Defeating S.A.D. With Tropico

As we have mentioned on this site dozens of times in dozens of forms, we on Sneer Campaign suffer from the condition casually known as S.A.D. This means that winter (and the end of summer) can leave me feeling devastated, devoid of all hope. Dollissa also experiences this. Sometimes we find fresh new ways to combat it. This winter, I have discovered yet another weapon to put in my feelgood arsenal: Tropico!

The game's title scene: Tropico written big with the sun as the O. A small island sits below it. All is beautiful.

If you are into computer games from the halcyon days of the year 2001, then you are already well aware of this little gem of a game. I first played it during a blizzard in Wisconsin in 2005. I didn’t realize at the time that I was hogging my wonderful, kind friends’ computer for purposes of mental health, but hindsight is a good, clear sight. I then forgot about it because I returned to my own home where I had a series of secondhand, ancient-even-for-then computers and figured I could never play it anyway. A few months ago I remembered it existed and wondered if I could find it and if my hotshot laptop could run it and yes it was on Steam for like $3 and yes it runs it and everything was great. Cool life story, Amandoll.

“TROPICO”, eh?

This is an adorable society-building simulation game set on a small tropical island. You pretend to be el Presidente and you can rule your island however you please. There are dictator profiles that you can select and tweak that affect your gameplay options. For instance, if you are a capitalist, you get a hotel. If you are a former pop star, you get access to the night club early on. Things like that. You can select individual villagers and see what they are thinking, who their family is, where they work and live, what factions they favor, politically. This was my favorite part when I first played it, and I still think it is very sweet now.

Scene from the game. A tiny figure in an orange dress walks along carrying what seems to be a basket. Beneath her is a panel showing her name and facts and stats about her.
Hola, Consuela. How are you contributing to my island today?

There are a whole lot of features that I seldom delve into. You can have goals. You can apparently interact with the forces of the United States vs the Soviet Union. You can issue edicts and make people “disappear.” For any of you interested in actually playing a game that has a story, I think it probably can scratch that itch? It sounds an awful lot like work to me, so I avoid that level of play. Also, they still make this game and are on Tropico 6, which I also have. It is very pretty. And it is a lot harder, I think? I’m still stuck on enjoying the original Tropico and will presumably review Tropico 6 in about twenty years. Give me TIME.

Tropico The Amandoll Way

As hinted, I obviously only play this as some sort of squalid island community simulator. I go into the sandbox option, make the island either mountainous if I feel like growing coffee or relatively flat if I don’t want to feel frustrated that my underpaid constructions workers are taking LITERALLY YEARS to flatten the ground so that they can build another “country house.” I choose “no” for bad weather events after experiencing a single instance of a hurricane and quitting rather than rebuilding. I had built my first public school! And it was DEMOLISHED! I very rarely get to the point where I build a power plant. They are so ugly. Also, I don’t wish to spoil my people with fancy things like electricity.

Game scene of a close up of my palace. I drew a very tiny version of myself on the rooftop, looking down. There are some decorative plants that I placed and a few squalid buildings in the background.
See me as el Presidente, outraged by villagers walking so near to my precious palace.

Speaking of my people, I also choose to have an easy to please populace because I don’t want to have to deal with quelling a rebellion or crushing dissidents. They are mostly happy having back-breaking manual labor jobs and access to a clinic, a pub, and a church. They are like most people, I find. Good, salt-of-the-earth Tropicans. I issue an edict to keep them fed. I also select the option to make it incredibly easy to have too much money so that I don’t have to make any hard decision — or learn about economics in the slightest.

No, I’m Not Cruel, Thank You.

I know it sounds like I’m not a very good leader. It sounds like I, and my rich opulent gut which is fattened from the sweat of my people, live in third world splendor while the citizens who depend on me live in third world shacks on the sides of third world hills and on the edges of third world jungles. I give them tenement buildings sometimes! I provide free health care! I attract tourists that my people can then fleece and sell sad souvenirs to! What I don’t do is rule through fear and torture. I am a benevolent dictator.

It is not that I am a highly moral person who would feel guilty subduing computer simulations of people through simulated acts of torment. I don’t think that doing so would be damaging to my spirit. I just prefer to use this game to see sunshine and warm weather. I like the music and the tiny harbor. I don’t need to make it messy by going into that Forbidden Section of the controls. I don’t need to imprison or kill. I don’t need a heavy military presence and a bunch of priests judging everyone to be sinners. I think this game has the potential to get really dark — but I do not go there.

Game scene. In the background you can see a modest papaya farm. But the image is meant to show the Forbidden Section, where you can proclaim a person to be a heretic, or to go so far as to eliminate them.
Heavy stuff.

Music To Dictate To

The soundtrack of this game earns special mention because if I wake up with it already playing in my head, it’s immediately bound to be a good day. I am happy to report to you that this happens often. In fact, it happened today, and that is why you are reading this article right now!

The jaunty Caribbean style music sets the mood for your beautiful banana republic. Zoom in real far, move the camera to your palace, move it so that you can see the hovels and unpowered markets and overflowing, understaffed clinic. Listen to this music, content that your game settings will never allow you to be dethroned, or apparently even to die of old age. Sit through generations of islanders living in poverty and dying where they walk, all while you tap your toe to this danceable music. Maybe you could sip a tropical cocktail — I leave that up to you.

Here is the full soundtrack that some beautiful soul uploaded to YouTube. Track two is my favorite. “Perrito Callejero” by L. Campillo

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