Greatest Britain: Democracy 3 Hands-On

By Adam Smith on October 7th, 2013 at 1:00 pm.

I returned to Democracy 3 in an attempt to put right the wrongs of my previous administration. On my first visit, I broke Britain, crushing its culture and creating a country reminiscent of Clockwork Orange, filled with gangs and ultraviolence. During my second stint in government, I expected to inhabit the middle ground, hoping to discover stability in mediocrity. As always, the plan didn’t quite work out and the actual experience was far more interesting than I’d anticipated.

Democracy 3 made a funeral pyre of my idealism. My first encounter with the game began with a plan. I wanted to create a balanced society, avoiding mawkish pandering to special interest groups and instead doing the greatest good for the greatest number of people. I placed my laptop at the feet of Jeremy Bentham’s pickled remnants, consulted the teachings of John Stuart Mill, and prepared to make Britain great again.

By dusk, armed gangs roamed the streets and once peaceful citizens brandished weaponry of their own in an attempt to claim back their towns and cities. Anarchy in the UK and, worst of all, my chances of re-election were close to zero. Who would vote for the man who had failed so spectacularly and so quickly? Nobody.

I’d tried to introduce policies and spending plans that suited my own political beliefs, which manifest around the idea of a large, benevolent government that magically assists without interfering, and protects without becoming paternalistic. Partly because of the game’s tight web of cause and effect, and partly because I enjoyed pushing the simulation to its limits, when welfare became social malware, I pushed the country over the edge, encouraging the collapse. The playthrough hadn’t begun as an experiment in dystopian design though, it had become that because balancing Britain was much more difficult than I’d expected it to be.

There’s a great deal to admire about the model, which mostly hides its number-crunching behind attractively austere displays. I was impressed that the game forced me to face certain realities of rule, chipping away at my own beliefs and bias, and exposing the flaws in my naïve expectations. That, so I thought, was the game’s strength, which perhaps meant that it was a critique of the various democratic systems that it simulates as well as a game. It’s telling that GDP and popularity are the marks of a successful country. Sure, groups of people vote for the player because they like policies and plans, but that doesn’t mean they’re actually happy. They might just like the fact that they’re ideological opposites are in the line of fire as substances are banned, arts spending is slashed and tax shelters prong into position like obscenely large golfing umbrellas.

I thought of the game as an increasingly desperate tug of war, not between two parties, but between the many interest groups. The gentlest pressure on one strand might enrage the environmentalists, losing their votes, but please capitalists and motorists. No one person belongs to a single group so within an individual voter’s mind, pressure is applied to another series of strands. The outcome of every decision is complicated but if the goal is a muddy middleground, with long-term goals replaced by short-term survival tactics, the scope of the game is diminished. Part of the pleasure of real life simulations is that we can attempt the outrageous and the unexpected, occasionally succeeding.

As I played through a more complete version of the game last week, my intention was to find the perfect balance, to become the minister of mediocrity, but around the middle of my first term, something changed. I rediscovered my idealism.

I knew I was onto a good thing when the tabloids started jabbing at me, hoping to land a knockout blow as I did nothing more offensive than bringing spending into check and attempting to shore up the budget against the crashing waves of the ongoing global recession. I was doing the right thing but, the media moguls thought, I was doing it in entirely the wrong way. Rather than cutting spending on healthcare, education and the arts, I opted to raise corporation taxes, limit road construction and implement a mansion tax. The rich were angry but partly in thanks to their habit of eating one another, they didn’t represent a significant portion of the population.

Yes, they could attack me from their red-top fortresses and glassy gerkhins, but even the most scandalous revelation only dented my party’s popularity for a brief period. The people of Democracy 3 can be fickle but they know a good thing when they see it and as slow-burning policies came to fruition, Britain was becoming a centre of technological excellence, attracting international corporations who seemed happy to pay the punishing taxes to gain access to the educated minds and advanced facilities that stemmed from their investment.

Without realising it had happened, I’d started to engage with the game on an emotional level again. Previously, I’d reduced the decision-making process to an intellectual pursuit. I was tinkering with a machine that created votes, attempting to calibrate it for maximum output. By accidentally creating some elbow room for myself, loftier ambitions were now revealed and regained my idealism. A few short years after becoming the Almighty Leader, I’d increased spending on health and education, ensuring that the taxes taken from those who owned a great deal would directly benefit those who had very little. Britain was on the path toward equality and, to my amazement, prosperity. Opinion polls reckoned the government had an 80% approval rating.

