Speculating Capitalist Realism

Capitalist Realism is the name of a rather new book by Mark Fisher, author of the K-Punk blog. Between the book’s quite stylish covers and in a relatively small number of pages Fisher outlines the pervasive, totalising power of capitalist realism, a political economy that says “Capitalism may not be the best, but there’s nothing better”. Built into the system is an inherent anti-capitalism that on-the-ground, that is, where it affects real people, makes the acknowledgment that “yeah, capitalism causes lots of problems but there’s nothing we can do about it”. Accordingly, that has become a realistic fact-of-life and no one is to blame since, after all, “Who really is it that actually wants poverty?”

Capitalist realism’s decentered existence (there is no-one to blame when it fucks up) deflects the issue from one of systemic failures and onto issues of personal responsibility; onto “What we can practically do”. It’s only suggestion is that if we bought the right products, like Bono’s product Red brand, then we could solve the world’s problems. It’s not capitalism’s fault that we’re so selfish!

In his final two chapters, Fisher points out that the political left needs to undertake a massive re-imagining or reinvention of a “collective will” to replace the methodological individualism that is a cornerstone of Capital with a big C. One of capitalist realism’s great successes has been in making the “alternatives” (note the deliberate use of scare quotes) appear untenable and unworkable, rather than replacing capitalism with a system that actually works, the end result being the current situation where we have a system that doesn’t work but we all have to pretend that it does.

Cynicism and pragmatism are the abiding dispositions of capitalist realism because it has embedded itself in our imaginations as the new natural order – as just the way things have to be done now. Fisher points to Lacanian psychoanalysis’s principal of “The Real” which “is not synonymous with reality” for our first warning that this is not the case. When we protest the failures and excesses of capitalism, we acknowledge the real-existing-reality and it’s incongruity with the vision of The Real as presented by capitalist realism. But for ‘the system’ to work, someone (or something) has to believe in its convenient fiction, and this is what Fischer describes as the big Other (another Lacanian term).

About a third to half-way into reading Mark Fishers incredibly thought provoking and quite punchy little book, I felt myself getting more and more depressed by capitalist realism’s pervasive irresistibility and it’s accepted position as natural or inevitable. The inability to resist capitalist realism’s seduction is a further amplifying affect, and I began to spiral into a kind of despair that will be familiar to anyone who has ever seriously faced the impossibility of the end of their own existence. To escape the spiral of despair, I got to thinking about alternatives, of which Fisher seems to only hint at in his final two chapters.

A lot of the books I’ve been reading lately about culture and technological change talk about artists and artisans pioneering ideas before philosophers come in to neatly colonise the ground they’ve ploughed with their tools (and that’s not meant as a criticism of philosophers). As a bit of a self-styled artist, working primarily in the medium of words, I thought I’d employ a little bit of bricolage as an attempt at a new strategy to figure out the name for an alternative to replace/supersede/expose capitalist realism before actually nailing out what it will actually do. So here are a few quick ideas and notes on them:

– Capitalist Absurdism
In this absurd political economy we would value (perhaps value is not the right terms here for it carries connotations of money) the most outrageous, the most provocative and the most absurd. This could even be a part-time political economy where we occasionally throw everything up in the air and go “to hell with it all”. While there is no doubt this political economy contains the potential for catastrophe, so does capitalism so we’re about even.

– Equality-nomics
Perhaps in this economy we could banish the profit motive and instil a rigid commitment to equality of income. No one earns any profit from their work above and beyond an arbitrarily decided amount which everyone everywhere receives equally. Neoliberal economists would most shrilly decry; “But no one would have any motivation to do anything!” to which we reply, “You don’t even believe your own axioms about the relationship between money and motivation, so why should we?”

