Half Earth Socialism is a browser based infotainment game that takes place after an successful socialist revolution in the year 2022. You are appointed as the central planner for the new socialist world state, and your objective is to stop the natural crisis caused by the capitalist economic system. There is a corresponding book, but neither do you need it to play or understand the game nor are you nagged with marketing for the book once you are ingame. As far as I can tell, the developers are primarily interested in spreading their ideas with this game.
The gameplay is similar to „Democracy“. Satisfying the people or making progress in fighting global warming and species extinction provides you a resource that you can use to unlock new technologies, to realize infrastructure projects or to pass political agendas. You are also able to do some macro-controlling over the energy and food production. The factions of the parliament have a close eye upon you: if you anger them, they will eventually oust you – but you are also able to forge coalitions if your politic is compatible with a fractions ideology.
Many of the options that you can choose have their downsides and problems; many of the effective policies available against emissions and extinction are unpopular since they cut into the general consumption, and clean energy is – especially within the early game – less efficient and increases the risk of blackouts that anger the population. If your approval drops to low, your government will be terminated by an angry mob. The challenge is to weigh your options against your political and democratic backing, and to find the right timing to shift your energy and food production – being to hasty will likely cause trouble.
As said, the developers don’t make no secret about their preferred way of handling things: When I first won the game, playing a alliance of utopians, animal liberation people, ecofeminists and ecologists I was asked to retire a few years before the normal end of the game and got a happy end (with some critical nuances, probably because I pressed some unpopular reforms); at later plays, I managed to reach the objectives using a combination of population reduction and nuclear energy – while this was much easier to pull off, the game wasn’t to fond if this approach, giving me a grimmer ending. A option to go full ecofascism is seemingly available (forming an alliance with the authoritarian faction disables the lose condition by being unpopular) but doesn’t work – either intentionally or through a bug. On the other hand, if you go for a leftist style of government, there are just no options for a radical handling of your political enemies (since the Malthusians want to hunger out the global south, wouldn’t it be fitting to put them in prison camps or something?). All of this is absolutely okay in my book – the game clearly prefers a humanist, socially orientated politic – and while I disagree in some points, this overall direction is fine.
Also, even if you play „according to the line“, the game is fun and you have no guarantee to win. The transition to clean energies and food and the selection of policies requires a lot of fine tuning, and you have still several available and viable policies and political styles at hand even if you discard the obviously evil ones. Also, at least some parts of your baseline are randomly generated – so you can’t just apply your working formula in every game.
Aesthetically, the game is great. While nearly everything is just user interface, the alienated low-res photographs that are used for illustration look really good, and the minimal soundtrack is tasteful and fitting. The factions are represented through small, abstract figures – quite cute. The writing of the game is damn good and can be even moving at some points,.
The best thing about this game is the optimistic, utopian message that it conveys – a rare asset within times where either cynicism or naivety (or both) are the prevalent modes for most media settings. The vision of a world that is projected when you play the game as intended by the developers is terrific and very concrete – such a plastic outline isn’t seen often in either leftist media or theory. This aspect is strong and stays unharmed even if you disagree in details or about technical questions.
Masculinists, climate change deniers, nuclear power advocates, nazis and cons will hate Half Earth Socialism. If you belong to these groups, you should neither play the game nor read this blog. For everybody else it is a great game – and might be a salutary, yet temporary sanctuary.
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