It’s been a rewarding experience, not only because I’ve felt more of an affinity with the people of my country at this pass, wanting to do what (I think) is right for them rather than what is necessary, but also because I’ve discovered the breadth of the game. Rather than trampling on the ideological approach, Democracy 3 confronts it with cruel realisations that demand flexibility rather than surrender.

As I head toward my fourth term, I can see that the economy is going to become a problem. The ever-expanding public sector is squeezing businesses out of existence and that’s harming small people with big ideas as much as large corporations with tiny consciences. And then there are the capitalist terrorists, pin-striped bully-boys with bombs under their bowlers. My intelligence organisations reckon an attack is due any day now but I’m not convinced that they’ve done their research properly. After all, how could they when I cut all of their funding to build a new opera house?

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66 Comments »

  1. Gap Gen says:

    “On my first visit, I broke Britain, crushing its culture and creating a country reminiscent of Clockwork Orange, filled with gangs and ultraviolence.”

    DAVID CAMERON JOKE WOOOO

    • Stardreamer says:

      Technically, Labour broke Britain. All Cameron is doing is ensuring his rich friends don’t suffer from it the same way we poor plebs have to.

      • Dozer says:

        Technically, Thatcher broke Britain. All that Major, New Labour, and the Coalition have done is to continue in her ideology, systematically moving wealth from society into (a smaller number of) individuals.

        • bill says:

          Technically she broke half of britain in an attempt to fix the other half.
          What they’ve been doing since then is trying to make sure they’re in the fixed half.

        • analydilatedcorporatestyle says:

          Not technically, conclusively!, or completely!, or totally!, etc etc

          You have to hand it to the Tory spin Dr’s when people are blaming Labour for the state of the economy. The fact that Thatcher set about and succeeded in gutting the manufacturing sector as payback for the unions bringing down the Heath government! Talk about throwing the baby out with the bath water!

          • Dozer says:

            They threw the bath out with the bathwater too, and now they’re claiming the bathroom is really an unoccupied bedroom and you now owe £600 to HMRC.

          • RProxyOnly says:

            Yeah, you beat me to it…

            ‘Technically’ has nothing at all to do with it.

            The betrayal of the laws of the union, the wholesale theft of Scottish oil revenue to fund tax breaks for the english elite. llegal taxation. The whole Satchi and Satchi PR greed explosion. The sale of the countries assets. The shift from FAIR keynesian ecconomics to ‘Rich get richer and screw everyone else’ law of Adam Smith.

            It was a dictatorship she ran… and she was guilty of screwing with the voting system too.

            Burn in hell, bitch.

            Now if we can get rid of the statue of that turncoat toady Dewar.

            BTW….. Scotish independance… NO F**KING CHANCE. Even IF Salmond was up to the job, and he’s not, he just wants to be the first King of Scotland, it’s the brain donors that come after him who’ll destroy the country (more than it’s messed up atm anyway). Sturgeon in a position of ‘real’ power… RUN FOR THE HILLS.

            There is no subtlety in Scotish political corruption and they’re too incompetant to hide it (and we’re too bloody lazy and stupid to do something about it).. they’d get in to power, open their pockets and sell us off to the Chinese.

            Huh? Gaming… oh yeah.. well.. ummm….

          • analydilatedcorporatestyle says:

            Adam Smith has written for this lot, I made some, what I though was a witty, retort to him and it either whooooosed him or he had heard it all before. All I can say for certain is that

            A) His parents were raging rightwingers.

            B) His parents did not have a knowledge of politics/economics!

            Edit: He wrote this fuckin article, DOH!!!

          • RProxyOnly says:

            LMAO.

            I didn’t even notice.

          • m_a_t says:

            Haha! Yes, indeed: first thing I read on this page: Adam Smith: “On my first visit, I broke Britain”.

            Ghosh!, I thought: This is like the strangest Dr Who episode!

          • Dozer says:

            @RProxyOnly – There’s a conspiracy theory that Johann Lamont was appointed as leader of Scottish Labour deliberately, in order to scare voters away from independence – “This is the person who would run your country if Labour win the general election in an independent Scotland.”

            Seriously though, I’d expect the quality of political candidates in Scotland to rise when the most capable are no longer chasing the ermine in Westminster.

          • Buffer117 says:

            Well technically manufacturing has declined uniformally across all major western countries over the last 50 plus years (the one slight anomoly, but still decling, being the USA due to the availability of cheap labour and other local factors). But don’t let the facts get in the way of some good old fashioned Thatcher bashing. If you can find another major western country that as held onto its manufacturing base from the 60s/70s into today then I would love to know where this mythical country is? The winds changed years ago with the availability of cheap labour forces thoughout an ever increasingly globalised world, manufacturing decline was inevitable, could it have been handled better? probably, has the country been handled poorly ever since? Yep. If you want to debate a point then do so but ranting is ranting whether its about PC games or politics!