This political economy has the added benefit of disestablishing the protestant work ethic which has proven so exceptionally and comprehensively destructive to individuals, families and communities for at least the past hundred years or so. If Art for Arts sake was the slogan of Modernity, Work for Works sake is certainly capitalist realisms. The social stigmatization of the unemployed and fetishisation of the figure of the “dole bludger” in Australian society is proof enough of this. While the unemployed get railed against for being freeloaders, not once do the railer’s themselves stop to consider whether the unemployed should participate in an economy that by all accounts is environmentally unsustainable (let alone whether they could – I would have thought that the dream of employment for all should have been recognised as such long, long ago).

– Dada Capitalism

Political economy for its own sake. Despite the fact that I called out ‘Work for Works sake’ earlier, this is perhaps the one I’d be most interested and perhaps the one with the most potential for implementation (not least of all by artists). Self-organising communities of artists could resolve to act (purchase?) based on Dadist ideals of being “anti-war… anti-bourgeois and anarchistic in nature.” If you’re noticing a trend in that these are all starting to look a bit the same, you’re right, and that perhaps speaks to my lack of imagination. Dada capitalism may also look quite similar to the next political economy called…

– Capitalist Nihilism
Think Fight Club and destroying or undermining all the capital you can possibly get your hands on – think also of The KLF burning £1m in the 1980’s, itself perhaps the most grand send off for the pre-neoliberal era imaginable.

– Capitalist Denialism
Think refusing to acknowledge the existence of money and living as such. Granted, capitalist realists will say “you won’t get far living like that!” but that close-minded inability to even consider alternatives to capitalism, that acknowledgment that it’s “the only game in town” is precisely what I’m trying to transcend. In actual fact, there is a man in the UK who has lived most excellently for a year without having anything to do with money.

And before you go thinking (and I know you’re thinking it, because I am too – it’s symptomatic of our conditioning to capitalist realism that we self censor like this) “none of this is realistic” or “we couldn’t all live like that” or any number of other thoughts about the relative plausibility of these or other political economic alternatives – just stop and realise that you’ve probably become complicit in capitalist realism.

We can un-think these kinds of thoughts, we can transcend the tendency to put so much stock in them that we fear to even consider the possibility of alternatives to capitalism. We just need to have a little bit of faith and imagination.

On Formspring

I joined Formspring to examine the practices and implications of a particular social technology, as it falls generally inside the area of study I am focussing on with my PhD. Formspring seemed like a good opportunity to practice analysing the socio-technical structures of a budding social network.

I tried to come to Formspring with as few prejudices as possible, or at least being as aware of the ones I possessed as much as could be. I initially considered Formspring a “fad” and my assessment of it has almost gone full circle. At least having tried it out I feel rather more justified about making the following assessment. As things stand, I find that as a piece of social technology it’s remarkably asocial, though not quite anti-social, and at least fails to promote social connections to the extent other social media has.

The first effect or change I noticed Formspring engendering in me was probably reasonably predictable, but the strength of it surprised me. Immediately after finishing up answering a bunch of the first questions I was posed by anonymous questioners I tabbed back to Facebook and noticed a status update about a friend stranded in a car-park in Penrith with a flat tyre.

The “answer questions” mindset stuck with me outside of the Formspring page, and I began to “answer” the non-question that was this friend’s status. My instant reaction short-circuited rational thinking, causing me to volunteer actual assistance which I would not have been so forthcoming with otherwise since I didn’t know this person exceptionally well. Lets just say that venturing out into the cold night stretches only so far for even my best friends… somehow I was still in “proffer information” mode and it was persisting beyond the Formspring site.

After typing my super-helpful comment where I offered to come help this (rather recently acquired friend) in his predicament, I checked myself. Did I really want to go help this person? It was cold and late. Realistically… no, probably not. Being in the Formspring mode made me at least temporarily more inclined to offer something. The first question raised by this is one of motive – if I was on autopilot was I even motivated by a selfless desire? (Whether that really makes a difference is an ontological debate we’re skip for now)

Certainly some have accused the motivation behind setting up a Formspring account to be one of ego. Simon Ferrari tweeted recently, “So yeah I know I always said I wouldn’t do Twitter, then caved. But I’m never gonna make a fucking Formspring. Seriously.” In a similar vein Michel McBride added comment, saying first “I always just saw it as an ego thing, like people with Twitter accounts who never respond to replies” and then clarifying by adding, “I mean formspring is ABOUT responding to people, but creating one in the first place is pure ego. Sometimes deserved, sometimes not”.

