The Tropico equivalent of an out-of-town business park

Power Corrupts: Tales of an RTS Tyrant

When it comes to politics I’m a pretty left-wing kinda guy. In fact I’ve been called “extreme left-wing” before now, just because one day I suggested that I was enamoured with the idea of communism even though I don’t think it really works – but that’s a post for a different blog.

I’m also a big believer in people; I’m of the opinion that the current government here in the UK is governed off the back of a balance sheet and the happiness of the people who live here is at best a secondary concern and at worst unimportant to Mr. Cameron and his gang of cronies, especially the one who looks like a ghost trapped in a sausage.

But the other day I had a priest killed, and now I understand.

For those who have never played Tropico, the best way to describe it is “Sim City for those of us who aren’t autistic masochists”. You are El Presidente, the man in charge of a small island state somewhere near South America. Your job is to keep the country afloat financially and also to keep your people happy, be that by providing them with work, housing, entertainment, healthcare, a scratch for their religious itch or whatever else they demand from you.

The docks. Where money (and immigrants) arrive.
Yeah, I built a restaurant behind the armoury.

So I come along, thinking “Right then. Here’s my chance to show them Tory bastards what running a country is all about. Screw the money, the happiness of my people comes first. They’ll get housing, they’ll get jobs, they’ll get entertainment. The island is rich with resources; we’ll be raking the money in and the People’s Republic of Spanndonia will thrive.”

And, to begin with, it did. My farms and logging ventures quickly began to make money, each visiting cargo ship leaving heavy of grain and light of wallet, often also leaving a few new recruits eager to get their hands dirty and start shifting some logs. People had their complaints, certainly, but the island was ticking along nicely for something that had been a mansion, a few shacks and a couple of farms not twenty years previously. Well-educated types were brought in to run medical centres and police stations, tourists began to arrive, and the books looked good.

But then something went wrong. What it was I don’t know (my hunch is a lack of foreign aid from the Russians, but it could be that I was paying some of my citizens ludicrous sums of money but only housing them in cheap, low-rent accommodation), but very quickly my financial assets plummeted into the red, leaving me unable to build.

Time to slash and burn.

Construction workers instantly got laid off. Many of the farms had positions cut. Couples who could afford the rent on their homes on a single wage saw the lowest earner out of a job. Rent went up. I felt like a cross between Thatcher and Yzma from The Emperor’s New Groove (shut up, my girlfriend really likes Disney films).

Of course my citizens started to resent me; I’d resent me too if I did that to me. The problem was, though, I was only doing it to try to help them: the more money I recouped from them, the more I could spend on new ways of making them money, better healthcare, new entertainment… but the stupid little peasant bastards didn’t fucking understand, and I found myself shouting this loudly at my laptop.

And it was at this point I realised: I had become David Cameron.

Not the shouting at a laptop bit, of course: I don’t know what our Prime Minister does with his computer, but I’m sure he doesn’t use it to loudly berate his own citizens. What I mean is I found myself explaining to these tiny little people that the cuts were necessary, and that I was making my own life harder too. “We’re in this together,” I found myself saying at one point, before washing my mouth out with bleach.

At the very nadir of my popularity (at this point, at least) my citizens requested an election. This was fair enough; it had been nine years, and due to my not passing any environmental edicts the dead were lying in the streets outside the closed medical centres. It’s safe to say that things had been a little tight. I read the request over before checking my citizen happiness records, and it was fairly safe to say that if a dog had run against me it would have won. So what did I do?

I refused to allow the election to take place, of course. Chris Spann, man of the people.

As you can likely imagine this did not impress the citizens. However, I knew that with just a little more time I could end this crisis, get my finances back in the black, and everything would be hunky-dory again. The debt was decreasing month by month, and so long as I didn’t look at what my citizens were thinking I’d probably even be able to sleep.

An uprising in waiting
What's even worse is, she's 14 years old.

The next year the little rat-bastards wanted an election again. I’ll be honest with you, by this point the little turds were starting to piss me off. Always demanding, whinging and complaining but because of their stupid free will the stupid peasant tossers wouldn’t walk to the other edge of the island and build me stuff without being paid – even though that logging camp and dock would turn out to be the key to saving the island financially.