          • RProxyOnly says:

            @Dozer

            Sorry mate, but “capable”, “Scotland (Scottish)” and “politician” don’t belong in the same sentence. :/

            There was only one politico I had any respect for.. John Smith (the exception that proves the rule.).

            ..and speaking of conspiracy theories.. It struck me as highly convienent to those with a vested interest in the status quo and a bit too coincidental that when Thatcher finally lost her grip on the country (reminds me of the old joke.. Emporer/Empire, King/Kingdom, Thatcher/Country) and Labour were getting back in with a good old socialist, John Smith at it’s helm, who was about to reverse all the shit that bitch pulled… he ‘suddenly’ died of a heart attack, which just happens to be easily inflicted.. then overnight we get Labour rebranding themselves ‘New’ Labour.. who had fiscal policies almost exactly the same as the conservatives, when in the past they had always been diametrically opposite?

            I have to admit.. that always bothered me.. knowing what politicians and big business get up to and the shit we’d put up with for years from the cons, it left me with too much of a bad taste in my mouth.

        • Llewyn says:

          It’s funny, I don’t remember life in Britain in the 70s being all that great.*

          *Actually I remember life in the 70s being bloody marvellous, but not as a result of anything that’s changed idealogically.

          • Redcoat-Mic says:

            The working classes living standards improved dramatically, faster and higher than any post-war period at the time and some European Financial body (can’t remember which one) said that Britian was never better since the war.

            All it took was 1979 and a relatively short strike for Thatcher to dismantle all that.

          • RProxyOnly says:

            But a price was paid.

            We lost a social cohesion and turned to mass greed over night… all in all it wasn’t a good trade.

      • Gap Gen says:

        Find me an economist that says that austerity in a recession is a good idea. Granted, Labour overspent in the boom time and Cameron underspent in the recession, but what’s Keynes gonna do, haunt ‘em?

        • Reefpirate says:

          There’s a whole lot of them out there if you’re willing to honestly look for them.

    • Danny says:

      Political discussions 101.

    • Advanced Assault Hippo says:

      Oh god, not political discussion. Please god, no.

      In this field, every opinion will always have a counter-opinion that can be backed up. It’s futile!

      • TaylanK says:

        Oh come on, don’t be a grump. It’s a game about democracy and politics, one major benefit of which is its ability to get people to think about their role in society and civic participation. It’s far from futile for people to respectfully discuss their ideas and opinions, even if nobody gets an intellectual smack down.

        I’m rather enjoying the discussion.

        • Dozer says:

          I like the way you responded to his comment by providing a counter-opinion and backing it up.

    • mike2R says:

      Jeez, when did this place turn into a student union debating society, circa 1985…

      • oxykottin says:

        I think discussing politics is fine. When everything turns into arguing is when the problems come. Everyone has been civil so far!! Plus I am interested to see other countries politics. It is interesting to see what the US problems will be in 15 years, because we are doing what thatcher did to the UK as we speak.

        • mike2R says:

          Its only civil because some people are restraining themselves from arguing against some of the frankly ridiculous comments posted above ;)

          “It is interesting to see what the US problems will be in 15 years, because we are doing what thatcher did to the UK as we speak.”

          You are solving the problems caused by decades of government ownership of key industries such as coal mining and steal production, and reforming a failing state dominated corporatist economy into a modern market economy? Or do you mean Thatcher = bad, and American politics at the moment also = bad?

          Sigh, I was doing so well in ignoring it as well.

          • RProxyOnly says:

            “You are solving the problems caused by decades of government ownership of key industries such as coal mining and steal production, and reforming a failing state dominated corporatist economy into a modern market economy?”

            Considering the flamability of the subject my teeth were firmly holding on to my tongue.. but dude.. if you are suggesting the above is a good thing, you should open your eyes more.

            At the VERY least a ‘state dominated economy’ has oversight, answerablity and built in safe guards against rampant greed, streamlining to the point of unemployment for all and at least the chance of the money going to fund other projects to build a country upon… what does a ‘free market economy’ get anyone except, slave wages, slave conditions, no say and the profit leaking out of the economy because the fat cats are sitting on it.