When people say that Formspring is ‘narcissistic’, I presume they’re often expressing doubt at the worth of having a service that allows people to ask you questions – surely if you have a burning desire to ask a question, you just ask someone. There’s nothing inherently narcissistic about being asked or answering a question. A bit of a stigma is attached to Formspring however (as demonstrate above) because using it requires the creation of an account, which seems to say something about the user when they join. That their opinion of themselves includes either, a) thinking that people might want to ask them questions and b) that their answers are worth reading or caring about.

One aspect of the service the importance of which often gets minimised, however, is the ability to ask anonymous questions. This feature needs to be underscored because of the impact it has on both the questioner and the answerer. Allowing for anonymous questions seems to have the main benefit of eliminating the sign-up barrier that would turn a lot of people away from asking a question. Anyone on the internet who knows the users account name can ask an anonymous question, provided that the user has agreed to allow for this.

For the person receiving the questions this adds a lot of confusion in question and answering. Interestingly, of all the questions I was asked on the first evening, only one was by a fellow Formspring user (and even she remained anonymous at first!), the rest were all anonymous (or other Formspring users asking anonymously).

Anonymity means the user has no way of knowing ‘who was who’ in current and previous questions. My natural tendency however, was to guess or infer who was behind each question and it influenced my answers each time. Furthermore, the anonymity fragments any conversation that may happen, and the lack of an ability to “comment” or reply to specific answers felt like a shortcoming. Somewhat interestingly, some of the other users (and I myself on one occasion) found ways around this inability – either through referring back to earlier questions in their answers, or by turning the act of asking a user a question into a comment on a previous answer. But unless a user is signed into their account and poses a question visibly then conversations get fragmented fast. Users answering questions may as well treat every question as though it were from a completely different person, but this goes against our natural instincts to guess who the anonymous person is.

The ability to ask anonymously makes the John Gabriel Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory only completely applicable to Formspring. The percentage of people receiving (and answering!!) rude and downright abusive questions was very close to 100. I asked a few inappropriate questions anonymously myself, just because I could. The seductive nature of anonymity is indeed a near irresistable force.

And lastly, the most importantly thing for anyone interested in the composition and make-up of Formspring to realise is that it rolls out a decidedly Socratic (or rhetorical) method of persuasion. The aforementioned inability to comment on an answer, which would turn it into a threaded discussion, means that a question is posed and the user is charged with answering it in a decidedly rhetorical manner while a near-silent audience looks on. The Socratic method has it’s pro’s and con’s, but it’s hardly the manner that I want to employ on a social network. As an aside, this exercise has actually been extremely valuable as it has led me to discover that I greatly prefer a dialectical method, involving a back and forth between parties in an attempt to reconcile differences of position and opinion.

It’s important to note that this Socratic method I’ve identified here is being employed by Formspring as a conscious and deliberate choice. Formspring as a piece of technology was designed and that design did not just fall from the heavens. It behoves us to examine and question both the implications and the validity of this approach. For me, and in light of Formpsring’s perceived role as a piece of social software, it meant an unwillingness to continue using the service, and I have since deactivated my account in response. As I said on twitter, I may not have been the first on the bandwagon, but I can still be one of the first off it.

Inconsolable Embarrassment

Embarrassment and regret, two closely related and often intertwined emotions, present a common theme associated with my videogame game console ownership. It started with the SEGA MegaDrive (SEGA Genesis to our North American readers) – a great game system. However I only ever owned three or four games for the console, and I was quite often quite bad at them and it was forever a source of frustration.

It was horribly embarrassing to a young self that I couldn’t even beat the first level of Jurassic Park if I played as Doctor Grant. Similarly with Sonic 3, having to rely on a friend who was leagues better at the game than me to even see beyond the second zone (the horrible underwater one where Sonic had to breathe bubbles of water) brought with it a real sense of inferiority and lack of skill.

Towards the end of primary school the PS1 came out. The blame for my fanatically covetous desire to own said console can largely be pinned on an extremely cool afterschool carer in his early 20’s who owned a Playstation and talked about it rapturously. This carer, who I think might have been called Geoff, was about the only person at the entire after-school centre who was nice to me, and so I, in my idolising of him, equally idolised his majestic class 1 laser device.

Back then I received a weekly allowance from my parents of about $2 a week. I still remember the absolute instant I realised I would have enough money to buy it that week. We were in the middle of renovations and I tallied up the sums on the top of a cardboard box full of stuff – somehow I’d managed to save up the $200 and so down I went to ‘The Games Wizards’ and bought my first Playstation, receiving along with it a Games Wizard Gold Card. I felt like such an adult, and I carried that card around in my wallet for years – long past the point where the store moved and was bought out by a rival chain.

Along with my first Playstation came a choice of one free game from a selection of largely B-Grade titles. My newly-impressed upon sense of maturity (I blame the Gold Card) made me look at the hordes of violent games and decide instead on the abominable title Hardcore 4×4, simply because I didn’t want my mum to be upset with my choice. I remember distinctly the feeling of wanting to be responsible in this decision.

Naturally given its dreadfulness, I took it home and the novelty of it carried the game for a long, long way further than its merits warranted. But eventually I realised that the game I had chosen was, frankly, a very bad choice. There were demo’s that came with the Playstation that were more fun than the game. I was embarrassed at this realisation, and ended up regretting it for quite some time. The lengthy process of saving up for a new game began.

Some time before I had saved up my $60, however, I recall my mum taking pity on me and my inability to enjoy my new console for longer than endurance allowed. I think the manically repetitive strains of the American sport-commentator style voiceover (“Hardcore!”), began to grate on her own nerves and so she took me to buy a new game.

We travelled back to The Games Wizards and they’d moved locations since I bought my Playstation – upscaled to larger premises, on the back of my hedonistic outlay of $200 no doubt. I perused their PS1 game selection and looked for titles familiar from playing a few demo discs that I’d picked up. My mum found up a game with a stark white cover. The title in capitals and cyan-green lettering was Final Fantasy VII. I looked at the back – it seemed lame and the main character in the pictures was evidently someone called ‘Mr Skull’ (Videogame marketing has come a long way). Clearly this was not going to be a serious game that embodied the entire potential inherent in this burgeoning medium. Instead I bought MediEvil, which I was also no good at, ending up replaying the first few levels I over and over. However it wasn’t till later that I really regretted this decision.

Weeks passed and time conspired to get me to one of my (rather few) friend’s houses for a sleepover. Morgan had an older brother, and the two of them shared a Playstation (when his brother wasn’t playing it he was playing Leisure Suit Larry on PC). On this particular sleepover Morgan showed Final Fantasy VII, telling me that it was unequivocally the greatest and most amazing game on the PS1. Even though the entire duration of my sleepover was spent watching Morgan play (yes, we were that kind of friends) I lapped it up, and tended to agree with his earlier assessment. I began to regret not getting the game when my mum offered to buy it for me.

For my penance I spent literally months juggling the desire to rent the game from the video store and sink a weekend into it and the desire to save my $2 a week to buy it outright. It didn’t help that renting the game cost more than a weeks worth of pocket money, setting me back at least two weeks each time. It wasn’t helped by the fact that I was also forever and ever becoming stuck on a certain screen in the Midgar slums.

This was how I spent countless hours with it – replaying the fantastic opening sequence until I reached the point where I got stuck and either kept running into random battles until I died or gave up. I asked Morgan for help – where was I meant to go on this particular screen? – but he was no help and found my inability to progress gleefully amusing in a schadenfreudian way. I was relatively unperturbed, mollified somewhat by how much enjoyment I got out of the opening section of the game, however a growing frustration and embarrassment at my inability to progress was developing. This was pre-internet days and I was completely alone in my helplessness.

