‘I am the Lord and Master’

Once again, it was the latest issue of The Escapist that got me thinking.

Their ‘Blue Planet’ issue includes an article on the first XBox360 game I ever played properly- Viva Piñata.

The article itself pointed out deeper levels of emotion and design that I hadn’t previously thought of- including thinking of the game as part Tamagotchi, part God Game. You look after the piñatas that visit in the hope they become residents, overseeing the garden and making the necessary changes to make those greyscale critters into brightly-coloured creatures here to stay. That’s the God Game aspect; by definition, God Games mean you have no direct control over the world’s inhabitants, and instead need to influence them using the world around them. But as soon as the piñatas become residents, it’s up to you to keep them happy and healthy (damn those Sour Piñata and Dastardos). They need your direction attention and interaction in order to survive and thrive and breed; and so take on more of the Tamagotchi definition.

God Games in general are something that I’ve always found hit and miss. Players of The Sims have always seemed to fall into three groups- those who throw together a house and a family to see what happens, those who spend hours making characters and a fantastically detailed house to suit every whim of their precious family; and those, like me, who were messed up enough to take the ‘torture’ route with the game. I have to admit, I did spend most of my time on The Sims taking away beds, refrigerators and toilets just to see how long my latest victim would last. I wasn’t completely sadistic though; I always gave them the artist’s easel and a bookcase so they could take their mind off their suffering. But in the hours I spent playing that game, my building material of choice was the picket fence- who needs doors!

Black and White was a different story. Not only could you directly influence the villagers (to the point that you could literally pick them up and throw them from one side of the island to the other), but you could also command a giant creature to do it for you. And for once I always played the benevolent and kindly God. Sure, I fireballed a few Village Stores and let my creature eat a wayward soul or two… but on the whole, my villagers were well supplied and defended. Having a storyline is what kept me on the straight and narrow- I preferred having the hundreds of people worship me for being nice rather than scaring them into submission, and it seemed to work. And when your whole area of influence is decided on how much belief the inhabitants of the land have in you, it was less work to just give them the wood they needed rather than try and aim boulders at their Village Center.

While I have yet to play Spore or any of the Age of Empires series properly, I will always hold a soft spot in my heart for one God Game in particular that seemed to touch the small vindictive demon in me as well as the kind and helpful angel. It may have been wildly surreal in its imagining of injuries and maladies, and sometimes forced you to employ staff that would have the NHS shut down in an instant, but I loved it.

It was, of course, Bullfrog’s 1997 release Theme Hospital. And yes, I know that the game is also classed as a ‘business simulation/micromanagement game’. Nevertheless, I spent many an hour determined to chop as many Slack Tongues as possible and using my hypodermic cursor to blast those rats before the Health Inspector came round. My hospitals were well-equipped, well designed and surprisingly successful; they were a joy to spend my after-school game time on.

Which is amazing, as I have a long-lasting and irrational fear of hospitals…

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~ by Tegan on April 21, 2010.

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