Reviews by Jim Kaplan


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Head of State, by ronkimmons

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Shallow gameplay makes for a poor economics simulator, June 12, 2013
by Jim Kaplan (Jim Kaplan has a room called the location. The location of Jim Kaplan is variable.)
Related reviews: ronkimmons

Play it if: you want a bite-sized summary of the more straightforward economic issues developing countries tend to face.

Don't play it if: you want to play a game which takes nuance and interactivity to be must-haves in a game that simulates the effects of political and economic policies.

Head of State is an extremely brief government simulator placing you in charge of the monetary policy of a nascent Southeast Asian country. It bears a superficial resemblance to Jennifer Government: NationStates, a browser-based government simulator - though NationStates is more about exploring the ideological implications of policy choices than modeling their practical consequences, whereas in Head of State that emphasis is flipped.

I happen to be a political science major specializing in comparative government and international relations, so I'm not entirely unfamiliar with the types of issues being raised here. So I can say with some confidence that the author isn't, either. When it comes to detailing possible economic policies and their likely results, there's nothing particularly implausible or eye-poppingly ideologically biased in the game's logic.

That being said, the worth of Head of State as a simulator is suspect. The game forces you to jump through certain hoops to accept the premise - that the player is acting as both the executive and legislative branches, for instance - that rather devalue the kind of verisimilitude needed for a game examining real policies in detail.

Worse is the interactivity - or rather, lack thereof. Insofar as the goal of the game is to determine a policy plan for a country's economy, this is a fairly shallow success. But anyone can lay out a policy plan if they have the time and the masochistic inclinations. The interest lies in the practical effects of those policies, and the reactions of one's constituents to the plan. Head of State is only about building a policy plan in the sense that that all the input it requires is a series of policy choices (though six isn't much of a series). But it also takes the time to point out the public's response and the effect of the policies on the economy, and the problem is that the game has no scope for this. The player is given no opportunity to modify, moderate, or reform his proposed policies with the passage of time (and given that there are no specific time frames, these elements are fairly hazy given the game's own distinction between long-term and short-term policy effects). There are no complicating factors introduced.

In real politics, as basically everyone knows, it's not a simple matter of enacting the "right" policies. Compromises are necessary, often because the people whose interests you're contradicting have some sort of power over you. Yet you can simply choose to stick it to prominent local interest groups by refusing to impose high-tariff barriers to free trade. See, if government would be that simple, most of our problems could be fixed almost overnight. And a simulator is necessarily a simplification of what it simulates - but the model this game proposes is so stiff as to be of little use or interest to anyone.

It's a shame because I do think there is room in the medium for a government sim of depth. I can't be the only person who spent endless hours in fascination with SimCity 3000 or Civilization II and III, marveling at the depth of gameplay, the emergent properties of the world model and the underlying game mechanics whose discovery was left up to the player's experimentation. While the largely textual nature of IF poses a challenge to replicating this effect without becoming a tedious exposition-fest, a little part of me says it can be done well.

So I'll give Head of State this much credit. It does try - not very hard, but it does try - to do something worthwhile with the medium. Consider this as much a public service announcement as a review: interactive fiction is waiting for its great government simulator.

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