            Free market economies have never been the paradises those who have a far too unhealthy love of money, or just plain unheathy quota of ignorance, have always preached they were. Taken to the extremes, which is becoming more of a possibility everyday with more and more people spouting the divinity of money and less and less regulation and oversight, it would be the companies overtly running the world instead of being hampered by the little the governments are able/willing to do to mitigate their unconscionable greed, and in such a case we would all be numbers with not even the little rights we are allowed now, or do you think the corporate world would suddenly grow a conscience?

            Give me a “failing state dominated corporatist economy” over a mindless greed fueled free for all, sorry.. modern market economy, ANY day of the week.. I certainly know which one would ultimately allow more rights to the individual.

      • RProxyOnly says:

        “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

        George Santayana (1863-1952)

  2. TekDragon says:

    Couldn’t find it on Steam or Greenlight :(

    This is right up my alley, but at my age I just don’t have the time or interest to manage hundreds of digital accounts for every game or developer I enjoy. Shame, as this would have fit in wonderfully with the burgeoning simulation market on Steam.

    • Stardreamer says:

      From Cliff’s website:

      “Everyone who pre-orders Democracy 3 will get a steam key which allows you to activate the game on steam when it is released. Note that our games are entirely DRM-free. You do *not* need steam to play and enjoy Democracy 3!” (sic)

    • cliffski says:

      It will be on both steam and GoG within a month, at most.

  3. Terragot says:

    Can you confirm if there is a dedicated “Take a Holiday” button whenever a decision needs to be made?

    This is important for me as a Briton.

  4. Stardreamer says:

    Is there an option in the game to institute a day of holiday to celebrate a pointless royal marriage? How about one to lie to Scots consistently and repeatedly about remaining in the Union?

    The game needs these included to be relevant, I feel.

    • Dozer says:

      Are you also a WingsOverScotland reader StarDreamer? Did you see the Abertay University debate? That was brilliant. Stewart Hosie wiped the floor with Lord Robertson!

      • Tams80 says:

        That site is terrible. You’d be better off reading the Daily Mail.

        • Dozer says:

          Having almost never read the Daily Mail I can’t refute that, but, really? My understanding of the Mail is that it is right-wing hysteria and hypocrisy and cancer scares. Wings over Scotland is avowedly left-wing, and devoted to exposing hysteria and hypocrisy and debunking the unionist scares. How do you find the two similar?

          • Buffer117 says:

            Um..because they are both about as impartial as North Korean Central News Agency. I love your follow up to your question, A Mail supporter would probably say that the paper is devoted to exposing left wing hysteria and hypocrisy and debunking the union scares. One persons terrorist is anothers freedom fighter and all that…

          • Dozer says:

            Touché :) but Rev Stu is openly biased and partial while the Mail, probably, isn’t. (Without reading it myself how would I know?) In reading Wings Over Scotland avidly for just over a year, the worst I’ve seen Stu do is selectively take frames out of a video to make Westminster politicians look stupid. Also he didn’t remove someone’s comment about an explicit sexual act against Johann Lamont – but that’s because he’s very firmly against deleting or censoring comments on his site, which makes him kind of unique.

  5. Themadcow says:

    Is it possible to halve the wages of GP’s in this game back to their already impressive £60k+ they had during the late 90′s? Or is that considered too much of an exploit?

    If I can then this is the game for me…

    • Reefpirate says:

      You mean GP as in General Practitioners, like doctors? And you want to pay them 60k per year? Yeah, you’re really going places with that one…

    • Sheng-ji says:

      The pay scale for GP’s starts at £54,000 per year and tops out at £82,000, so it’s already been done for you ;)

  6. RedViv says:

    Opposing the Mega-City ideal? Three years Isocube. Bloody perp.

    • LionsPhil says:

      I am hoping that in Diplomacy 4 you will be able to play as Omni Consumer Products*.

      * Insert other dystopian megacorp of your choosing here; after all, OCP were only really city-scale.

  7. botd says:

    The problem with a game like Democracy is that in real life political approval and the economy are tightly linked. As such any political game is actually primarily a macroeconomic simulator. So the natural question is, what is the model used in Democracy? It sounds like it buys into the conservative beliefs about the economy that any real economist with a decent model can refute. I would be interested to hear more about this side of the game.

    • TaylanK says:

      Well, it has also been argued before that in today’s global economy the tides of macroeconomics ebb and flow mostly by factors that are not entirely under the control of any single elected government, and political parties just take the credit for themselves when they chance on a good stretch, and blame the ones who came before when things get rough. Following that model could create a better simulation perhaps, but not necessarily a better game; then your popularity would be decoupled from your actual performance as the player.

