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Playing God

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9th Sep 2009
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What skills can be learnt from strategy ‘god’ computer games?  Technology correspondent (and avid gamer) Jon Wilcox limbers up his thumbs.

Once the preserve of teenagers, computer games are now one of the most lucrative entertainment sectors in today’s world.  Marketing for the latest Wii, Xbox 360, or PlayStation 3 games can rival the top Hollywood blockbuster, with the most popular titles selling many millions of units.  However, for every Call of Duty, Super Mario, and Tomb Raider, there are almost as many counter-culture strategy games released, giving players the power of a god, a tycoon, or city planner.

Such simulations (or ‘sims’) have proved popular for over twenty years, from early attempts at the start of 1980s to the modern day, where football management sims like Championship Manager 2010 provide players with a highly immersive strategic experience.

Requiring the development and execution of plans and strategies, the games in the genre are some of the most cerebral around, and have long been a firm favourite for armchair generals and megalomaniacs alike!  Certainly some of the most engaging ways to experience the cut and thrust of economics and tactical planning, we’d certainly recommend you try them out. Below are some of our favourites:

SimCity

First appearing way back in 1989, SimCity thrust players into the role of a city planner and mayor, as the burgeoning town evolves into a thriving metropolis over decades.  Besides initial decisions on where to develop the industrial and residential areas of the town, players also had to contend with a range of natural and manmade disasters, from tornados to pollution. Coupled with the need to balance the city books and the opinions of their citizens, players certainly found a challenge to overcome.

SimCity spawned increasingly more complex sequels and spin-offs, including SimCity 4 in 2003, and SimCity DS in 2007.  A version of 1999’s SimCity 3000 has even launched on the iPhone.

Football Manager/Championship Manager

Arguably one of the most compelling computer games franchises in history, Championship Manager and Football Manager rule the roost in the football management simulators.  In these long-running series, players are anointed the latest Fergies, Benitezs, and Wengers, and are subsequently tasked with objectives from avoiding relegation to winning the Champions League.

Despite being graphically underwhelming (the games are more reliant on their massive databases to give players their kicks), the genre sells millions of units every year – just as the football season gets underway.

The football management genre gives players an insight into forecasting potential superstars of the future, transfer negotiations, and team selection, skills that can no doubt be transferred into their real working lives too!

Civilization

One of the behemoths of the PC strategy world, Sid Meier’s Civilization (Civ) franchise allows players to change the course of history over thousands of years.  Offering skills in diplomacy, development, road building and irrigation, and exploration, the 18-year old franchise continues to be popular amongst its fans.

The ability to forward plan has always proved an important skill for Civ players to learn, with a comprehensive technology tree taking their civilizations from the dawn of history (and the technologies of the alphabet and the wheel) to the far future (via the invention of the printing press, the computer, and space flight).

Civilization has – like many on our list – a whole host of sequels, spin-offs, and remakes, and is still available on many of the PC and console platforms today, including a commute-friendly version on Nintendo DS.

Populous

The original so-called ‘god game’, Populous made players the omnipotent deity of an early tribe.  The aim was simple enough: developer and nurture your followers so they can overcome their rivals (supported by their own god).

The most original aspect of the game was the ability for players to conjure up disasters against the rival tribe and manipulate the shape of the world itself.  A sequel, Populous II, developed the idea further, against a backdrop of Greek mythology.

Populous has since been remade for Nintendo’s DS (making it perfect for those long train journeys into work). As for the reason for its inclusion on our list: haven’t we all wanted to play a little god in our working lives?

Capitalism

If the likes of city management or playing god doesn’t quite sound like your cup of tea, then perhaps aging franchise Capitalism is the answer.  Offering the most in-depth business simulation experience in a computer game, Capitalism and its 2001 follow-up (imaginatively titled ‘Capitalism II’), covers most aspects of running a successful business including marketing, and retailing products.

Available as part of a budget line of PC games, Capitalism II in particular should be of interest for business owners looking for a virtual busman’s holiday.

Are you a lover of simulations games? What are your favourites and how have they helped take your professional skills forward? Send your recommendations to our technology team, and we’ll feature the most popular in a future feature.

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