Towards the end of my second or third rental of the game, I was once again engaged in the fruitless running around and around on the impassable screen, having by now sunk an easy 20 cumulative hours into FFVII. Somehow and quite magically, I fluked upon the path, realising that an object I had ignorantly been walking back and forth over this whole time was actually a ramp up and over, leading to the next screen. It was like the heavens opened, yet I was chagrined for having been stopped for so long by such an obvious and insignificant thing.

After that, my experience with Final Fantasy VII, and the following VIII were so overwhelmingly positive – informing so much of my early teenage years that it’s difficult to overstate their importance – that it gave me a fierce attachment to the Sony platform such that when I heard the PlayStation 2 was one the way I begged my parents for it with serious desperation. The release pricetag for the PS2 in Australia, however, was not a cent less than $800. I asked for it to be my combined Christmas and birthday present (being a January birth, I could do this) and they reluctantly agreed – on one condition. I was to devote myself to an hour of study every night during the school term. I thought about it, and agreed.

That PS2, which I still have to this day, was an amazing piece of hardware in it’s time, this goes without saying. However like any piece of console it needed equally as good games. This, then, was to be the Achilles heel of my PS2 experience – I never owned enough good, solid, time consuming games for it, and the minimal amount of use that the console saw was near-scandalous given its expense. I was furthermore shouldered with the burden of an hour of study every night (which, thankfully, my parents soon failed to enforce – yet it was a threat that hung over me, ever present for at least a year). Embarrassment and regret for my poor decisions and general naivety set in once more. For years afterward I couldn’t look at my PS2 as it gathered layer after layer of dust, without regretting my insistence on getting it at launch.

Next time: I talk about all the great experiences I’ve had with PC’s and Macintosh computers over the years and why I curiously can’t seem to regret anything to do with a computer.

3am

I woke up at 3am in a sweat; my mind flailing about in all directions – disconcertingly ungrounded. If there’s one sure fire way to ensure that I have nightmares, it’s to drift off to sleep with God on my mind.

Why was I thinking about God? I can’t pinpoint a particular catalyst for it – most likely it’s just what happens when I lie in bed late at night before going to sleep. When I stop thinking about all those things I think about when awake (and I’m always thinking when awake) I suppose my mind either has to do something to put that suddenly free capacity to use, or else it has the time to ‘see the big picture’ and hence drifts naturally towards questions of the eternal and of divinity.

The real issue, I think, that caused the nightmare, within which everyone I knew was aware of the secret thoughts in my head, was the sense of being under constant surveillance. I think it goes hand-in-hand with thinking too much about an omniscient and omnipresent God. It’s quite a totalising idea, that something can see and know everything you are thinking at any given time, and it’s almost certainly what primed me for my nightmare.

So as I slid down into sleep I was aware of my mind, my very thoughts, being under surveillance by an inescapable divine being. I’m casting this all in a very negative light but the point is that this is what I was thinking and feeling. But why?

I think it goes furthest back to the evangelical Christian conception of God that was, quite willingly, inculcated into me over a number of years through the church I attended. I would now reject a whole category of the assumptions and conclusions that organisation taught, for it generally reached it’s answers off the back of a very rigid reading (note – not an interpretation; The Bible doesn’t get interpreted it just gets ‘read’, quite a powerful discursive assertion right there) of The Bible as literally the whole, unproblematic Word of God.

Not only do I now feel like that is itself based on a lie of omission (Why is the history of the bible’s canonisation never taught outside of seminaries and bible colleges? How can such a fundamental text to the Christian faith not receive even this bare minimum of scrutiny by its adherents?) but perhaps more importantly I now feel that it has monumentally tainted my minds-eye image of God.

