Kill Your Starry-Eyed Romanticism in Real Time With Democracy 3

Democracy 3

Years ago, I used to live with a claims investigator working with the DHS. A frail, shrewd man with bottlecap lenses and multiple thousand dollar suits, he spent most nights jumping through verbal hoops over his eventual rise to elected office. “Senator,” he used to say, imported cigar hanging from his bottom lip as the rest of us marathoned Viva Piñata. “I’ll be a senator. Then things will really change around here.” We’d drink gin on the balcony and look out over the city’s dotted lights, singing along to Laura Marling, even though no one knew the words but me.

The years were not kind to him.

The DHS claims department operates like an annoyed school marm, taking insurance companies to court over their constant and aggressive challenges to payouts for low income families. My friend had a particular beef with Allstate, a company that seemed to have a strong dislike for lower-middle income Hispanic women.

“You’re in bloody, poop-covered hands with Allstate,” he’d scowl, fixing ever-stronger gin mixers as the days pushed him through blankets of bureaucratic tape and the kind of cynical stonewalling rarely seen outside Tom Clancy novels.

Democracy 3

His pay didn’t increase. His position didn’t improve. Brown-nosing colleagues claimed many of the jobs above him as he worked to ensure people with insurance weren’t screwed out of money that would keep them alive. Many nights, he returned from work with long tear stains across his face, having spent the night weeping in a broom closet. The drinks got stronger, the hours more harsh. He didn’t talk about his work any more, and we didn’t sing on the balcony.

I haven’t heard much since then. We left on poor terms, and his supposedly meteoric rise to the senate has been forestalled by a deep resentment of the way government actually works. Maybe I’ll see him at the capital one day. Maybe I won’t. But I do know that if he gets there, he’ll be a very different person than when he started.


“One complaint is that it’s a little confusing to new players, but the shocking revelation that you can alter existing legislation from corresponding buttons on the main screen makes everything much, much smoother going forward.”


I tell this story because it’s a good parallel with Democracy 3. The game itself is amazing, so that’s not what I’m talking about. It’s the feeling it evokes in the player as, one by one, your idealistic dashes towards some sort of utopian super-society are brutally murdered before your eyes. Unpopular bills with huge social benefits are demonized by an angry media, pissing off huge swaths of the population when they pass. Popular bills that actively erode society remain on the books because of nebulous, poorly explained reasons. Cabinet members turn against you. Radicals try to assassinate you. And everywhere you look, a looming multi-billion dollar debt lurches forward like the Frankenstein of piecemeal borrowing. Society doesn’t like you. It doesn’t want you. And yet here you are, ready to break the status quo.

Get your pen ready. This is gonna suck.

Democracy 3

Created by Positech, Democracy 3 follows in the illustrious line of governance simulators by throwing you into the hot seat of a country of your choice. You inherit the country’s real problems (Canada has a crippling alcoholism epidemic, while the US is bitterly divided on nearly every issue) and are forced to lead it into whatever future you see fit (or at least until your term runs out). You are awarded with a cabinet, whatever quarterly spending surplus you have left over and the vision to create a paradise that might range from deeply religious to overwhelmingly socialist. The choices are yours, but on the way, you’ll find that enacting those plans will piss off nearly everyone.

The UI is fairly intuitive once you get used to it. One complaint is that it’s a little confusing to new players, but the shocking revelation that you can alter existing legislation from corresponding buttons on the main screen makes everything much, much smoother going forward. Menus will show you information ranging from current GDP versus spending, popularity polls and at-will census groups on the current state of the government, as well as risk assessment about the various extremist organizations gunning for your junk. It’s politico’s dream come true, and a good barometer for how fucked you are at any given moment. And you will be fucked.


“Positech has made, I believe, one of the fullest real-world governance simulation games ever conceived. It’s engaging, it’s self-aware, and, at times, it’s funnier than anyone might have expected”


I keep bringing that up because you get about twenty turns before the election. Inevitably the first few are easy; with a small surplus and some decent political capital from the election, you can push through a small number of highly popular bills without much trouble. Then something goes wrong. Maybe the market takes a freak downturn, or in my case, an oil pipeline was bombed. The GDP sinks like a stone, and suddenly, you’re pulling a 3.8 billion dollar quarterly deficit on top of a 1.2 trillion dollar debt. Maybe your dream legislation leads to the birth of a huge criminal underworld.

Maybe all that surveillance technology creates a rebellion amongst the country’s youth. Maybe a foreign diplomat with a shaky human rights record wants to gladhand, and your decision to see him creates a rift amongst your base. Suddenly, your political capital craps out, and you can barely pass a popular luxury gods tax, much less a unified public transportation network. That’s the thing about politics: sooner or later, it all goes to hell.

Democracy 3

Getting over that hump is a huge part of the game. You need to get past your own prejudices and work to make the country solvent, not to mention competitive as a global marketplace, in order to keep the thing alive. Your initial stumbling may even lead to years of recession or a flood of cheap import goods from other countries that drains the income of your people. Bouncing back from that while remaining popular is a huge undertaking, especially if you plan on enacting divisive, unpopular policies. It may be boring to some, but this is a fascinating, even enthralling scenario for the more politically minded. Do you go for the nanny state? Or keep a spy network operational while dialling back the armed forces? Maybe enact community policing to placate the liberal base, but tighten immigration to please the conservatives. Who knows? Not you, probably.

Then the election rolls around and you get to see just how much everyone hates you (or, in the case of my Cool Dudes Party, loves you). A successful win brings in even more political capital and a slight boost to the GDP. But can you maintain it? Can you balance the budget? And how long can you hold onto the seat of power?

I am a political theorist. It says so on my degree (important: I did more drugs in the woods than work on that degree). As such, it would be remiss of me not to wholeheartedly recommend Democracy 3 as Positech has made, I believe, one of the fullest real-world governance simulation games ever conceived. It’s engaging, it’s self-aware, and, at times, it’s funnier than anyone might have expected, bringing a gorgeous interface together with some enlightening statistical data on how different aspects of a country can affect the others. Just keep in mind that, like my friend before you, it will crush the life out of your dreams for a Liberal Eden. With bloody, poop-covered hands.