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Democracy 2 is a government simulation strategy game in which the player governs one of several fictional countries. Gameplay consists of making choices about which policies to support, and how much money to put behind them. The player must balance her own values and goals against the wishes of her government's cabinet and those of the nation's electorate. The game is highly abstract, taking place entirely in menu screens which display the relationships between policy choices, taxes, funding, demographics and government popularity. Gameplay is somewhat open-ended, but the general goal of the game is to solve pre-existing national problems and shape the nation to the player's vision while staying popular enough to win reelection.
Democracy 2 is a complex game, with many simulated elements that interact based on the choices made by the player. The game is probably too difficult for some grade school and middle school students. Although many of the specific details in the game are fictional, such as countries, political parties and cabinet members, a wealth of realistic information is also present. Healthcare, taxes, the economy, law enforcement, privacy, education, the military, infrastructure, international relations, social safety nets, liberalism, conservatism and many other real-world political issues, ideas and labels are important elements of the game. Students with a basic grounding in some of this material will have an easier time engaging with Democracy 2.
Gameplay consists of selecting choices from a series of menu screens. The main game screen is a jumble of graphical icons representing various policies, concepts and crises. While the screen appears chaotic at first glance, it does not take too long to understand what the icons mean and how to use them. Democracy 2 is a turn-based game, and the effect of the player's choices play out over the course of many turns, each of which represents a three-month period of time.
The first choice offered to the player in a game of Democracy 2 is which country she wishes to lead. Each country has its own characteristics and demographics—one country starts off with a healthy economy but a poor healthcare and law enforcement infrastructure, for example. Some of these characteristics can be modified by the advanced player to mix up the experience.
Policies, such as tax rates on gas, education spending or gambling laws, are represented by black icons. These can be clicked on to bring up an informational screen explaining the purpose of the policy and its impact on the country (higher gas taxes lead to anger from motorists, lower levels of car use, popularity among environmentalist voters, etc.). A clickable slider allows the player to make changes to the policy, which will have a greater or lesser impact.
New policies can also be enacted. A list of possible policies is available to the player in the menu at the top-right of the screen, by clicking the icon of a lightbulb.
Players cannot simply do whatever they wish while playing Democracy 2. Every action, from raising the gas tax to enacting a new system of jury trial, costs a predefined amount of "political capital." Players build new capital each turn, and must spend it wisely. This limitation forces players to focus on what is truly important and politically viable; it also makes it much easier to attribute changes in the country's fortunes (and the government's popularity) to the specific choices being made.
Like a real-world government (or perhaps not, depending on your point of view), the player's government in Democracy 2 must balance political capital, societal needs and personal goals against cold, hard cash. Fully fund both college education and socialized healthcare without a strong tax base and you'll soon be running billions of dollars in deficits every turn. Do that for too long and your own party will kick you out of office for incompetence.
Voter groups are represented in the center of the main game screen by a series of labeled colored bars, representing the player's popularity with the group in question. Clicking the name of any voter group will pull up a more detailed screen explaining the general political preferences of the group, the number of members, the issues that are currently making them happy or angry, and whether the player's government contains any cabinet members sympathetic to the group (anger a cabinet minister too much and they will resign, embarrassing the player's government).
Above all, Democracy 2 is a game concerned with connections. Policies, funding, political preferences, crises, advantages—they're all connected to each other, and every choice the player makes has repercussions.
Fortunately, there is an easy way to quickly understand these connections from the main game screen. By hovering the mouse cursor over any element of the interface, the player will bring up a visual representation of everything connected to that element. Green lines represent positive relationships, and red lines represent negative relationships. The lines are animated, so that effects flow from the element causing the effect and to the thing being effected. More powerful effects are animated more quickly, and have brighter lines between them.
Democracy 2 has already been used to teach in more than 30 high schools and colleges in the United States and the United Kingdom, and developer Cliff Harris of Positech Games offers a discounted site license to educational institutions.
Some subjects that could be taught using the game:
- graphs and basic statistics
- demographic information
- democratic forms of government
An in-game encyclopedia offers background about each of the many policies and issues modeled by the game. The game's loading screens also feature quotes from real-world historical figures such as Colin Powell, John F. Kennedy, Lenin and Machiavelli.
Potentially Problematic Elements
In its efforts to represent realistic political ideas, Democracy 2 occasionally veers into generalizations that could offend people with strong political beliefs. The "Patriot" voter group, for example, is depicted as a fat, bearded man in a t-shirt with the American flag on it. Patriots are also described as opposing handgun laws and foreign aid—opinions that not all self-described patriots in real life would agree with. Likewise, not all "Liberal" voters approve of gambling, and not all "Conservatives" like gated communities. Teachers using this game will need to accept that it makes assumptions that can be disagreed with, and may wish to address this directly with students once they have become comfortable with the game mechanics.
Limitations of the Simulation
Whether because game developer Positech is an English company, or because the game was not meant to simulate an entirely accurate system of democratic government, some aspects of representative democracy are absent from Democracy 2. Foreign relations are not particularly significant, for example, and the political capital game mechanic does not really resemble the process of debate, grandstanding and horsetrading that takes place in most real-world parliaments and congresses.
There are occasional spelling mistakes in Democracy 2. This has no impact on the gameplay, but is irritating.
Not all of the political terms that the game uses mean the same thing in all countries. The definition of "Liberal" voters, for example, seems to combine elements of what Americans would understand as modern liberal politics with Libertarian ideas.
Where to get it
A demo of the game is available for both Mac and PC computers, so educators interested in seeing if the game and material are a good match for their classrooms can easily do so.