Playing God

Will Wiles explores the phenomenon of “god games,” like Banished, “in which the player guides a small group of people in building a small village, which with careful guidance can become a small town.” He contemplates what their growing popularity suggests about players:

Post-apocalyptic scenarios often have undertones of amoral consumerist wish-fulfilment, in which we roam the shopping malls and other treasure houses of the modern world and take whatever we want, blasting anyone who gets in our way. Survival games are, at least, a little more honest about the challenges of such a situation and an individual’s chances within it. But perhaps it’s better just to focus on what this phenomenon means for this immature art form. With technological limitations falling away, game design might be exhausting the possibilities of more and increasingly discovering the power of less.

At the heart of the new digital melancholy – wrapped in all that beauty – is primal simplicity, the basic animal equation: eat, don’t get eaten, keep going. The value of that simplicity, the playability of it, perhaps we could even say the fun of it, is watching the unexpected ways this elemental calculus can work itself out. And there is more watching involved. Vulnerability imposes a measure of passivity – in some situations, for instance, the only workable strategy might be to wait for danger to pass, to hide behind a hedge, to stay in the shelter until dawn or nightfall – so the environment and the atmosphere become more important, they are not just a Niagara of garish detail to be rushed past. There is a world to be experienced, and we must learn our place in it.