When Work And Play Collide

Doctor Dan Prescribes 50ccs Of Strategic Salubrious Silliness!

...now that I've fulfilled my contractual obligation to Mento by shoe-horning in that sentence, let's get down to business

Way back on the first day of this year, I wrote a blog here on Giant Bomb outlining some of the things (both gaming and non-gaming) that I wanted to achieve over the course of 2012. It's pretty embarrassing to look back on it at this late stage in the year, and to realise just how little of what I'd envisioned myself doing has actually come to fruition. Out of a list of fifteen games I intended to beat, for example, I've only played four so far. All of that stuff doesn't matter too much though, because arguably the most important item on the list was ticked off some time ago. Coming into 2012, what I wanted more than anything else was to find work. In March, after eight months of refused applications and failed interviews, I was at last given the chance I'd been craving - an opportunity to become a dispensary assistant at a local doctors' surgery. It was only a six-month contract, working part-time hours, but I seized the offer without hesitation and began working there at the start of April.

This is essentially my job

Four-and-a-half months on, things have just kept getting better. The cap has been removed from my contract, making me a permanent member of the dispensary team. I've been given occasional opportunities to work on reception, expanding my pool of experience in different ways. Perhaps the biggest development came last month, when my employers enrolled me in a correspondence course for dispensing. This time next year, I'll hopefully be a qualified dispenser. It's certainly not where I'd envisioned myself being at this point in my life, but I'm really happy to have ended up here. My job essentially consists of liaising with doctors, dispensing and ordering medications for patients, and basic admin tasks like prescription-tracking. Knowing that every prescription dispensed is helping someone to feel better equates to a lot of job satisfaction on my part - infinitely more so than the futility of my last job as a cleaner for my university's Students' Union.

I know what you're all thinking - this is all well and good, Dan, but what does any of it have to do with video games? I guess superficially, the answer is 'not a lot'. Working means I have a lot less time in which to play games than I did this time last year, and long work days often leave me too sapped of energy to be bothered to power up the 360 and concentrate on whatever I might be playing when I get home in the evenings. Given this enormous disconnect between my working life and my desire to play video games, the last thing I expected was for those two sides of me to collide in spectacular fashion, but when I played Theme Hospital, that's exactly what happened.

Theme Hospital's silliness masks some implicitly sinister satire

I won't go into huge amounts of detail about what Theme Hospital is, because I'm fairly sure most of you will already know. If you don't, check out the Giant Bomb Wiki page - some awesome users have really gone to town on it and filled it with great information. What I want to focus on is the tone of Theme Hospital's humour, which manages to be both patently ludicrous and profoundly satirical. The illnesses suffered by patients are invariably laughable - from the Elvis-obsessed King Complex, through Hairyitis, to Bloaty Head (arguably the game's trademark disease) - and each one has a daft cure to match. The nasal drawl of the tannoy announcer delivers dry one-liners that can still force a smile even towards the end of the game's twelve-scenario campaign. Visually, everything is highly stylised, cartoonish and exaggerated. It's quite clearly a game that's not meant to be taken seriously.

My problem was, I couldn't help but take certain aspects of it seriously.

The thing that bothered me most about Theme Hospital is how much importance is placed on monetary gain, to the point where patient welfare is a secondary concern. The game is built in such a way that patients are simply a vehicle for profit, and consequently their needs and moods can largely be ignored. Every level demands minimum hospital worth and earnings, yet not a single level requires a minimum level of patient satisfaction. You run the risk of losing a level if you kill too many patients, but the number of deaths you can get away with increases as your hospital's worth and profitability increase, and my campaign was certainly never under any real threat from it. It's a tycoon-style game, I get that, but surely the real challenge of running a hospital should come down to maintaining patient satisfaction, even if that means a slight dent in the profits - a real case of "balancing the books and the bedpans", as Theme Hospital's own box art puts it. The game's unadulterated focus on the financial side of things made for a fairly one-dimensional, near-uncomfortable playing experience.

This is where the parallels between my real-life job and the intended humour of Theme Hospital start to become a little uncomfortable for me. As a trainee dispenser, I'm fairly close to the front-line of the healthcare system, and I regularly see cases where we ignore maximum profit to put the needs of a patient first - the way things should be, in my view. Much higher up the chain, however, there are people who don't see things that way. People whose attitudes hold up a worrying mirror to the faceless board of directors who govern the player's fate in Theme Hospital. I'm not suggesting that healthcare services should be completely free - such a model would be unsustainable - but there is absolutely no need to seek to extract maximum profits from what is ostensibly a public service. What playing Theme Hospital alongside my new job has made me realise is that the line between the former's seemingly outrageous satire and the latter's potential vulnerability to corporate money-makers is much finer and more blurred than I initially thought. I don't ever foresee a time when the two are indistinguishable (at least, I hope we'd never stoop that low), but that doesn't change the fact they're a little too close for comfort for my taste.

Brotherhood is another great instalment in the Assassin's Creed franchise

I finished Theme Hospital a few weeks ago, and in spite of all the baggage the experience came with, I enjoyed it as a game. Right now I'm focusing pretty much all of my gaming time on Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood. I'm on the seventh DNA sequence from a total of nine, so I've made some pretty substantial in-roads into Ezio's adventures in Rome, and everything I've seen so far has been nothing short of excellent. It takes the already-near-flawless foundation laid by Assassin's Creed II and iterates on it in some meaningful ways. Most notably the Assassins' Guild stuff is keeping me very busy, evoking fond memories of the Dispatch Missions in Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. I'm not enjoying it as much as I did ACII, but I think that's simply down to a less involved appreciation of the story in Brotherhood. It's a competent enough tale of Assassins-versus-Templars, but it doesn't seem to be doing much to advance the overarching story of the franchise as a whole. Perhaps that will change as I near the end, though.

When I'm done with Brotherhood, I'm planning to get stuck into something even longer and more involved in the form of Persona 4. My sister, who really enjoyed watching me play Persona 3 over the winter, has twisted my arm and persuaded me to break into the next iteration in Atlus's revered JRPG series. Despite recent neglect, I'm still fully committed to my Enduring Final Fantasy VII blog series, and you can expect the thirtieth episode to arrive in the very near future. Beyond that, perhaps I should start thinking about clearing some of the many unfinished games on that list from the start of the year. Thanks for reading guys, and I'll see you around.

Dan

---

Currently playing - Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood (X360)

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6 Comments
Posted by dankempster

Doctor Dan Prescribes 50ccs Of Strategic Salubrious Silliness!

...now that I've fulfilled my contractual obligation to Mento by shoe-horning in that sentence, let's get down to business

Way back on the first day of this year, I wrote a blog here on Giant Bomb outlining some of the things (both gaming and non-gaming) that I wanted to achieve over the course of 2012. It's pretty embarrassing to look back on it at this late stage in the year, and to realise just how little of what I'd envisioned myself doing has actually come to fruition. Out of a list of fifteen games I intended to beat, for example, I've only played four so far. All of that stuff doesn't matter too much though, because arguably the most important item on the list was ticked off some time ago. Coming into 2012, what I wanted more than anything else was to find work. In March, after eight months of refused applications and failed interviews, I was at last given the chance I'd been craving - an opportunity to become a dispensary assistant at a local doctors' surgery. It was only a six-month contract, working part-time hours, but I seized the offer without hesitation and began working there at the start of April.

This is essentially my job

Four-and-a-half months on, things have just kept getting better. The cap has been removed from my contract, making me a permanent member of the dispensary team. I've been given occasional opportunities to work on reception, expanding my pool of experience in different ways. Perhaps the biggest development came last month, when my employers enrolled me in a correspondence course for dispensing. This time next year, I'll hopefully be a qualified dispenser. It's certainly not where I'd envisioned myself being at this point in my life, but I'm really happy to have ended up here. My job essentially consists of liaising with doctors, dispensing and ordering medications for patients, and basic admin tasks like prescription-tracking. Knowing that every prescription dispensed is helping someone to feel better equates to a lot of job satisfaction on my part - infinitely more so than the futility of my last job as a cleaner for my university's Students' Union.

I know what you're all thinking - this is all well and good, Dan, but what does any of it have to do with video games? I guess superficially, the answer is 'not a lot'. Working means I have a lot less time in which to play games than I did this time last year, and long work days often leave me too sapped of energy to be bothered to power up the 360 and concentrate on whatever I might be playing when I get home in the evenings. Given this enormous disconnect between my working life and my desire to play video games, the last thing I expected was for those two sides of me to collide in spectacular fashion, but when I played Theme Hospital, that's exactly what happened.

Theme Hospital's silliness masks some implicitly sinister satire

I won't go into huge amounts of detail about what Theme Hospital is, because I'm fairly sure most of you will already know. If you don't, check out the Giant Bomb Wiki page - some awesome users have really gone to town on it and filled it with great information. What I want to focus on is the tone of Theme Hospital's humour, which manages to be both patently ludicrous and profoundly satirical. The illnesses suffered by patients are invariably laughable - from the Elvis-obsessed King Complex, through Hairyitis, to Bloaty Head (arguably the game's trademark disease) - and each one has a daft cure to match. The nasal drawl of the tannoy announcer delivers dry one-liners that can still force a smile even towards the end of the game's twelve-scenario campaign. Visually, everything is highly stylised, cartoonish and exaggerated. It's quite clearly a game that's not meant to be taken seriously.

My problem was, I couldn't help but take certain aspects of it seriously.

The thing that bothered me most about Theme Hospital is how much importance is placed on monetary gain, to the point where patient welfare is a secondary concern. The game is built in such a way that patients are simply a vehicle for profit, and consequently their needs and moods can largely be ignored. Every level demands minimum hospital worth and earnings, yet not a single level requires a minimum level of patient satisfaction. You run the risk of losing a level if you kill too many patients, but the number of deaths you can get away with increases as your hospital's worth and profitability increase, and my campaign was certainly never under any real threat from it. It's a tycoon-style game, I get that, but surely the real challenge of running a hospital should come down to maintaining patient satisfaction, even if that means a slight dent in the profits - a real case of "balancing the books and the bedpans", as Theme Hospital's own box art puts it. The game's unadulterated focus on the financial side of things made for a fairly one-dimensional, near-uncomfortable playing experience.

This is where the parallels between my real-life job and the intended humour of Theme Hospital start to become a little uncomfortable for me. As a trainee dispenser, I'm fairly close to the front-line of the healthcare system, and I regularly see cases where we ignore maximum profit to put the needs of a patient first - the way things should be, in my view. Much higher up the chain, however, there are people who don't see things that way. People whose attitudes hold up a worrying mirror to the faceless board of directors who govern the player's fate in Theme Hospital. I'm not suggesting that healthcare services should be completely free - such a model would be unsustainable - but there is absolutely no need to seek to extract maximum profits from what is ostensibly a public service. What playing Theme Hospital alongside my new job has made me realise is that the line between the former's seemingly outrageous satire and the latter's potential vulnerability to corporate money-makers is much finer and more blurred than I initially thought. I don't ever foresee a time when the two are indistinguishable (at least, I hope we'd never stoop that low), but that doesn't change the fact they're a little too close for comfort for my taste.

Brotherhood is another great instalment in the Assassin's Creed franchise

I finished Theme Hospital a few weeks ago, and in spite of all the baggage the experience came with, I enjoyed it as a game. Right now I'm focusing pretty much all of my gaming time on Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood. I'm on the seventh DNA sequence from a total of nine, so I've made some pretty substantial in-roads into Ezio's adventures in Rome, and everything I've seen so far has been nothing short of excellent. It takes the already-near-flawless foundation laid by Assassin's Creed II and iterates on it in some meaningful ways. Most notably the Assassins' Guild stuff is keeping me very busy, evoking fond memories of the Dispatch Missions in Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. I'm not enjoying it as much as I did ACII, but I think that's simply down to a less involved appreciation of the story in Brotherhood. It's a competent enough tale of Assassins-versus-Templars, but it doesn't seem to be doing much to advance the overarching story of the franchise as a whole. Perhaps that will change as I near the end, though.

When I'm done with Brotherhood, I'm planning to get stuck into something even longer and more involved in the form of Persona 4. My sister, who really enjoyed watching me play Persona 3 over the winter, has twisted my arm and persuaded me to break into the next iteration in Atlus's revered JRPG series. Despite recent neglect, I'm still fully committed to my Enduring Final Fantasy VII blog series, and you can expect the thirtieth episode to arrive in the very near future. Beyond that, perhaps I should start thinking about clearing some of the many unfinished games on that list from the start of the year. Thanks for reading guys, and I'll see you around.

Dan

---

Currently playing - Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood (X360)

Edited by Mento

Congratulations on the job! And commiserations on feeling compelled to use that slogan.

Theme Hospital's damn palatable, even among Bullfrog's sterling sim games. It does seem a bit dubious that the only goals were monetary in nature, but I suppose that would be the satirical angle you mentioned. I'd imagine it'd be a little harder to measure patient satisfaction, other than the curious idea that they'd be willing to pay more in medical bills if the service they received was prompt and considerate.

I suspect ACB's goal was to have a bit of fun with the Borgias, as well as dropping the number of cities to just one big important one that the previous game only teased at. The dispatch stuff was fun, but I seem to recall Revelations making that feature considerably less fun and retroactively souring my enjoyment of it somewhat, sort of like how FF9's unfairly arbitrary card game sullied the fond memories I had of FF8's. Talking of which, it'll be interesting to see how you manage to juggle your FF7 and P4 playthroughs with this busy-sounding job. Hopefully you weren't planning on playing anything else this year...

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Posted by dankempster

@Mento: Thanks! I thought I might have posted something about it back when I got it, but glancing back over my blogs, it appears not. And the slogan is awesome. It deserved to be used. I'm just sorry I couldn't work it into the blog in context.

As someone who hardly ever plays strategy or tycoon-style games, I found Theme Hospital fairly easy, which I take as an indication that it's not a very challenging game. Regarding patient satisfaction, every patient who visits your hospital does have a happiness meter, but I didn't notice any ramifications it might have had on gameplay. The fact you can power through the scenarios without so much as a thought for patient happiness is a fair illustration of how money-centric the whole experience is.

I plan to pick up Revelations at the end of the year, when ACIII's release reduces its price to peanuts. I've heard mixed things about it, particularly with regards to the tower-defence stuff, but ultimately if it's more of the same, I'm sure I'll still enjoy it. As for FFVII and P4, neither will be my main gaming focus. I plan to finish my Enduring... run of blogs by the end of the year, which I think is achievable if I maintain a steady stream of episodic releases (because we all know how good I've been at doing that, right?). I'll only be playing P4 a bit at a time, at my sister's request, so that could last me well into next year if I move slowly. I'm not sure what lies on the other side of Brotherhood right now, but I do know that it'll be something short, linear, and simple by comparison.

Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

I had no idea Theme Hosptial was a Bullfrog game until Mento mentioned it in your comments. That makes me really want to try this. Aside from that, I understand your frustration regarding people versus profits. I tend to get very angry towards our health care system in America, precisely for that reason as well as some bigger local issues involving CNA's (nursing assistants, if they're not called the same thing across the pond) not doing their jobs and neglecting their patients in favor of sitting around and playing on the computer. Our health care system is in dire need of financial reform, including fixing lawsuits to drive down the costs of doctors and nurses, reducing overall profits of the bigwigs in favor of reducing patient costs, and a huge overhaul to insurance and their coverage.

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Posted by dankempster

@Sparky_Buzzsaw: It may get a lot of hate, but I consider the NHS to be one of the best things about this little island that I live on. It's not perfect, by any means, but I've witnessed first-hand the good that it can do on a regular basis. My mother works in the same building as me, as a secretary to the doctors, and my sister is an HCA (our equivalent of a CNA) at a local hospital, so I'm well-exposed to both the successes and failures of the current system. Unfortunately, it looks set to change drastically in the coming years - our government recently pushed through a series of NHS reforms, most of which will open doors allowing private healthcare firms and drugs companies to exert pressure on the service and influence it, thereby undermining the core tenets upon which it was founded.

...That got a little serious there, didn't it? Back on the topic of video games, Theme Hospital is readily available and reasonably priced. The PC version is on GOG.com for $5.99. I'm not sure if the PlayStation version is up on the American version of the PlayStation Store, but it's available here in the UK for £3.99 (about $6, I think). If you enjoy Bullfrog's games, I'd highly recommend checking it out.

Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

I can only imagine our RACs (Rich Assholes in Charge) are proving to be just fantastic examples for your current reforms. Ugh. "Hey, we see a few getting rich off the literal backbreaking of others! Let's do that!" Anything for profits.

Anyways. Yeah. That got serious. How 'bout them there newfangled gaming video machines? Huh? Huh?

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