dying markets, risk management, outsourcing of services, and naturally all of the opportunities for evil and underhanded tactics that are open to the pillars of the glices.

Just think of the educational possibilities for our young minds that a game like this promises. Sure, you can learn about economics and business strategy from browser games like Industry Masters and Beat the Market Online, but they’re not a whole lot more fun than reading a textbook. Games like Tropico and the Sim City series changed the way I think about the world, and the potential for a modern game to do the same for another generation is enormous. How much would society benefit from hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of young people with an in depth understanding of how the global economy works? A hell of a lot, I’d say.

A recession battling game would also be comparatively easy to make. You wouldn’t have to worry about physics engines or an international cast of D-Z list stars to populate your cinematic interludes. You could even base the whole thing on reality, and save money by hiring researchers instead of creative types to think up a compelling world for you. Okay, so my game development knowledge is limited to a couple of SAMS teach yourself books on my bookshelf, and an rpg toolkit or two, but I’m not far from the truth here, right?

So take heed video game studios! You dont even have to pay me royalties for this fantastic idea (Which incidentally, wasn’t mine), and if you get started right away, you might be finished by the time the recession is over and we actually have enough disposable cash to pick up a copy.

We will be happy to hear your thoughts

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