Last week, I ranted and raved about the history of the SimCity franchise and its impact on gaming. SimCity is a game series that uses both politics and economics in its game-play formula. But like many games that pull this stunt and try to replicate real-world socioeconomic aspects, there is a struggle to maintain objectivity. The mechanics of the game have to be set up to somebody’s rules, and it’s inevitable that those rules will be flavored by a political lean in one direction or the other.
Seems like politics in the US are on our minds a lot lately. I dunno, call it a hunch. Not the least of hunches is this flabbergasting story about Seattle, where the protesters and police clashed so long and hard that – what the dickens – the cops bailed! That’s right, we have the “Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone” (CHAZ) in Seattle, Washington, right now. Six city blocks of anarchy and the mayor going “Aw, we get our own hippies! They’re cute, can we keep them?”
Not everyone, but a sizable fraction of everyone, seems to be OK with this. I mean, it’s been done before, sometimes even in a sustainable way. What if every major city just fenced off a park and said “Here’s your own playground, don’t come crying to us if it burns down”? You’d have science fiction author Larry Niven’s short story Cloak of Anarchy, for one thing. Actual graffiti under the #SeattleCHAZ hashtag currently:
Meanwhile the COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to question everything we thought we knew about Capitalism. Some markets are fattening while other starve, the stock market yo-yos. Between a microscopic menace bringing half our economy to a screeching halt and looters taking over city squares, it’s a good time to critically examine the Right-Left political and economic axis, and we have just the two-game series to do it.
AdVenture Capitalist is a classic
Hyper Hippo Games first released AdVenture Capitalist in 2014, which has since gone on to become the definitive business simulator / idle clicker game. It’s not a deep game by any means. You click businesses until you have enough money to afford a manager to do the clicking for you, then use the income stream to buy more businesses and upgrades. Eventually you expand a corporate base with businesses on the Moon and Mars as well.
Everything else beyond that is expansion, expansion, expansion! Earning money at a fast enough rate eventually attracts “Angel Investors,” which you can then sacrifice to start all over again all that way back at one lemonade stand, but with a higher profit margin. There’s events and bonuses and more upgrades, different kinds of currency to diversify into like megabucks and gold bars, and little perks you can eventually splurge on like a new suit for your capitalist guy, but basically we’ve covered it.
What sets this game apart is its aesthetics. You’ll notice two things: A retro 1950s googie motif to the graphics, and the managers all have satiric names like “Jim Thornton” to run donut shops and “Forest Trump” to run your shrimping boats. This keeps up all the way through the game. It’s loaded with whimsy. The dude in that video back there is a great introduction to the game, but his observation is indeed on the nose: You really are earning more money just to earn more money. It’s a rat race, and your only goal is to be a bigger rat. It is capitalism distilled.
It’s also a good example of the reason idle games are always stuck in the casual gamer zone. You cannot lose an idle clicker game. The only difference between good strategy and bad strategy is the speed of your progress. As with Cookie Clicker, the almighty grandpa of idle clickers which we covered here and here, there is no end goal beyond making the game run really really fast. It even plays itself when you don’t have it open.
While the game is by no means a realistic depiction of the system, it does make a good metaphor for the Capitalist society in general. Which, even though it has its flaws (boy howdy, are we learning that the hard way lately!), seems to be a system most people are reasonably content with.
So then Hyper Hippo cashed in on the success of AdVenture Capitalist, a free-to-play game with ad-supported perks and optional in-game purchases. The follow-up, however, does not suffice as even a pale shadow of the game that put them on the map…
AdVenture Communist is an insult
The game bears very little passing resemblance to AdVenture Capitalist. One can easily see the inspiration behind AdVenture Communist as a counterpoint to the original game; you’ve seen how Capitalism works, now try being a Communist tycoon as well.
But the simple interface is gone, being replaced by a more complex layout which forces the game to lead you by the nose every step of the way. This is one of those mobile games where it feels like the tutorial is never over.
The whole gimmick is that instead of playing for dollars and cents, you play in economies based entirely upon potatoes, land, coal (labeled “ore,” but clearly a lump of coal in the image), and military. Similar to Cookie Clicker‘s cookie-based economy, currency is replaced by the base good you’re producing, which you sacrifice in quantities to purchase more means of production. Along the way, it sacrifices logic. It sort of makes sense how communes produce more farmers if you assume they’re just reproducing, but having tankers produce more oil rigs both defies explanation and is doubly confounding in a toolchain based on either ore (text) or coal (picture).
It’s plain lazy, phoned-in design. They just didn’t care.
But not only is AdVenture Communist a pathetic imitation of its predecessor, it isn’t any kind of portrayal of actual communism at all. Instead, it plays to the redneck hick expectation of what communism is about. From offensive ethnic stereotypes which have dialogue written in “you see comrade” butchered English, to a society populated entirely by agrarian laborers in the dirt living in communes, the game depicts a version of communism only recognizable to folks who get most of their news from a FOX network, supplemented by the occasional checkstand tabloid.
What can we learn anyway?
I’m not here to thrash Hyper Hippo too harshly for AdVenture Communist, because I’m not expecting a casual mobile game to be an ambassador for a whole political ideology. I’m also not here to apologize for communism. Despite the apparent Bolshevik leanings of the CHAZ we have examined, communism seems to be a less-popular form of government worldwide. But even if you hate communism, you have a duty to yourself to be as informed about it as possible so that you can defend your position more eloquently, you know?
I can’t let this go by without mythbusting:
(#1!) RUSSIA IS NO LONGER COMMUNIST!!! News flash! The Soviet Union ceased to exist in 1991, and by 1990 had already ditched the classic Marx / Lenin model. THIRTY YEARS AGO! Years! Thirty of them! Russia today is a federation and a constitutional republic. Say what you will about how things are run in Russia, but you are a whole generation behind the times every time you associate Russia with communism.
(#2) The only truly communist states left in the world are China, Cuba, Laos, and Vietnam. Most nations these days go for a mixture of ideologies. After all, there are also no examples of a purely capitalist system, at least not as Adam Smith and Ayn Rand would see it. Even China augments Marx-Lenin with a dash of Maoism, just to stay frisky.
(#3) In case you forgot already, RUSSIA IS STILL NO LONGER COMMUNIST!!!
(#4) The whole economic spectrum runs from the far left controlled market to the far right free market. That’s really all there is to it, the question of “how much does the government intervene in the distribution of wealth”? Very few working models of either end of the spectrum exist. Even America, despite what most Americans would insist, is not a purely free market. We still have anti-trust laws, the SEC, the FTC, the FDA, and a mandatory minimum wage. The United States is instead a managed economy.
Look, a Chinese McDonald’s. They can walk right in and buy a Big Mac just like we do. In fact, there’s hot competition between KFC and McDonald’s in China.
(#7) Guess who used to be communist but isn’t anymore?
But honestly, if you want to understand all there is to know about communism, capitalism, and the way the world works in general, look no further than the greatest monologue ever filmed, Ned Beaty in 1976’s Network.
The world is still a business. That holds true if you’re occupying Wall Street, cordoning off a “Summer of Love” zone in Seattle, or playing either the Smithian or Marxist variation of a mobile game. It has been so since man crawled out of the slime.