SimCity blew my mind when I first played it. I remember my little town getting obliterated by an earthquake and feeling both the unfairness and the enormity of my situation, trying to build a society from the ground up. Later, I played The Sims, the version the focuses on the people. My boyfriend and I kept creating Sims that were supposed to be virtual versions of us, and we’d see whether they’d get together and, more important to us, whether they’d break up and whose fault it was. That’s when I stopped playing this type of video game. Still, the recently released game Banished, developed by Shining Rock Software (aka Luke Hodorowicz), has grabbed my attention, and I may soon get back to virtual city and relationship building.
Conceptually, Banished invites some comparisons to Sim City, but it’s more like a video game version of Survivor. Players control a group of exiles who are starting over someplace new. These folks don’t have much beyond the clothes they’re wearing and a few basic supplies, so players try to keep the exiles alive long enough to make their new community flourish into a functional society. Of course, this is easier said than done.
Players have to figure out how to feed the troops, which means hunting, foraging, fishing, trading, and/or growing crops. But, in a departure from other games, whatever practices the user employs have to be sustainable — actions have consequences. Sounds like good practice for real life. Hunting too much affects the rest of the food chain, deforestation kills edible animals, and repeated farming spoils the soil. And guess what happens if you don’t build a hospital quickly enough? Cholera — but hey, it beats brain-eating amoebas.
Just as in real life, the people in the community have to be healthy and at least relatively happy in order for the virtual society to prosper. People need to be enticed to move into the community (though they can bring diseases and other negative influences). In the game, the people don’t have to accrue skills — whatever they have the resources to do, they can do. Money is nonexistent. There are 20 job possibilities, including blacksmithing, teaching, and farming, but as with any society, no matter who the people are or what they do, they have to be managed well in order to thrive. And that’s what the player does — manage. If you’ve ever thought to yourself that mayors, governors, and other politicians have rotten jobs, that there’s simply no way you’d want to be in charge of all those people, some of whom will inevitably come to resent and resist you, then Banished is either the best or worst game for you. You’re doing exactly what those inglorious politicians have to do, but hey — it’s not real life, so you don’t really have to knock on doors for votes or make cold calls for donations.
Banished was released on February 18 and retails for $19.99. It currently only operates on Windows, though other versions are in the works. Shining Rock Software’s website indicates that it’s already working on updates to fix bugs, especially those involving audio problems and save crashes. But such problems are a meta-reflection on the nature of the game: just when everything’s going well, suddenly it isn’t. Such is life, virtual or otherwise.