By now I’d reached breaking point with them, but I daren’t upset them any further; I had a funny feeling revolt was on the cards. As such I allowed the election to run, and it was announced that my opponent in the election would be a local priest; well-educated and obviously carrying the religious voterbase straight off the bat. The whole election year I fought to fix my economy – the aforementioned logging export operation completed early in that year and this quickly began generating serious amounts of money; we were soon back into the positive figures and work quickly began on another LEO on the opposite side of the island.

The Tropico equivalent of an out-of-town business park
A seaside logging camp, yesterday. Note the nearby Tenement, making this a 'luxury' area.

With the money flowing in, over the course of the election year I managed to win back a large chunk of my people – even the ones who didn’t like me respected me for fixing their country, and wages were soon respectable once more. However, the voter graphs still looked shaky…

So I had the priest killed. He vanished one evening, and all reports of his body being dredged up by one of my fishing boats were quickly covered up by the island’s military. It’s unfortunate because, looking at the numbers, I probably would have won the election anyway. I convince myself that I did it so that the island wouldn’t become trapped under the leaden weight of religious dogma, but the truth is I wanted the glory and the adoration for myself.

Playing Tropico is like holding a mirror to your soul. It lets you see the sort of person you would be if you were put in power, and it turns out that I would become a totalitarian prick of a dictator. When the military threaten to violently rebel, what do I do? I simply fire them and make their jobs obsolete. I deliberately don’t build schools because educated people don’t want to work in the lucrative tobacco farming, cattle herding and logging trades, and I routinely make jobs disappear in order to force people who live on my island to work miles away from where they live, or move into poor quality housing whilst the work they do keeps my country afloat and my Swiss bank account nice and fat. I am a terrible, terrible cunt, and the game served to remind me of this.

During the great recession of the seventies I happened to click on one of my citizens and examine some of his stats. He was jobless and lived on his own in a shack behind the power station. His thoughts were all to do with a mysterious cough that he had and how he had no work. This made me feel bad enough but, as I absorbed this information, at the age of 36 Frank Castro dropped dead in the street from emphysema.

I was fucking mortified. Each resident of your island has a name, a personality, hopes and dreams, and spending a minute or two to get to know them can be really quite insightful, funny or, in some cases, harrowing. I was responsible for the awful life this man had led, and I was responsible for the corpse now lying in the July sun outside the new hotel I had built.

What kind of money-grabbing heartless shitbag was I? I saved the map and quickly shut it down; I was going to make amends.

New map, victory condition: Happiness.

In-game every island is called Tropico, but I can tell you now: to me this island is called Castro.





21 responses to “Power Corrupts: Tales of an RTS Tyrant”

  1. Dylan Avatar

    Great review.

    I hope that when you felt the requisite amount of satisfaction and joy when you crafted the term 'looks like a ghost trapped in a sausage' for George Osbourne.

    1. spann87 Avatar

      Not as much as when I described Robbie Williams as being "Like someone farted into a sack of wet sand".

      1. badgercommander Avatar

        Tropico 4 was relased on X360 yesterday and I was sorely tempted to pick it up. This and Saints Row the Third are almost making break my resolve not to spend more money on games.

  2. BeamSplashX Avatar

    I'm glad you at least decided to start over and stick with your principles. I can imagine tons of people letting themselves off the hook by saying "This must be what it takes to run a country. I guess David Cameron really IS the man for the job."

    1. badgercommander Avatar

      At least David Cameron never killed a priest, or didn't he?

      1. @cs87 Avatar

        Well he is is a lizard.

        On that note, I do find Charlie Brooker's going on and on about that a little boring.

    2. Josh W Avatar
      Josh W

      Shall I tell you the terrible irony? David Cameron's stated opinions are that we should aim for gross national happyness and that every government action should increase people's power to do good for their communities.

      He want's everyone to be happy too. He just has some slightly strange plans about how to do it…

  3. ShaunCG Avatar

    Lovely piece, this. My only time with the Tropico series is about 50 hours with the 3rd installment. From what I've read on Tropico fan forums, the first two games are the deeper games which actually force you to make these sort of nasty decisions with serious human costs. Tropico 3… well, it was very rare that I had to do anything that fell short of benevolence. I routinely held elections, never had anyone killed, the happiness/health/life expectancy/wealth etc. generally continually ticked upwards. The point has been argued re. Tropico 3 (and 4) that they are more characterful city-builders than banana republic despot simulators.

