By dankempster 6 Comments
Doctor Dan Prescribes 50ccs Of Strategic Salubrious Silliness!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Currently playing - Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood (X360)