Simulation of life

Published in Insights, The New Zealand Initiative’s newsletter, 5 February 2021

Call me a tragic but even in my spare time, I am thinking about politics. Thus, over the summer holidays, I stumbled across a new computer game: Democracy 4.

The developers’ promotion got me interested: “Have you ever wanted to be president? Or prime minister? Convinced you could do a better job of running the country? Let’s face it, you could hardly do a worse job than our current political leaders.”

With my ego so firmly stroked, I paid the $36.99 and downloaded the game.

What followed was a sobering experience. I could do a job much worse than our political leaders.

Democracy 4 is a game for realists. It starts from the premise that voters are self-interested. There are parents, capitalists, socialists, liberals, conservatives and other groups. You must keep them all happy.

But they are not the only ones. Your cabinet ministers are a rowdy bunch. They are not all equally capable, but they make up for it by being opinionated.

Add to that your party’s donors. Change your views too much, and you lose some. Go against their views, and you lose them all.

You play Democracy as leader of one of the world’s great nations.

Well, not quite. You can only pick from the UK, the US, Germany, Spain, Italy, France, Canada and Australia. Full credits to the developers for trying to model Australian politics, though.

Then the fun begins. There are myriads of policies to introduce. But you can only do so much at each turn. Plus, it takes time for effects to show. And you are always at the mercy of your cabinet’s competence.

Life then throws unforeseen stuff at you. Or, as Harold MacMillan put it, “Events, dear boy, events.”

Players in Democracy 4 will fight fires on every front all the time.

The deficit balloons because your tax cuts do not immediately stimulate the economy. The new highway is not yet built to please the motorists, but it already annoys the environmentalists. Taxpayers don’t thank you for cutting subsidies, but the previous recipients punish you all the more.

For me, the ordeal is always over after the first term. Not because I had enough of the game but because voters had enough of me. In the low double digits, my party will be turfed out.

After many attempts at Democracy, I am happy to cut our political leaders some slack. I would never want their job.

And so, my gaming escapism has shifted back to football and flight simulators.

It’s a world where my crappy club wins the league, where we can travel internationally again – and where I need not worry about politics.

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