Democracy 3 Preview (PC)

A vote for me is a vote wasted

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Democracy 3 is not your typical video game. It takes place entirely in a menu, with the occasional graph. It simulates incredibly complicated systems with millions of people’s personalities and opinions but never lets you see or talk to those people. It lets you control an entire nation but never declare war. Instead, Democracy 3 is about managing the policies of a political party over a set number of terms. You set your own win conditions, and play by your own rules. There are people who find that kind of thing thrilling, and it turns out I am one of those people.

Democracy 3 presents you with a country (in the build we tested you could only pick the UK, but more are on their way) and you are put into a certain situation. You can choose how many terms you can possibly serve, whether natural disasters happen and how naturally socialist people tend to be, and then you get right into it. If you don’t have a decent grasp of politics or what’s going on in the world, you might be immediately overwhelmed.

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The screen is filled with circles, each representing different things. The interfaces of Democracy 1 and 2 were all kinds of awful, and in some ways got in between the player and the game. Democracy 3 is incredibly streamlined and it’s very simple to see what you’re doing. Each white circle is a policy you control, each one is slightly different. So for the Alcohol law circle, you can use a slider to decide the level at which you want to set the law, from no laws, to age limits, to full scale prohibition. On another circle like Corporation Tax, you get to choose the level you set that tax. Immediately as you change these sliders you can see how it will affect voters’ opinions of you, and how much it will cost or make you. It can be a little misleading as each decision has much more profound impacts than the data given there might imply. For instance, reducing the restrictions on alcohol might seem like a good idea because it doesn’t cost anything, more alcohol bought means more tax money, and nearly everyone likes it. However, it also leads to lower productivity and increased alcohol addiction which will put pressure on your production and health system, which can then lead to unemployment, losing you money overall.

Each blue circle is simply information. It might tell you how the environment is doing, or crime. Each one of these has two thresholds, a higher one that if triggered, will cause a red circle to appear, showing a serious problem (like street gangs or pollution) and then to fix that you need to bring it back to the much more difficult to reach threshold. This means it’s very easy to cause a problem, but much harder to fix it.

In between all of this there’s all the information you could ever want on the state of the global economy, diplomacy, crime, population facts and figures, and opinion polls. Each turn you get to spend some of your political capital (each policy change requires some to pull off, with more unpopular decisions requiring more) and then you advance the game by a quarter of a year and see the result.

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When I took over the UK, we were running a deficit of £10 billion, crime was getting out of control, and unemployment was becoming a serious problem. The first thing I did was to legalise all drugs and increase community policing, assuming this would build up good will with the police, lower the amount of organised crime, and decrease racial tensions. Running out of political capital, I advanced it on and saw that my decisions had little effect on crime. Every decision takes time to work (like in real life) and you need to be careful of making short-term plans to solve much more endemic problems (like in real life). The idealist in me provided parents with free school meals and introduced a mansion and luxuries tax as well as increasing corporate tax to try and curb the deficit a little bit. Moving on it started to work, and to keep the infrastructure going I started a road-building programme that would hopefully help with unemployment issue. Sadly the global markets took a downturn and before I knew it we were losing money quickly, I’d also angered some of the key voters with my drug law changes and was suffering from a ‘brain drain’ as corporate and luxury task had lead to my high-earners seeking warmer climates. Crime continued to be an issue and I started making hasty decisions, like arming the police. It’s interesting how this game forces you to consider things you’d be opposed to in real life. I wanted to improve the funding for education, but that wouldn’t pay off for years and the elections were coming soon, so I lowered fuel duty. This upset the environmentalists and the liberals were getting increasingly peeved about what was rapidly becoming a police state. I had hired welfare undercover agents to pick up benefit cheats, but this upset the poor. Eventually I was trounced in the elections and passed on an even bigger deficit than I had started with, without ever reducing the amount of violent crime by any considerable amount.

This is a hard game, but it needs to be in order to be in some way realistic. There’s so many different aspects at work here you learn a great deal about the thinking behind decisions (or lack of decision) as you play. If you’re at all interested in current affairs, it’s great fun and equally frustrating but I’m starting to think this game’s greatest market could be in education. Get everyone playing Democracy 3 (including adults) and you’d be seeing a lot less mindless complaints about the government. Or somebody would work out a plan for a perfect utopia, either way everybody wins.

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