Banishing Expectations

I bought Banished because I heard somewhere that it was about cannibalism.

I heard it was a brutally punishing city building game where you start with nothing but a bunch of individuals banished from civilised society and have to build an isolated community in order to survive the winter. You have to sustainably stockpile food and make clothing to keep everyone warm because humanity is little more than a beast in rough spun clothing and if allowed to become hungry or irritated it will be satisfied by the flesh of its own kind.

Wow, it’s easy to see why they were banished. How brave of the developers to make the people of this world so flawed and make us think about our own values and our desperate limits in the process.

There’s quite a lot to take into consideration when making your next move in Banished, particularly in the early stages. If you prioritise housing over food, your citizens will simply starve to death in their beds; if you’ve plenty of food but no shelter they’ll be nice and full while they die of exposure. I remained convinced of the cannibal angle for around 3 hours until a hard winter, dwindled food resources and some really incompetent management on my part led to what would have been the game’s first nightmare scenario.

Come on farmers, let's redeem some Cannibals!
Come on farmers, dig for redemption!

Then came the notification, “Stefan has died of starvation.”

What? He didn’t even try to eat anyone! He died of laziness, that fraud, we don’t need him. Then came three more starvations, then another five. I scoured the game’s built in help-screen for information on any anthropophagy mechanics and found nothing. Come to think of it, there was no crop rotation either. I’d believed some campfire story about the horrors of human appetites and got it all wrong. But if the game wasn’t about the moral rectification of a clan of human flesh eaters then what was it about?

If the game wasn’t about the moral rectification of a clan of human flesh eaters then what was it about?

Once I’d become used to this freeform way of thinking, the town expanded and new generations replaced the old, everything shared equally regardless of age or gender, including the labour. From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.

I’d been a fool, these people weren’t cannibals, they were socialists!

I started to feel kind of invigorated to be playing a game where the sexes were equal, the fair distribution of goods was an inalienable right and the only class was ‘citizen’.

The only problems emerged when my stable and healthy citizens began dying of old age. Most of the original town-builders had died in the famine and those that remained had no legacy but some corn in a barn and the promise of a life of hard work for their children.

There was a rush when the town was coming into its own and a sense of peril but once the threat of starvation was been warded off there’s really very little to aim for. Maybe this is why subsistence farming isn’t the focus of many games: it doesn’t offer much in terms of progression.

One day, all this will be yours!
One day, all this will be yours!

I’d really like to see Banished blossom, hopefully with the help of an active modding community into something more substantial, keeping the same attitude but bringing new challenges and goals to the table. Something to remove the sense of existential dread that comes from watching little lives comfortably play out with no real future.


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One response to “Banishing Expectations”

  1. waywardcloud avatar
    waywardcloud

    “Maybe this is why subsistence farming isn’t the focus of many games” Great news! You should check out the board game Agricola, which is about just that (sometimes refered to as ‘misery farming’), but is an absolute classic. Great piece anyway, even if there aren’t any cannibals…

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