ABS creates a game: contains real data, traces of comedy and some very dodgy puns

runthattownI’m not entirely sure what the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) was thinking when it decided to create a game, but it’s a pretty neat piece of work as it turns out.

Run That Town is an iOS game that’s a little like SimCity but based on real census data. You choose a suburb or town and then make a series of development decisions. The correct choices get you money and influence to spend on further decisions, incorrect ones leave you increasingly politically impotent. Because the algorithm behind the game uses real data it provides an absolutely fascinating insight into the place where you live. In my first attempt I failed horribly as my instinctive decisions were hated by the reality of my fellow residents. The second time around I paid attention to the demographics and rejected anything that smacked of public transport or schools and managed to achieve maximum money and influence for most of the game. Clearly playing in a different suburb would require a different approach.

Now I actually was on my local Council for some time and I couldn’t help being struck by how true-to-life some of this decision-making was. Do we really need another pre-school? Yes but it’s not going to be popular with the older child-free people who make up most of the community. A cinema complex looks good from a distance, but not when you’re dealing with increased traffic and parking. For what’s basically a simple game it can be quite thought-provoking.

Don’t download this game expecting endless hours of gameplay. It’s entertaining and thought-provoking for a couple of plays, but you soon realise what it takes to win and the challenge evaporates, especially if you play your own suburb. But, while it’s no Plants vs Zombies or Angry Birds, it truly is worth a look and a few minutes spent thinking about how demographics influence political decision-making.

Outside of the game-play the graphics are charming and the voice-over from Shaun Micallef is witty. The disclaimer at the front says it all really: “WARNING: This game has been made for fun, and while it contains genuine Census data from your selected postal area, it also contains traces of comedy, complete generalisations and some very dodgy puns, which we’d like to apologise for now.”

I’m still not sure why the ABS went to the effort of making the game: Likely it was to demonstrate the utility of census data. While I’m not certain they entirely achieve that end, I’m glad they gave it such a good shot. The data is in: this is a great little game.

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