- Ludic Cartography. Mapping Gamespaces
- Past Projects
- Preserving Virtual Worlds
- Research and Publication
In thinking about what to post, I was debating many different topics, most having to do with some company's history or maybe a specific box motif from the mid-80s. Then I opened a storage container that seemed to crystalize the post-to-be in my mind and tie in two very important trends from the modern newscape. The first being the impending collapse of the capitalist system, and the second, the rise in videogame sales.
Yes, that is a box of Atari 800 accounting software; featuring the incredibly popular "Bond Analysis", and "Stock Charting". Ok, they aren't really that popular, but they led me to look back and see if there were any financial games available for discussion. The selection turned out to be quite extensive considering I only surveyed the forty or so boxes I had on hand. With such a nice amount of items, I figured I'd share a few and muse about their interpretations of the wall street mania of the 1980s.
The first couple games, or rather, ahem, simulations, come from a company called Blue Chip Software. According to the information I have on hand they were very active from the years 1987 to 1987. No, that's not a typo, I can't seem to find anything about the company per say, just that they released numerous financial games in or around 1987. The games themselves are not dated at all; this problem comes up a lot here at the collection, I guess whoever made these games was not concerned with whomever inserted the software into a library collection. Regardless, the games all contained a cute insert masquerading as a miniature financial newspaper. That paper is dated summer 1987, and thus allows for the tentative dating of all the titles in that general chronological region. Now that that's cleared up, onto the titles.
All the Blue Chip Software games focus on specific sections of the financial markets, and they all, save the title "MILLIONAIRE", have names I'd consider drastic. SQUIRE, and TYCOON, below represent a financial planning simulator, and a commodities market simulator respectively. The titles come packed in black, file-like boxes with a blaring all caps titles and inspiring descriptions; and are sure to make the user feel at ease with their soon to follow capital dominance. Sadly, I could not find the title BARON, but I'm sure you get the pattern here.
As shown by the back of the SQUIRE box, the game is pretty extensive and specific, the goal being to retire at a reasonable enough age to enjoy your new found wealth. Although this is a game that most of humanity is playing, and apparently currently failing, I cannot help but be impressed by the attempt being made on the part of the game's designers. Makes me want for more complex, reality based simulations nowadays, like a financial game for a modern console. Obviously there would be a need for guns and something mildly derogatory towards women, but that goes with mainstream gaming territory. Maybe you could use your money to buy those things and again mirror the current global system. Although these games were made, and ostensibly sold enough copies to keep Blue Chip solvent, they don't seem to be too evocative of the time period. Perhaps other titles will help out in that regard.
That was quick. The title MILLIONAIRE II, claimed as "America's Most Popular Computerized Stock Market Simulation" (probably the longest oxymoron I've ever encountered), seems to have it all...and 100,000 in sales, guess I'm actually the moron. With Wall Street quite literally (I'm sure some public works supervisor was annoyed) in the palm of your hand, you can look at putridly colored screens that clash horribly and be sent reeling by the "enhanced graphing", and "user controlled interest". I'm also glad that this game included short selling, now I know where the modern Wall Street gurus learned that financial practice. Zing.
Initially disheartened by the apparently tepid nature of the financial games offerings, I was glad to find more titles that tried to treat Wall Street properly, like the game it really is. The next two offerings provide a more morally reprehensible take on the stock trading endeavor. First is "Wall Street Raider", and it is rather unambiguous in its perspective on wealth generation.
At least it's "one heck of a game". Interesting that a title explicitly discussing greed and exploitation on its cover still needs to watch its language. The mechanics of the game seem a bit more interesting, with four-player competition and a "straight from the headlines" approach. I have to credit Intracorp Inc. with their direct attempt at fulfilling the needs of each player's internal Gordon Gecko, but the presentation still lacks a bit in the "not sleep inducing" department. Though from someone who manually types in data all day, and loves the command line, I guess that criticism is a bit unfair. Luckily I found some other items that provide more evocative graphics, and in one case an even more distorted view of the stock market as game.
Speculator, the Futures Market Game, aside from dealing with a root cause of the current economic situation, seems to glorify the practice to the extent that it's "a game for everybody." Ignoring the hyperbole that is endemic within these titles, it is necessary to note that this game as least tries to make a visually compelling argument for its existence. Each scene is genuinely complex and while still drab by modern standards at least its showing more activity than simple number accumulation.
However, to distill out the true essence of the time period, it is necessary to present an even more detached and interpretive take on the Wall Street shenanigans of the mid-to-late 80s. A company named Magic Bytes jumped into my view with its title, "Wall$treet" for the Amiga. Apart from its cover, in which two stock traders bound happily across a circuit board meadow, briefcases grin-ily in hand, the game serves as a great, over-accentuated perspective on the period; and rightly so considering the title is European.
The back of the box reveals the start screen where prospective sharply dressed money makers line up for the day's daily race for cash (I'm rooting for the guy in the hat), and reinforce the unified presentation of Wall Street as a devil-may-care enterprise. With a nod to realism the astonishingly white man in the bottom screenshot dances in front of a glowing stock wall, mouth agape and tie a-flap, just like in reality. Speaking of reality, the last title I have to share is probably one of the most immediately topical I have found in the collection.
That's right, a game about the stock market crash of 1987, made in 1987. By current standards 500 points in a day is just a hiccup, but back in the early days it was enough to fuel a whole game. Wonder if there will be a game soon called "The Big Bailout", featuring real-time Henry Paulson supplication controls. Anyway, at least the current financial situation isn't very dire for computer-based games, sales being up 43% and all. Guess people may not want to play a game about the fall of the financial system during the fall of the financial system, but I wish they would. It's a great opportunity to teach and engage with a current problem that is definitely predicated by the playing of financial games in the late-80s, okay maybe not.