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Water Cooler Games served as the web's primary forum for "videogames with an agenda" — coverage of the uses of video games in advertising, politics, education, and other everyday activities, outside the sphere of entertainment.

The site was maintained at watercoolergames.org from 2003-2009, where it was edited by myself and Gonzalo Frasca. It is now archived here in full.
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Cutthroat Capitalism
by Ian Bogost July 29, 2009

Wired Magazine has published a game about the business of Somali pirating. The game, called Cutthroat Capitalism, accompanies an article published in Wired, An Economic Analysis of the Somali Pirate Business Model. Here's a description:

You are a pirate commander staked with $50,000 from local tribal leaders and other investors. Your job is to guide your pirate crew through raids in and around the Gulf of Aden, attack and capture a ship, and successfully negotiate a ransom.


It's a pretty good game too! The player has limited movement and resources, and he must choose which sort of ship to attempt to capture and ransom. Once boarded, the game offers a simulation of the negotiation process, in which the player attempts to use strategies (feed, threaten, kill) and attitudes (cordial, erratic, aggressive) to extract ransom from the negotiator.

From a gameplay perspective, my main gripe is that Cutthroat Capitalism's map/navigation view seems superfluous; the process of navigating the seas is essentially abstracted from the game, as is any consequence of time, despite the counter that appears on the game. But the negotiation process is quite effective and feels balanced, such that decisions are meaningful. A quite good example of how a game can accompany and clarify a news story by demonstrating the processes the written article describes.


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