At the end of seven days of lording over a few hundred followers, I have to say I’m a rather benevolent god, even if I do say so myself. This isn’t entirely a delusion of grandeur. I’ve been playing Godus, a game that I was introduced to by a gamer friend who was somewhat aghast that I play Crazy City Taxi Rush on my phone before going to sleep. We will leave aside the question of why she thought that a game in which I would get to play god would be a neat fit for my personality.
In Godus, you start off with one follower, whom you lead into a settlement where this follower, a Builder, is joined by another, a Breeder, and in this way, your congregation grows. Your job as a god is to ‘sculpt’ the earth to make it suitable for your followers, who go from building to farming and mining and probably a whole lot more, but I’ve only been god sporadically for seven days and as a result, I’ve some way to go before I reach omniscience. The most intriguing part about Godus is that you don’t really get a rule book, although there are vague rules. So god, it turns out, isn’t quite omnipotent. There are laws of nature and human whimsicality constraining one’s godly powers. The game guides you in certain directions, but the precise route you take through the landscape of Godus is, I think, distinctive to each player. The map of the world I’ve created doesn’t look the any of the other images I’ve seen while doing a cursory Google search. Which could, of course, mean that I’m playing it all wrong. But then again, I’m the god. My way’s the right way, dammit (at least in my world).
The currency in Godus is belief, which is apparently a neon pink ball, and you collect it from every home and settlement that you help your followers build. You know how they say faith can move mountains? In Godus, this is literally true. Belief is the source of your power and it is with belief that you’re able to sculpt the land and yes, this can involve moving mountains. The challenge isn’t only to sculpt the land, but to keep your followers happy. So if a follower is ‘blocked’ (i.e. can’t find their way across the layers that make up the landscape), then you could flick at a bit of land and help them out. You can shower a little Rain of Purity over crops to make them grow faster. Drag a finger over a bit of land to beautify it, and it goes all sparkly, making your followers feel smiley-faced. If your followers aren’t happy, they will jump off a nearby cliff and swim across to the nearby Astari civilisation, which is made up of people who appear to wear brown paper bags over their heads.
At the end of a week of playing the almighty, I have two observations. It’s bloody frustrating being god and there’s no pleasing your followers, some of whom are frequently stupid and infuriating. There’s no telling what will make these followers happy. I’ve given them some lovely real estate, cottages with sea views and/ or trees around them. I’ve sculpted paths over mountains to reach fertile land where they can grow wheat. I’ve put up a fountain, led them to temples and generally done my bit for these ungrateful wretches, but is that enough? Of course not. Their happiness levels are constantly climbing down as though their lives are miserable. You’ve got a green, clean planet! Fishies in the sea! A little lake! And you’re still moping?
What would you do if you had to live in my world, with its traffic jams, depleting natural reserves and sky-rocketing levels of air pollution? You think you’re sad, you little geometric person in a blue or biscuit-coloured tunic? (Builders wear blue and Breeders wear biscuit.) Imagine showering and realising that half the hair on your head is swirling along with your bathwater because even the dead cells that make up human hair can’t handle the grubbiness in the air.
Self-pitying little sods, holding their arms up in the air in despair every other second, for no reason whatsoever.
What’s most frustrating about being god, however, is that there’s a critical mass of followers who just don’t appreciate or see the work I’m doing for them. For instance, I’ve sculpted a perfectly decent path from Jopville, a farming settlement in the plains, to the wheat fields that are a little higher up, on a mountain. They’ve literally got to walk in a straight line to reach the fields. Simple, right? It is for most of my 800-odd followers, but not for Ms. Lianne Baker. Every time I open up Godus, within seconds, I get a little notification telling me I’ve got a blocked follower and it’s always Lianne, a farmer from Jopville who clearly was made in my own image because she’s outstandingly bad at finding her way around the place. Whether she’s going back to Jopville or to her field, Lianne will lose her way, despite having done this commute repeatedly for many weeks (time moves faster in Godus, so a day is a few minutes long).
The first couple of times Lianne stood at an edge, throwing her hands up in the air, I felt bad for her. So I sculpted not one but TWO alternative paths to her field. I’d flick a bit of land to nudge her in the right direction when she was on her way home. It didn’t help. She’s committed to losing her way and wandering around like a doofus. She’ll be standing just a few feet away from Jopville and will claim to be blocked. EXCEPT I CAN SEE THAT IT’S A STRAIGHT ROAD TO JOPVILLE. SO CAN EVERY OTHER FARMER IN YOUR BLOODY VILLAGE. JUST FOLLOW YOUR STUPID NOSE, LIANNE, AND YOU’LL BE HOME! But no, she’s going to waddle around in the opposite direction and then claim she’s blocked. Or when she’s exactly three steps away from her field, Lianne will, for some reason, turn in the opposite direction and climb uphill instead of walking down. She will actually defy gravity, not see the path in front of her and make her life infinitely more difficult. It’s imbecility that borders on genius, with “borders” being the key word.
The other day, I decided to ignore Lianne’s pleas. I know the solution is staring at her in the face, so really, I’ve done my bit, I rationalised. It’s up to her to find it. I can’t do much more than give her a straight path home and two different ways of reaching her work destination.
That night, at a rather ungodly hour, I found myself wondering if the gods — presuming, of course, that they exist — do to us what I’ve done to Lianne. By which I mean, wash their hands off us when we’re acting like idiots because they figure there’s only so much they can do when faced with obstinate insistence to not see what’s staring us in our faces. I kept remembering the little figure of Lianne Baker, wandering around, determined to get lost and refusing to see what’s in front of her, and I thought of myself. Not because I’m self-obsessed (well, only slightly), but because I’ve been feeling all growly of late. A lot seemed to be entirely out of whack, from details like how little I’ve read in the past few months to the much larger problem of how alarmingly meh my writing is becoming. The point at which the only thing going for a sentence is the fact that it’s grammatically correct is, well, not a good point, but that’s where I am at the moment and it’s not comforting.
While the buildings outside my window turned a paler shade of darkness in twilight, I gave myself a pep talk that night. I laid out my problems and my options like tarot cards. I can’t tell my future, but I did take a long, hard look at my present. It helped me remember why I made the choices that are now making me snarl and sniff from time to time. I remembered why I turned away from certain things; I remembered some things that I’d forgotten were within my reach.
The next time I logged on to play Godus, within seconds, there was a notice telling me a follower was blocked. I knew it was Lianne even before I tapped on the icon that would show me which follower was blocked. Lo and behold, it was indeed Lianne. She was wandering, again. I didn’t do anything to clear her path. This time when I saw her, I had the niggling suspicion that Lianne was quite deliberately losing her way. She will find her way to her field because that’s her job and she knows she’s got to do it. But she’s looking for something beyond that field and looking down at her little figure, roaming the place, seemingly aimlessly, I believe she’ll find whatever it is she’s looking for, even if it means wasting time (that could be used for constructive work) upon getting lost and frustrating her benevolent, not-entirely-invested god.