Exposing The Poverty Of The Rich
HIGH The (outrageous) accuracy of the simulation.
LOW The graphics are underwhelming.
WTF Why isn’t everyone a white male at FERIOS?
Generally speaking, there are two ways in which videogames can represent reality. One is the simulation of reality. This is the kind usually found in sports games or racing games, attempting to replicate the visuals and mechanics of their subjects as closely as possible. Another is the metaphorical presentation of reality, in which a fictional universe implies certain truths without trying to be photorealistic. The Invisible Hand takes elements from both approaches and the result is a spectacular — albeit weirdly so — experience.
This recent indie is, at its core, a simulation strategy game within a simple first-person space. It sets up the player as an ambitious employee at a corporate stockbroker firm. Play mostly consists of buying and selling stock while trying to read (read: manipulate) the market effectively, and the ethics involved are effectively exploited in this satirical and topical story.
The player gets into the fictional trading firm FERIOS not by academic qualifications, but through a contact within the company, who teaches them the secrets (read: cheats) of the trade. Starting from this already-privileged position, the player passes a humorously easy-to-pass market ethics test and indulges in a world consisting of numbers and values, that is truly visible only to the rich elites that constitute it.
The story connects events happening in the ‘real’ world concerning resources, products and businesses. For example, droughts increase demand for manufactured beverages, whereas bad press for a company decreases said company’s stock value. But this much is known to any entry-level stockbroker — the more daring approach that The Invisible Hand takes is, as its title implies, the unseen influences directing the course of stocks (especially in contrast to a stock’s logical trajectory) and as a consequence, the rise and fall of societies in the real world. In this simulation, market manipulation leads to resource wars, food shortages and hunger in developing and oppressed countries, just as capitalist activities have entailed in reality.
The game is quite easy to progress in, as all the tools for market manipulation are disproportionally in the hands of the player, and these shenanigans result in a climax in which the player is confronted with the effects of their actions on the world. At the end of the story the player has some ethical agency and can make choices that imply different outcomes to the narrative. I won’t spoil things, but striving for the ‘good’ ending is… ambiguous.
Looking solely at the gameplay, it offers a satisfying way to learn basic stockbroking that corresponds to reality. While other gameplay elements (such as managing private property and walking around the office space) are less fleshed out, they don’t take up much gameplay time and don’t hinder the experience. The campaign’s length is well-balanced at about four hours in total, giving plenty of time to get used to the core mechanic without spreading it too thin.
My only structural criticism of The Invisible Hand is of the awkwardly underwhelming graphics, especially the character models which are not up to contemporary standards, even when judged against small-budget indies. Initially, I read this as a metaphor, but the bottom line is that metaphor or not, the visuals took away from the experience at times.
Finally, I would like to highlight the use of gender-neutral language and the ethnic diversity of characters. The player-character has no assigned or optional gender/ethnicity and is referred to with gender-neutral pronouns such as they/them. The officemates encountered are as ethnically and gender-diverse as can be. While I understand the inclusive approach and am generally an advocate for inclusivity and diversity in videogames, I feel like this might be one of the few games in which it works counterproductively. If all the characters were white males, the message of the privileged few determining the catastrophe for the non-white/non-western world would be much more politically and historically accurate. The Invisible Hand realistically depicts a world that was built and sustained by and for white males, at the cost of all other backgrounds, after all.
Those issues aside, The Invisible Hand is absolutely a success. Players will witness the cruelty of corporate capitalism, which in turn only emphasizes the sheer ridiculousness with which it continues to sustain itself and the sheer privilege of corporate trade and the hypercapitalist way of life. While a brief and certainly flawed experience, I can’t give this title anything less than my full recommendation.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Power Struggle Games and published by Fellow Traveler. It is currently available on PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 4 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: The Invisible Hand has no ESRB rating. While it contains no visually disturbing material, it deals with themes predominantly relevant for mature audiences, and the gameplay of stockbroking might be too complicated for younger players to deal with.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: All dialogue is subtitled (see examples above) and there are no relevant audio cues. Subtitles cannot be resized but are of a decent size. I consider this title fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls.