Has this ever happened to you?
You’re playing a game, in your pyjamas, on your couch, enjoying some time off. One moment you’re in happy game land, serotonin rushing through your brain, collecting points, finding collectibles, achieving achievements, and then suddenly BOOM! You’re dead. You’ve lost. You have to go back and try again. You feel cheated, betrayed even, by the game making you lose. It wasn’t you, you think. It can’t have been you – it was the SYSTEM. “It’s rigged!” you say, your controller flying through the air, nearly missing your glistening 50″ plasma screen. “It must be rigged against me!” The game has a personal vendetta against you — tired hard working you who has put tens of hours into this game. “I deserve better, I deserve to win,” you say to yourself. After I spent hard-earned money on this leisure activity, spent valuable hours of my time relaxing and playing it. It’s just not fair, you think as you sink back into your couch.
Well good news, because Vancouver-based developed Hyper Hippo has the game for you! Introducing AdVenture Capitalist, the game you don’t play and can never lose!
AdVenture Capitalist is a mobile app in the casual category of ‘idle freemium’ games. The gameplay functions are basic clicking of ‘business icons’, such as lemonade stands, banks and movie theatres which then reward you with accumulated points with increasing speed — or in this case millions, billions, and unquadeagintillions of dollars. After only a few clicks you can hire managers that run the businesses for you, removing the need to click the icons at all. Over time the game speeds up, the money pours in, and you watch as your empire grows and your game wins itself. Of course, the game comes with in-app purchases which make things even faster and make you more money than exists in the real world. After all, what would a game about capitalism, even a satirical one, be without the exchange of real money?
Now, I am generally not a fan of freemium or idle games. I see pay-to-win games as money grabs that offer those who have the means to do so the privilege of actually winning, while the rest of us are just along for the ride (*cough Fortnite *cough). They often have limited intractability, use psychologically exploitative mechanics, and prey upon players’ inherent FOMO. In the case of Hyper Hippo’s release, however, these same predatory tactics are on full display and are the object of mockery. Sure you could pay a few solid gold bars to win this game even faster, and sure you could consume some suggested advertising to turn that 10 billion in fictional currency into 100 billion, but then in a way aren’t you part of the problem? The Monopoly-looking man will essentially tell you as much, winking at you as he offers you another power up, keeping you hooked on your insatiable fake greed.
The game’s writing is some of the strongest comedy I’ve seen in the idle game world and had me laughing with each new character’s introduction. Some of my favourites are Forest Trump, who runs your shrimp fishing industry, or the devil himself, who nefariously grows your banking empire. The game also cheekily and blatantly states what industries fuel the core of capitalism, as the amount of oil companies you own determines what other businesses you can unlock. The art style, best seen in the game’s main avatar, is reminiscent of the Fallout Franchise — as if Vault Boy woke up from hundreds of years in a cryo-chamber to a load of intergenerational wealth in his bank account. It’s fun, cartoonish, and perfectly suited to the overarching gag Hyper Hippo is trying to convey.
Joking aside, for what it is, AdVenture Capitalist is a game I quite enjoyed, if for no other reason than the perspective it gave me as a gamer. Watching the fictitious money accumulate, the achievement bar constantly filling up without me even touching the screen, I was reminded how much I enjoy the act of actually playing games – solving puzzles, exploring new worlds, and taking time off from reality. More importantly though, it reminded me how lucky I am to be a gamer. The luxury my circumstances afford me to spend time every week in front of a TV, playing games that I own, taking time off from a secure job I have, cozied up in an apartment I can afford.
AdVenture Capitalist, for all its satire, delivers a glaringly obvious message: the system is rigged. No not this video game system (although it is technically), the other system, the one none of us stop playing. Like AdVenture Capitalist tucked away running constantly in the back of your phone’s app files, the gears of capitalism grind on. And as in this idle, freemium app, those who own the real system can’t lose, and will often barely need to intervene in its automated, exploitative, gamified nature. The rest of us keep playing, most of us losing, attempting to survive in a game we cannot win.
For cheat codes, might I suggest the works of Karl Marx, Angela Davis, and Noam Chomsky, among others.