Clearly it’s a functionally impossibility to live your life as if entirely under divine surveillance – if it were religious leaders would probably never fall or fail in the ways that they so predictably do. Certainly the former senior pastor of the church I used to attend would never have had his affairs with secretaries and members of staff over a decade-and-a-half long period. He clearly wasn’t labouring under the impression of divine surveillance during those periods, and on that count can you blame him?

What does it do to the human mind to be aware of being watched 24/7? It seems oddly similar to Orwell’s Big Brother State in 1984 – and no, I don’t care how benevolent the observer(s) are, humans are not meant to live entirely in public. This issue has been highlighted recently by several developments in both the Facebook privacy changes and in the media more generally. It started with Facebook’s contentious privacy settings, and ended with David Campbell being stalked by the Channel 7 news team to a gay sexclub and forced into resignation. The two issues are causatively unrelated, but a common thread of being forced to reveal personal secrets, behaviours and desires to the public underruns both.

Airing David Campbell’s personal sexual preferences on national television, serving no public interest or relevance other than to his wife and immediate family, seemed at the time as though it were just a small part of a larger trend in the media to push everyone everywhere to ‘live in public’, i.e. living as though constantly under surveillance.

The second prong of the uneasiness that caused my nightmare was a sense of being judged by the divine observer. But why did I think this? Again, the internal conception of God built up over the years by my former Church involved an ironclad certainty that if someone was unwilling to acknowledge that Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour then they were condemned to an afterlife of eternal terror.

This is an understandably unappealing prospect, but equally unappealing is the ‘only alternative’ as constructed by the teachers in charge of ‘reading’ The Bible (remember we don’t do interpretation). A dichotomy was created between being an autonomous agent in a world that, to my five senses and ‘God given’ logical faculties, seems otherwise deeply ambivalent to my existence, or to choose to be ‘ruled’ by a sovereign deity. Somehow, the mighty and all-encompassing omniscience of the divine CCTV camera is unable to fit my ambivalence into his schema for the afterlife. Yet, now I think about it, Jesus wasn’t exactly silent on the issue of what happens to those of us unconvinced by the texts of the bible and the sheer existence of the universe alone. I seem to recall that on at least one occasion Jesus was supposed to have said that, about people casting out demons in Jesus name that weren’t part of Jesus’ clique, “if they’re not against us they’re with us.” Yet the church remained dogmatic in it’s insistence on being either saved or unsaved.

Okay, so the above is only true if you believe the Bible is literally true everywhere and on all counts. Heck, not even the Roman Catholics believe this sort of stuff is meant to be taken literally anymore. So why then did my evangelical church seem to think so in the years I attended?

I don’t rightly know – although I have some suspicions, and none of them favourable. And I don’t attend the church anymore so I have no idea if that kind of attitude is as prevalent as it used to be. Nevertheless – if I’m any indication, those of us who attended throughout this period are probably forever and indelibly influenced and impacted by this kind of thinking.

I guess I’m writing about it here because it’s therapeutic and it helps to get it out of my system. I also don’t particularly want to have any future nightmares either. I’ll spare you an exposition of any particular theology, but there’s probably a case to be made that one can’t ‘unlearn’ the past without having something new to replace it. And in that regard I’ve still got quite a bit of learning (and unlearning) to do.

Let’s talk about tropical dictatorships

I finally downloaded the game Tropico. It’s unique in the very non-pejorative sense. It’s not, like, sublime . . . but it’s good enough to make me wonder why it didn’t get more attention on release. It seems also that it’s just what I want from a game right now.

It’s a sim-lite with an endearingly wry sense of humour. It did take me a little while to get what I was supposed to be doing, however, and to also figure out which notices and warnings were worth paying attention to. Of the one campaign level I managed to finish this evening, the main backbone of the island economy seemed to be farming, but there was no clear indication of how productive my farms were being. The exporting of crops is a bit of a black-box system also, as I couldn’t tell how much was being eaten vs. being exported, at least until it actually left the island on a massive container ship, the only other notice being “$X worth of goods have been exported”.

