Alonso Bonilla stepped out of his local cathedral in September of 2007. Like many citizens of his small island republic, he was a religious man from a working class family. His father was a teamster, he met his wife in the jewelry factory that was the lifeblood of the island. Together, they eked out a comfortable existence with 5 children, the first of whom had just moved out to work in the mines.
He had seen much change in his country since his birth in 1964. Mineral wealth had fueled modernization and gentrification, but then the troubles started with the new millennium. His liberties curtailed, his healthcare deteriorating, his island paradise polluted by unmitigated industry, he was on the brink. With his wages slashed by a cruel and unfeeling presidente, he dared to speak his mind, of how his beloved home was sinking towards damnation instead of paradise, how the nation’s coffers swelled while his pantry grew empty. His courage inspired others around him, but drew unwanted attention.
As he exited the great doors of the cathedral, he was shot twice by a government soldier in cold blood. He died in the embrace of his island, wondering how it came to this.
Tropico is a construction and management simulation game first published in 2001. While so many other games focus on gaining power or repelling external enemies, Tropico puts you in the shoes of a presidente of a small Caribbean island with the goal of maintaining power, building infrastructure and balancing threats of coup, revolution, general uprising, and foreign invasion. With its impressive branching system of edicts, buildings, and options to tweak, you can truly build whatever paradise crosses your mind, if you can keep your population tolerant of your vision.
There are many obvious ways to play the game, from military strong man to ecologically minded hippie, which provides for endless replay opportunities. The most fun comes from slipping into the shoes of another, to rule as they would rule. Having played many routes, I decided to play as something unthinkable to me, something I find abhorrent, to embody a philosophy that goes against everything I believe to see what twisted dystopia emerged.
I decided to rule as Rick Santorum; a sweater-vest clad presidente building a strong economy on the foundation of faith and the family, basing my edicts and decisions on his campaign pledges.
Tropico starts you off with a bit of role playing in creating your presidente. For “Ricardo” Santorum, I had to chose a background, a rise to power, two attributes, and two flaws. Each aspect gives you bonuses and penalties to various political factions alongside other special powers. A Generalisimo has respect from the military, but infringes upon his subject’s feelings of liberty while an alcoholic loses respect with the religious types but gets a small increase in respect from the Soviets. From the all too frequent in real politics (Womanizer – loses respect from women and religious types) to the absurd (Tourette’s Syndrome – you sell pay-per-view tickets to your speeches at the cost of respect from nearly everyone) the fun comes from mixing and matching, either trying to balance shortcomings in certain areas with complimentary traits or min-maxing, going all out for one dear faction as the expense of all others.
For Santorum, I opted to make him a self made man who was elected for family values. This means that the capitalists and religious factions will like him more, as well as generating a boost to his factory production and relations with the United States. For attributes (you pick 2) I chose to make him hardworking (more productivity) and charismatic (+5 overal respect and increased effectiveness of TV and radio propaganda, someone must like those sweater vests a lot). For flaws, he’s a religious zealot (church loves him, intellectuals hate him, and church visits are doubled for the population) and a cheapskate (cheaper buildings, but crimps the wages you can pay workers like a true “small government” candidate would).
My expectations of democracy would not be “very high” in this circumstance
I unleashed the ex-senator upon the tranquil island republic of Tropico in the year 1950. The Soviets are in the last stages of stealing the bomb, the second red scare emerges, the proto European Union is proposed, and Presidente Santorum is elected head of a small island with a dock, a construction office, a presidential palace, some farms, and a lot of shacks. The island looks more like an occupy wall street camp than a functioning country, but everyone has to start small.
At least the clouds are nice