A baby is born. She plays barefoot in the dirt as her parents toil on the tobacco plantation. She becomes a farmer like her parents, or goes to school, or joins the military. She has kids of her own. She grows older, and at the age of fifty, she suddenly dies from cancer. Stories like these were what made Tropico such a great game. It wasn’t about completing the missions, but tagging one child and tracking her through life’s uncertainties.
All sims are similar in this voyeuristic way. We want to influence and then see the results of that action. Tynan Sylvester’s RimWorld, which recently received Kickstarter love, claims to do a little bit more. The AI Storyteller assesses a situation and “decides which event she thinks will make the best story”. A scriptwriter in the sky decides the fate of your helpless colonists, who have crash landed on a planet and are forced to build, farm and fight pirates to survive.
There’s a tactical element to the game using a similar engine as Jagged Alliance 2. Location of walls, buildings, corridors are as important to your survival as raising a herd of sheep. Kill or be killed. I recently re-watched James Cameron’s Aliens. I wonder if the AI in the sky will unleash such horror on its RimWorld inhabitants.
Then there’s the psychological component. Your guys can go nuts from seeing others die. They can go Jamestown on you at any moment. But as Sylvester says, it’s not about winning or losing, it’s about watching these poor souls go through the process of winning or…dying. It’s the fatalism, the voyeurism, and the cruelty of uncertainty.