The only other source of income for our struggling dictatorial nation is foreign aid – both the US and USSR provide aid on a yearly basis but it’s in the order of $1K-$5K, not enough to run a government on for a year (and certainly not enough if you’re corrupt and embezzling money on the side). This parody of banana republic style latin-american nations and the geo-political situation they  often found themselves in during the period 1950’s – 1980’s is the main source of the game’s humour – and it works quite marvellously.

The clever satire and light tone permeates the rest of the game like a wink and a smile. My dictator was El Pollo Diablo, ‘the devil chicken’, and quite probably an homage to Monkey Island 3 (It’s where I learnt the phrase from, along with all the Spanish I know. If I ever go to a Spanish speaking country I’ll at least be able to order myself two eggs).  Diablo is a white-suited man who jogs about his country (small enough to get around in by foot) to visit building sites and make stirring proclamations from the second story balcony of his presidential palace. Click him and he’ll say pithy things and act like the petulant ruler he is (“What is it, I am busy ruling”). He also gambles with the country’s money, and loses.

“Miracles do happen in Tropico” is a note on the tooltip the s cars resident’s use to get around quickly in, being a comment on the fact that when people get out of them the vehicle drives back to the garage sans-driver. Tropico doesn’t seem to bother with unimportant details like how cars get to and from the garage without their drivers as it’s too busy being revolutionary! Onward brave comrade!

I held free and fair elections after noting that opinion polls indicated my benevolent dictator would win by a comfortable margin. At the same time, a trading company offered to send political spin doctors to help my campaign, and all they asked for in return was a lowering of food export prices to their great benefit – what kindness, what generosity! On another occasion a coffee company sent our island nation an aid development grant of $2000, at which point I was offered the opportunity of ‘administering’ the aid personally (adding it to my Swiss bank account). I declined the opportunity diverting it instead to the nation’s coffers. I am clearly not a very good corrupt dictator.

Tropico is a beautiful game, and aside from its endearingly quirky, often gangly, animations, its landscape is quite visually striking. Quite similar to Just Cause 1 & 2’s island jungles, it also shares a similar subject matter and light-hearted tone.

The music in Tropico further accounts for my enjoyment of the game, and it also reminded me of the thing I liked most about the Dexter TV show. That series had some of the most amazing Cuban/Latin dance pieces for its soundtrack, and the same goes for Tropico. It’s a fact that I feel gets rather overlooked that music selection in media properties like Dexter is very important, perhaps more so than I feel is appreciated by most critics and creators. For example, here’s a list (off the top of my head) of TV series that have excellent musical scoring and which rank as some of my favourites:

–          Dexter

–          Battlestar Galactica

–          Firefly

–          Daria

–          Around the World in 80 Gardens

All these series use music to particularly good effect, be it original scoring or popular music. Naturally it’s quite hard to point to series that I don’t like that use music poorly since I don’t really pay attention to ones I don’t like. There’s therefore there’s a danger that I’m self-selecting (confirmation bias) but I’ve long suspected that good music makes a thing, be it movie, TV series or game, much better than it should have any right to. Tropico just adds further anecdotal evidence to that argument.

Anyway, we’ve gotten off topic a bit, so let’s wrap up: Tropico was absolutely worth the $5 or $10 I paid for it on Steam when it was on sale. But I’m not providing a buyer’s guide anyway, and this observation is coming from a guy who outlaid $8 on a PS3 port of a PS1 Bass Fishing game the other night, having still only played it for all of ten minutes. That’s another game I do hope to go back to soon – perhaps spend a day or afternoon fishing, perhaps with a beer in my hand, sunnies and hat on my head. I feel like that game has the potential for some great experiences if approached with the proper mindset. Which is a bit like Tropico, actually, I wouldn’t recommend min/maxing in this game as you’ll probably break it. Instead, try and play the dictator, or sublimate into the Caribbean island mindset and lifestyle.