Preparing for tomorrow’s Mini Metro Madness, I’ve been practicing for hours — which isn’t hard to do given how addictive the game is. But beyond the fun, it’s become clear that Mini Metro is telling a dark story.
True, it’s an abstract game. However, the field of game studies tells us that even games without an explicit plot can have an intrinsic “ludonarrative,” a story or elements of story revealed through the game’s play and mechanics. For urban planners and transportation professionals, a few sessions of Mini Metro should be enough to reveal a ludonarrative that is depressingly familiar:
You must serve a region that’s sprawling outward in all directions. It’s growing fast, but apparently not according to any plan. No one bothered to tell you the plan, at least. (…Who told them to build that star in the northwest quadrant?)
Your operating revenues don’t seem to be a concern, but your capital funds are constrained, growing at a linear rate (1 new railcar, station expansion, or tunnel per game-week) that ultimately can’t keep up with the region’s expansion.
You do have the freedom to change your routes. If you decide your Yellow Line should jog north to reach a new destination, you can make it happen. You can cancel service to places that have had it since the start of the game. You can even erase all your transit routes and redraw the system from scratch. That extreme flexibility means the game might secretly be about planning a bus network. Mini Bus Madness?
Despite giving you that freedom, your political masters are ambivalent about transit at best. They ration your resources, forcing you to constantly scramble to find more and more efficiencies in your network operations as the game progresses. And the moment riders complain of overcrowding, the entire system gets shut down.
So here’s your mission, should you choose to press that “Start” button: To serve a sprawling boomtown where your transit funds quickly have diminishing returns, where your main tool is a flexible but low-capacity metro (or is it a bus system?), and where hostile politicians will pull the plug on your system at the first sign of failure. Not too different from many places in America, is it?!
Ready to take on that challenge? There’s still time to register for tomorrow’s Mini Metro Madness tournament, at our office on Manhattan’s Far West Side.
Note: Mini Metro is currently in development. This article describes play using the alpha8 build of the game.
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