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'Democratic Socialism Simulator' Is Weirdly Depressing

This game's politics feels random, where the will of the voter means very little, and money means a lot more.
February 21, 2020, 6:12pm
A union leader gorilla proposes union rights reform.
Democratic Socialism Simulator

My second go around at Democratic Socialism Simulator, I decided to shoot for the stars. No plan would go unpassed, no benefit not given to the worker. I bankrupted the country and was asked to resign, eventually lead out of the building by a military coup. It wasn't like that every time, though. Twice, I was able to enact the policies I wanted, sacrificing and delaying very little, creating the groundwork for a socialist utopia. Once I even lowered carbon emissions to almost zero. The politics of Democratic Socialism Simulator are a constant tug of war between the power of the people and the power of money.

Democratic Socialism Simulator plays similar to Reigns, but with a more topical political veneer. The player is presented with cards that represent issues, and by swiping right or left you can choose how to handle it. For your first choice, you're asked what you want your theme for your inauguration speech to be, "Hope" or "Political Revolution?" I went with the latter. Some choices will need the approval of congress, represented by a chart in the left hand corner, to be approved. Your congressional seats will change over the course of the game based on your choices. While the issue are ripped from the headlines, Democratic Socialism Simulator uses cute animals to represent all its characters, even the representations of media outlets like Jackalin Magazine or The New Pork Times.

One interesting difference between this and Reigns is that you have a representation of your voters and their approval rating. At the bottom of the screen there are characters representing voters, who each have two issues that matter to them. I tended to do well with voters interested in creating a welfare state and traditionalists that cared about rural life. Solidarity isn't just for the urban elite, after all. When voters approved of choices they moved closer to the screen, and if they disapproved they moved farther away. Having their support will mean a lot when you're close to re-election. Oh and you also have to reduce carbon emissions so everyone doesn't die. Good luck!

While the game is snappy and easy to get invested in—who wouldn't want to pass Medicare For All and tell Congress to suck eggs?—it's the binary, random choices that reveal its flaws. My first go around I was able to fund all my utopian policies fairly easily because I was able to reform the Supreme Court, pass a billionaire tax, and then legalize pot very quickly. I couldn't figure out what else I could spend my money on, frankly. In my other tries, if I was unable to get at least one of those cards, I had a lot of trouble getting anything done. Even if some of my policies brought in money eventually, the media wouldn't ever give me credit for it. Once in the game I found myself rolling my eyes at The New Pork Times decrying my deficit. I was barely in the red, my guy!

I came away from Democratic Socialism Simulator sad that it reflected so many of my frustrations with politics as they are, rather than showing me the kind of better the policies that you're swiping on would create. In this world, politics feels random, where the will of the voter means very little, and money means a lot more. On the other hand, Democratic Socialism Simulator also demonstrated what I also feel is a political truth: over time, the voters would change their mind about policy issues that were important to them. Over time, voters who believed in a police state became ones who fought for workers' rights. That's the kind of political revolution that I'm hoping to see.

This article originally appeared on VICE US.