Let me tell you, no one is a biglier Civilization player than me. People always say to me – they say, Sarah, you are the most terrific Civilization player, the best. Some haters have said that this is not true and that Sarah is a very bad Civilization player but let me tell you, that is FAKE NEWS. FAKE NEWS, PEOPLE. We’re going to Make Civilization Great Again. Say it with me. MAKE CIVILIZATION GREAT AGAIN. We’re going to get rid of all those crooked politicians like Montezuma and Catherine de Medici (very nasty woman). We’re going to put the bigliest and most smart man of all in charge. We’re going to play Civilization as Donald Trump.
I am not a real gamer. I’m just putting that out there now, in the spirit of Fat Amy, to spare anyone the trouble of investigating whether I am in fact a real gamer. I’m not. Not that I imagine those investigations would be especially time-consuming: as I understand it, the conjunction of controller and vagina is usually considered sufficient to make the diagnosis, leading to no end of false positives in the detection of not-real gamers. But in this case, it’s true. I’m as not-real as they come.
Crafting is boring. Sandboxes are tediously over-large. Put me in a FPS and I’m more likely to bumble into a corner aiming at my own feet than I am to score a headshot. Or an anything shot. The idea of these things – yes, I love the idea of these things. I think about the infinite, unscrolling worlds of No Man’s Sky and a part of my heart leaps as if I was a real explorer paused on the cusp of the unknown. I imagine delving far into a BioWare game and becoming one of those people who speaks with true affection about the alien lover whose breasts I glimpsed and heart I shattered in the deepest outposts of the galaxy.
Medicine is broken. “Drugs are tested by people who manufacture them, in poorly designed studies, on hopelessly small numbers of weird, unrepresentative patients, and analysed using techniques which are flawed by design, in such a way that they exaggerate the benefits of treatments. Unsurprisingly, these trials tend to produce results that favour the manufacturer,” says Ben Goldacre in his book Bad Pharma. He also says quite a bit more beside, because medicine really is very broken. This is 1) terrible, because all of us rely on medicine at one time or another and have a basic faith in the white-coated ministers who provide it, and 2) a marvellous opportunity to make an extremely evil strategy game.
It’s like having one last short to get your head straight before you leave the bar, or necking an espresso to bring you down as you head up for bed. It makes no sense, and it makes you feel horrible. Stardew Valley is a PC game that repeatedly needles you about how detached you are from the natural world and how soul-voiding it is to live your life through a screen. “There will come a time when you feel crushed by modern life and your bright spirit will fade before a growing emptiness,” says your bed-ridden grandad, stretching his hand towards you with a serious-looking envelope. Cut to: your character, skivvying miserably at a computer for the oppressively cheerful Joja corporation. Cut to: my heart withering in ashy despair as I realise I too am hunched over a screen.
But the answer to your wage-slave woes are right there in that letter from gramps. In it, your grandfather gives you his old farm in Stardew Valley. Of course, it needs a bit of work. Actually, it needs a lot of work. You are deposited in an overgrown shrubbery littered with rocks and bits of wood, and given a handful of tools to get started with. Chop down trees, break rocks, till soil, repeat. The cheery 8-bit look with searingly bright colours cannot hide the fact that you’ve been dropped into a world of chores. Chop, break, till. Forage as you go, selling your finds for in-game cash. Buy seeds. Chop, break, till. Plant your seeds and water them. Chop, break, till, water.