      I personally think as a simulation the game might be giving too much credit to the capacity of a government to affect it’s own popularity. But yeah, that makes a better game.

    • Reefpirate says:

      The problem with simulating politics or economics in any game is that the model used for simulation will not so cleanly hide the ideology of the game developer.

    • Lone Gunman says:

      Predicted economies is like trying to predict the weather.

  8. The Godzilla Hunter says:

    So, I am wondering: do other political ideals work?

    On the one hand, I understand why a developer who believes in ideology X would make ideology X the most efficient strategy, because one ideology has to be the most correct and efficient strategy in real life, and the developer believes it is ideology X. I see how a developer could feel dishonest making both ideology X and Y work equally well, not just in getting votes, but in making the country a better place.

    On the other hand, it could get pretty old pretty fast if, as a player, you do not believe in ideology X. You would then be playing a game that pretty much calls you wrong the entire time you play it, and it would feel like fake difficulty because, as the game obviously cannot be even close to a realistic situation of an entire country and the laws of economics etc., it might seem as if the game is designed for one play style, so to speak. Which would make the game feel unfair.

    • cliffski says:

      The game does not deliberately promote any specific ideology. I’ve tested it as a capitalist and a socialist and a libertarian, and managed to win with all three approaches 9also as a hardcore green), but it does take careful thought and planning, and not getting too far ‘ahead’ of the views of the electorate.

      • trjp says:

        I seem to remember a particularly vicious attack made on Democracy 2 on one gaming forum – the troll-in-question basically saying that it “was only possible to win as a Liberal”.

        He was taken-to-task on this and after about 4 pages of argument we’d basically realised he was playing it like a 4X or RTS – turning-up taxation and then trying to build stuff quickly before people got upset.

        Basically, was was upset that he couldn’t squeeze the country dry and hope people were distracted by shiny new buildings – ripping-off a population is MUCH harder than that.

        First you need to deregulate the banks, destroy the manufacturing sector, demonise the concept of workers rights and a fair wage

        Then you need to graduate from Eton

        It’s not fucking Starcraft.

        • MarkB says:

          There is a certain type of gamer that is convinced that every game that involves strategy is actually secretly Starcraft.

          I once watched a Civ V let’s play in which the player built way, way more workers than needed so he could improve his “macro”. Things didn’t go particularly well for him.

  9. Duke of Chutney says:

    I saw the display at Eurogamer for this, but never got to have a good look at it.

    The barrier for me would be me being convinced by the realities of its simulation. So if you are hit by recession do you cut debt and spending, but slow the economy further? or do you spend your way out? Would either actually work as the globalised world dictates the reality? How does the game deal with these questions and how grounded in reality is it? Im not asking for realism, but the illusion of realism based on my understanding of the world.

    Also how much of the game is crisis control? Do external events shape the reality in the game, or is the game primarily driven by cause and effect of your own actions?

  10. Jac says:

    How free is this game in terms of allowing you to implement fairly radical policies? For instance can I go berserk and impose a ban on certain classes being allowed children / move to a china 1 child rule or are they preset tick boxes / sliders?

  11. Ninja Foodstuff says:

    I vote for the close button and slider bar graphics to be replaced.

  12. Marblecake says:

    So, I just got beta access after reading this article and must say that playing Germany must be something like playing easy mode.
    It took me all of 10 turns to create an educational utopia. Shortly before the first election, my country was virtually crime free. I am now 3 turns into my second term and my country is now a citadel of higher learning where religion has been all but wiped out, homelessness is about to be a thing of the past, alcohol abuse, poverty and urban unrest are on the decline, I have an ever growing GDP, have reduced my country’s debt from almost 1 trillion to 100bn and I have an approval rating of 92%.
    Oh yeah, and I did all that during a global recession and a market crash.

    So, uh, yeah….Germany must be easy mode. Otherwise this game is hideously unbalanced.

    • Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

      Try banning sausages, then hang on for the ride of your life.

    • Marblecake says:

      Small update:
      As head of the Peoples Front of Judea, I just won my third election with 97% approval. Were this the real German parliament, the Jehovah Party opposition wouldn’t even get any seats due to not reaching the necessary 5%.
      Germany is now absolutely crime free. Everyone has perfect education. The country is debt-free, with reserves in excess of 300bn. There is no homelessness, no poverty. Obesity as an issue is non-existent. As the world leader in technology and science, we have just launched a space program.
      The only problems facing us are a slight penchant for alcohol abuse (which I put down to Oktoberfest) and internet crime.