I'm doing a couple of fun game-related items for my friends at Nerve, starting with my contribution to their Holiday Gift Guide. It's a little riff about the brilliant new Age of Empires III, which is the most enjoyable game I've played in a long time. It got me thinking about the distinct pleasure of these sorts of games -- as opposed to the pure problem-solving approach that I took in Everything Bad. Here's the gist of it:
But there's a subtler pleasure to the game that should make the parents and cultural authorities happy: to succeed in the game, you have to maintain your essential resources -- food, timber, and gold. (The convention of resource management applies to all god games -- though the resources vary from game to game.) In Age Of Empires, you can dispatch a team of settlers off to a nearby forest to chop down trees, or send them off on a fishing expedition, or deposit them near a promising bush filled with ripe berries. And once you've dispatched them, you can just sit back and watch those precious goods stream into your main warehouse.
There's something uniquely satisfying about this process, something that is entirely unlike the pleasures of other popular entertainment: it's akin to the quiet satisfaction you feel when you've just cleaned the entire house, or when you get the report from accounting that says your business is finally in the black. Sending a settler off to chop down some trees isn't as exhilarating as sending your calvary off to attack the Spanish settlement next door, but the game quickly teaches you that you can't maintain a calvary if you don't have enough wood on hand to build a stable. It's not enough to be aggressive to succeed in Age Of Empires. You have to be responsible too.