The World Game of Economics. Copyright 1999 by Ronald W. Schuelke.
reviewed by Roy Langston
World Economics Game Reinforces 'Dismal Science' EpithetThough Ronald Schuelke markets his World Economics Game CD-ROM primarily as an aid to teaching macroeconomic principles, the instructions optimistically insist, "you will have fun playing this game." The WEG is a reasonably accurate though simplified representation of the World According to Mainstream Macroeconomists. But for anyone with economic insight even slightly deeper than the typical columnist, talking head, or government advisor, it is unlikely to provide much in the way of either education or entertainment.
Each player in the WEG acts as economic advisor to a national government. The object of the game is to get your country to the winning score (default = 100) first, by selecting appropriate economic policies in response to external events and the other players' decisions. Computer-run countries are all advised by one Prof. N.D. Cator, and like most top government advisors, he is pretty easy to out-think (the resemblance to actual persons both living and dead may not be coincidental). Despite the large chance element in the game, your reviewer was able to beat Dr. Cator consistently one on one, and most of the time at two against one.
The instructions that come with the game are concise and accurate, though not very inviting. Play begins with selection of 2-7 countries to be played by human or computer (pick from 50: except for their names and flags, they're all the same to the game, from Afghanistan to Zambia). Doing the tutorial and reading the Features and Strategy files before playing may help, but will not be necessary for many users.
A country's economy is represented by the position of its flag on a 17x17 grid that shows growth on the horizontal axis and inflation on the vertical axis. The numbers on the grid squares represent the desirability of each situation in the game's very limited universe of economic possibilities. Your score for each turn is the number on the square your flag occupies after you implement your policy choices, from plus 15 in the center to minus 12 in the corners.
Each turn, the Economic Indicator shows the overall direction of your country's economy and moves it a random number of squares in that direction. It is the strongest force in the game, and you will select most of your policies to try to overcome its effects. Then a Current Event moves your flag in a direction explained in a sidebar, often with a small accompanying graphic showing the shifts in aggregate supply and demand curves the event produced. Finally you choose your country's economic policies: no more than one from each of four sets, represented by screen buttons of four different colors. These buttons are in eight groups of three around the playing grid, clearly indicating the direction (but not the distance) each policy choice will move your flag. The only interesting tactical opportunities concern trade policy, which allows you to move one other country in the opposite direction from your own.
Surprisingly, the Economic Indicator and Current Event are both random, and completely unaffected by your previous policy choices. This may reflect mainstream macroeconomic theory, which does not consider the underlying causes of most of the events it purports to illuminate (and considers Keynes's dictum, "In the long run we are all dead," the acme of economic sagacity). It is also consistent with the WEG's essential weakness as both a game and an economic simulation: superficiality. The game is devoid of strategy -- quite a letdown after the SimCity and Civilization games, or for that matter almost any non-arcade computer game since Zork. Each policy choice affects your country's economy for exactly one turn, and nothing you do has any effect at all beyond your next turn, when your monetary policy takes effect.
The WEG's representation of policy alternatives is similarly shallow. For example, it mirrors the mainstream macroeconomics view that because all taxes must ultimately come out of production they must, like income and sales taxes, also be a burden on production. As in the SimCity games, there is no provision for taxes such as land value taxes which stimulate growth by reducing plutism (the private appropriation of publicly created asset values).
Indeed, the tax policy buttons affect the economy strictly in one dimension: higher taxes, less growth; lower taxes, more growth. At least in the SimCity series of economic simulation games, there is a fairly good reason why players cannot tax land value and improvement value separately: they would quickly learn to raise all their civic revenue from land value taxation alone, rendering the option superfluous. But the lack of growth-enhancing tax policy options in the WEG is less understandable. Perhaps the game's author is unaware that such fiscal alternatives exist?
Despite the instruction file's confident assurances, your reviewer experienced no detectable fun playing the World Economics Game. Perhaps this resulted from the lack of interesting sounds and animations, which limits the game to just 17.7 Mb, less than 3% of the capacity of the standard CD-ROM it comes on. Though it installed and ran, the game also had problems loading files from the CD-ROM on both a 300 MHz AMD K6-2 machine running Windows 98, and a Pentium 120 running Windows 95. This file-handling fault even produced an unrecoverable crash on the first attempt to open the Strategy file.
Aside from the drab screen look and non-intuitive play system, the WEG's most annoying design oversight is the lack of a neutral background or dissolve for the screen redraws. A few times each turn, you get a jarring flash of your desktop while the redraw is processed. Redraws were marginally faster on the 300 MHz machine, but this game is so simple that processing power is not an issue. No minimum system requirements are listed, and presumably any system that can read a CD-ROM and run Windows can easily handle the WEG.
Overall, the World Economics Game seems an ideal way of getting high school students used to the unreality, superficiality and ineffectuality of mainstream macroeconomics. For a more informative and enjoyable introduction to the field, Henry Hazlitt's 'Economics in One Lesson' is probably still best. And for immeasurably more interesting challenges in strategy, tactics, optimization and problem solving, try Starcraft. Or SimCity 3000, or Civilization II, or...
You can find out more at the World Game of Economics web site at http://www.worldgameofeconomics.com/
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