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God Game

Entry updated 9 April 2015. Tagged: Game, Theme.

Term used to describe a form of Videogame in which the player has the powers of an actual or metaphorical god, as well as some of the limitations attributed to such entities by deist religions. A God Game will typically contain a simulation of a world, a nation or (more prosaically) a business, inhabited by mortals (or employees) conducting their own independent lives. The player is given specific powers – for example, the ability to cause divine earthquakes or to increase salaries – with which they can manipulate the scenario, and goals to achieve. In contrast to the similar 4X form (see 4X Games), the player's abilities will generally not include the power to order their mortals to do whatever is necessary; instead, success must be achieved indirectly, by influencing the behaviour of the simulated population. Another related form is that of the social simulation in which no goals are specified, making it more of a toy than a game; this is considered under Toy Games. Many members of the school can also be categorized as "Construction and Management Simulations", a generic term used to denote games dealing with the simulation of business activities in the modern world. The God Game proper, however, has historically been dominated by works created by developers associated with the UK designer Peter Molyneux, many of which are fantasy.

Several early Videogames could be regarded as precursors of the God Game, including The Sumer Game (1969 Mainframe; 1978 rev vt Hamurabi, AppleII, PET, TRS80, Others) designed by Richard Merrill, a text-based simulation of life in ancient Mesopotamia, and Utopia (1981 Mattel Electronics, Intellivision) designed by Don Daglow, in which two players compete to build a better society on their own island than their opponent can on theirs. Science-fictional descendants of The Sumer Game include Lost Colony (1981 Acorn Software, Atari8, PCBoot, TRS80) designed by David Feitelberg, in which the player must ensure the survival of a newly abandoned extraterrestrial colony. The first clear example of the God Game form, however, is Populous (1989 Bullfrog, Amiga, AtariST, DOS; 1990 MegaDrive, SNES; 1991 MasterSystem, PCEngine) designed by Peter Molyneux, in which the player is a literal god, whose goal is to cause their worshippers to go forth and multiply faster than those of their computer-controlled opponent. As is conventional for games of this type, the player views events from a distant, elevated perspective. Other significant examples include Theme Park (1994 Bullfrog, 3DO, Amiga, DOS, Mac; 1995 CD32, Jaguar, MegaCD, MegaDrive, PS1, Saturn, SNES; 2007 NDS) designed by Peter Molyneux, Demis Hassabis, in which the player must manage an amusement park, Dungeon Keeper (1997 Bullfrog, DOS, Win) designed by Peter Molyneux, where the player is the Dark Lord of a fantasy dungeon closely resembling those seen in early Role Playing Games, and Black & White (2001 Lionhead, Win; 2002 Mac) designed by Peter Molyneux. Black & White is one of the more impressive games in the form to date; the player, in the role of a god, must attempt to convert ordinary villagers into worshippers, but can choose to be good, evil, or somewhere in between. Arguably, however, the sequel – Black & White 2 (2005 Lionhead, Win) designed by Peter Molyneux, Ronald Millar – offers a more playable approach to the same concept. Amongst the rare sf examples are the UK created Startopia (2001) and Evil Genius (2004), as well as the less-well-received US game Outpost (1994 Sierra On-Line, Mac, Win) designed by Bruce Balfour, in which the player must manage the colonization of a new world after the destruction of Earth. While God Games are relatively rare, the form remains commercially and artistically significant, a point amply demonstrated by Spore (2008). [NT]

see also: Godgame.

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