Create and control. (society- and city-building simulation computer games)
by Paul C. Schuytema
Do we have an innate desire to better humanity? Perhaps an entrepreneurial drive? Or is it simply an egotistical desire to play God? Whatever drives us, controlling a world with broad, sweeping gestures that affect untold numbers of people is deeply satisfying. Fortunately, with the aid of several excellent games, we can satisfy the lust for total power without any of the potentially dangerous repercussions.
Populous II: Trials of the Olympian Gods (Electronic Arts) is a true player-as-God game set against the pantheon of ancient Greece. You assume the prowess of a son of Zeus and control the fate of a civilization of loyal worshipers. The game endows you with true Olympian abilities, allowing you to raze the land with the click of a mouse button. An unfaithful enclave resides along the coast? No problem, simply lower the ground into the sea and be rid of it.
In Populous II you possess the ability to endow a leader, from Adonis to Odysseus, with heroic stature, enabling him to fight with valor and inspire the moral fortitude and wonderment of his people.
You can mold the world to suit your tastes as well as command the devotion and actions of the petty humans occupying it.
Moving a notch down from the godlike powers of Polous II, Civilization (Micro-Prose) is a tried-and-true game of civilization building. The game gives you complete logistical control over a budding tribe of Homo sapiens which has just made the move from hunter-gatherers to village settlers. It's up to you to guide and develop this fledgling civilization first to world prominence and, eventually' to space migration to Alpha Centauri.
In a wonderfully intuitive interface, you move from detailed control screens representing single cities to a cartographer's-eye view of the whole explored world. Every detail is at your control, from what advancements to pursue to what fields to irrigate to where to lay down the railways.
You get a hands-on, what-if experience of developing an entire culture from the ground up. You literally create the world and administer laborious tasks, such as building infrastructure or protecting the realm, to the citizens. You can even cause a revolution that causes the civilization to shift from one form of government to another.
SimCity for Windows (Maxis) is the latest edition of the best-selling city simulator. Even more specific in focus than Civilization, SimCity concentrates your attention on developing and managing a growing city. By fully utilizing Windows' power to display simultaneous windows of information, SimCity allows you to monitor the lay of the land and the block-by-block details of the city, as well as a host of graphs charting development--or decline.
You still have a sense of playing God--or perhaps boss would be a better term--as you face block-by-block development of the city. Ground must be bulldozed, power plants must be built, and suspension wires need to be constructed. Roads must be laid to provide optimum traffic flow, and police and fire districts must enforce the peace and safety of the citizens. All of this costs money, of course, so taxes must be raised and spent.
Managing the design and development of a city or attempting to control one of the real-world cities included in the game, you get a feel for the interlocking nature of human society and how one move affects many variables. In addition to the man-made variables, you must plan for and contend with natural disasters such as flooding and earthquakes--all the while keeping an eye on the mood of the populace.
Power mongering: It's an enticing and disturbing human trait. Thanks to these great games, we can work through our delusions of megagrandeur on the privacy of our own PCs. Then all we must deal with is the very real potential of addiction. In the words of Edmund Burke, "Those who have once been intoxicated with power ... can never willingly abandon it."