    Anyway, I will waffle on about Tropico 3 a lot more when I get to writing about it. In the meantime, this was a lot of fun to read (if a little dark) and has gotten my Tropical fires stoked once more…

  4. badgercommander Avatar

    A brain explosion of AWESOME

    1. @cs87 Avatar

      Or at least something similar to that, yes.

  5. […] "Power Corrupts: Tale of an RTS Tyrant" by Chris Spann, Arcadian Rhythms, 14 October. This is brilliant: what a game of Tropico can tell you about the age of austerity. Of course my citizens started to resent me; I’d resent me too if I did that to me. The problem was, though, I was only doing it to try to help them: the more money I recouped from them, the more I could spend on new ways of making them money, better healthcare, new entertainment… but the stupid little peasant bastards didn’t fucking understand, and I found myself shouting this loudly at my laptop. […]

  6. […] Rhythms has been playing Tropico with a view to illustrating some stuff about UK politics, which is an interesting ambition. In the […]

  7. John Brindle Avatar

    Greetings and high regards, Grand President-In-Chief El Spann. Love the article. But do these games truly hold a mirror to your soul? Or do they offer systems which incentivise certain methods over others? In videogames, the relationship between cause and effect is usually much clearer than in the real life, the calculus of possibility cleaner. It is far more possible to say "ah, well, if I do this, it'll suppress dissent and rejuvenate the economy", because generally speaking the stats can tell you whether it will or not. Such matters are unclear in real policy and dictators are forced to rely on their moral compasses and sanity – or, in both cases, their lack thereof. Hence the UK's current government cutting and cutting under the mistaken impression that it will all work out in the end. In your game, you made a decision based on sacrifice and necessity which, while valid, had awful consequences for individuals. IRL, the government is making a decision based on sacrifice and necessity where necessity has not been proved, and where all the evidence points to the fact that, whatever we sacrifice, it will be for no good reason and no positive effect.

    Of course this is all moot because the Coalition (imo) is NOT governing from a balance sheet. They ARE considering people – it's just they're only considering a very small and very influential group of people. Rabble, rabble. POLITICS.

    1. @cs87 Avatar

      I suppose the point is this; it is just a system, a set of numbers to manipulate. However, the game does an admirable job of making each inhabitant of your island feel like a real person, and my point is that it is very esy to become inhumanised when you're in charge of something like this.

      Consider our national budget: That's a very simple system: Money in > Money out = Success, and one that the Coalition seem eager to put in place, regardless of the immediate happiness of the people.

      The second point I wanted to make (Which in hindsight I didn't do too well) is that as a citizen it's sometimes difficult to forget that there ARE people out there with more information on the current situation than you, and they might be actually trying to help, in their own way.

      However, then I'd have to call it "Sympathy for David Cameron", and I'm not a cunt.

  8. Buzko Avatar

    Also, Emperor’s New Groove is awesome. “Why do we even have that lever?”

    1. @cs87 Avatar

      It is, isn't it? Kronk's New Groove isn't bad either, although it's nowhere near as good as the original.

  9. Malibu Stacey Avatar

    Which version of Tropico is this article about? I've got Tropico 3 plus the expansion on my Steam account (picked up during a sale & not played as yet) & might give them a whirl over the Christmas/New Year Holiday period as this sounds lots of fun.

    1. badgercommander Avatar

      Hello Malibu Stacey, thanks for reading Arcadian stuff! I think Mr Spann was playing Tropico 4, this may or may not make a difference. I have heard that 3 and 4 are very similar.

      1. ShaunCG Avatar

        I believe this is about the first Tropico – going from the screenshots at any rate!

        I may publish something about Tropico 3 in the coming weeks or months, and can confirm that it is excellent fun.

        1. badgercommander Avatar

          I fail.

    2. @cs87 Avatar

      I can indeed confirm that this is the original Tropico.

      I've heard Tropico 3 is basically a 3D remake of the first, so it should be quality.