Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Of Pharaoh and Fire




       This week I had a difficult time choosing a game I wanted to discuss. For a while I contemplated expressing my great dismay over the menu set-up in The Witcher 2 but I figured this blog should be more than me ranting and raving over menus. Then I thought about maybe discussing Catherine but feared I may be too easily side-tracked by the oddity that abounds within the game. As I proceeded to ponder even more games such as Red Dead Redemption, which some of my friends have affectionately dubbed Grand Theft Pony, I was left feeling I could find a game that better fits into topic of work. It was after much head scratching and one of the rare moments when I decided to mess with my old 2002 laptop that takes an hour to turn on that I realized that I had left one of my old computer games in the disc drive. As it turns out, I thought it fit in with the chapter rather nicely, so I shall tell everyone of Pharaoh, a wonderful micromanaging city building game.

           In Pharaoh it is your responsibility to build a city and ensure your family's rise to power by building successful cities. The first city you have to build is small and relatively simple, all you have to do is pick a place to put some houses, build a few hunting lodges, granaries to store the food the hunting lodges produce, a bazaar to distribute the stored food, and to provide a sources of water to the residents. As you play into more levels you have to include religious services, various goods industries, and manage trade routes all while fighting invading armies and trying to ensure you remain on the fine line between mass unemployed populace and maintaining enough people to actually work. If you are not pious enough, the gods will bring calamities upon the people of the city. You need to also ensure that there are various fire posts, architect buildings, and physicians available or else your city will end up in flames, collapsed, or dying of plague. To add another level of complexity, your city will have a reputation throughout the rest of the Egypt and if it falls low enough, whether it be from being in debt or failure to deliver aid or goods, the Pharaoh's army will march against your city and destroy it.

Juggling everything that is required of the city can be quite tedious but at the same time it is rewarding. It was while this was going on that I realized that yes, this is technically work, because "players must not only work hard to understand game play- what must be done in order to progress- but must also work hard to understand the complex technologies and rule systems by which the games' objectives are to be met" (Work 88). Fortunately the game did not expect me to grasp every aspect of the game at once, and instead introduced each new element after I grasped the previous element. Also, if for some reason I was lacking something in my city, I could click on some of the 'people' who roam around on the roads and they would hint at what the city needed. For example, I neglected to give my city enough entertainment venues and one of the workers proclaimed my city to be the most boring city in all of Egypt. After nursing the blow to my pride in what I thought was an awesome city I was building, I tore down a few buildings and added a few more Senet Houses (I think they are the equivalent to brothels) in the area needed and the people were happy with me again. Well, they were until the place caught fire because apparently one of the places I destroyed was a firehouse. The point I'm trying to make is the game can quickly become ridiculously complex and you have to be aware of almost everything that is happening in the city. If this was something I was forced to do I would probably grow to hate the game but because it is something I choose to do, like the chapter mentions, I instead find it enjoyable and have spent countless hours trying to build the perfect city. While I am far from perfection and different problems arise, it has left me undaunted because this is something I am choosing to pursue out of desire instead of necessity. Perhaps I am slowly being coerced to "cement labor and play together" but I do not think I am "being blinded to the real social relations that inform and determine those real tasks" (92). If anything I believe that the experiences are capable of ensuring that I have a better appreciation for the complexity of some jobs, like maintaining a city and the difficulty of finding a balance, and the need to sometimes to do without some wanted things, like the importance of keeping fire posts and letting your people be bored if it ensures an entire section of the city does not burn down. I know that real life is not a scroll and a click away from being fixed. The game is forced to simplify the actions necessary to fix the mistake but it makes sure to impress upon the player the importance of upkeep and the consequences of some actions. If I get to learn in a game the importance of a fire department instead of having to learn the importance by having my real house burn down around me, I will gladly choose the game experience any day.

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