Sim-plicity: I am a clown manager

Having retired from world-saving heroics, Christopher Livingston is living the simple life in video games by playing a series of down-to-earth simulations. This week he's headed for the Big Top to manage a collection of faltering clowns and mounds of rotting concession stand trash!

I don't know about you guys, but I've got CIRCUS FEVER! Seriously! No, seriously. I have circus fever. It's a fairly distressing medical condition. Symptoms of circus fever include a red puffy nose, belches that taste like undercooked corn dogs, and harrowing visions of malnourished animals and capering men in greasy face paint. My doctor prescribed bed rest, suggested I lay off the cotton candy, and said that if I'm going to insist on licking clowns, I should least wash them first.

Since I'm bedridden anyway, I thought I might play Circus World, a simulation that puts me in charge of running a circus. Naturally, my first responsibility as circus owner is to hire some performers. As I'm just starting out and don't have much of a budget, the high-rated professional performers are either unaffordable or are already working for one of the three rival circuses I'm competing with. I don't know what universe this game is taking place in, but it's apparently one in which the circus industry is not just thriving but is as competitive a market as Major League Baseball.

With little else to choose from, I wind up with five less-than-impressive-sounding acts:

  1. Katie the Wonderdog, a dog that does presumably wondrous things.
  2. The Mighty Man, who lifts large weights over his head.
  3. Fred And His Unicycle, where the former (a clown) rides the latter (a unicycle) while holding some balloons.
  4. Amazing Astra, a horse that does presumably amazing things.
  5. Jumping Jane, a woman who jumps on a trampoline.

My acts perform once a day, and I get to watch the highlights of the show. As my performers are inexperienced beginners, the show doesn't always go so smoothly. Once in a while, for instance, The Mighty Man completely fails to lift his weights, or Katie the Wonderdog fails to do whatever it is she's supposed to be doing (which is not entirely evident even when she is successful).

There are accidents, too, such as when Jumping Jane, my trampolinist, lands on her head and bounces violently off into the wings. Sadder still, Fred comes out to delight and astound people who have never seen anyone ride a unicycle, and he suffers coronary and dies on stage. Or, you know, maybe he just falls onto his face. It's hard to tell. Either way, the audience boos.

While I understand the impulse to boo a clown having a heart attack, I'm a little dismayed to see the crowd also enthusiastically boo my horse, Astra, when she gives a poor performance. Seriously, who boos a sad-faced horse? I suppose that's the sort of classy behavior you can expect from people who think attending a low-budget circus is a better idea than not doing that.

In addition to hiring malfunctioning circus acts, I've also got finances and promotions to manage. I can take out newspaper, television, and radio ads, and even have a parade (which takes place off-screen) to drum up business. I also purchase a couple game stalls and a concession stand, and to make sure patrons have cash to spend on them, I purchase an ATM. This attracts a customer who stands in front of it all day, every day, wearing an expression of sheer bliss on his face. Hopefully, someone so entranced and pleased with an ATM will find a clown falling over the absolute height of entertainment.

After week of watching my clown keel over intermittently and my amazing animals vaguely lurch around on stage, I move my circus to a new town where they hopefully haven't heard about how terrible my circus is. I hire some new acts, like Deadeye, a performer who throws knives at a large-breasted clown shackled to a spinning disc, and the Blademaster, who does exactly the same trick but with a different name. I also hire a juggling clown on stilts named High Jinx, thinking that if he falls down mid-act, at least it will be from a great height and maybe the audience will appreciate it a bit more.

The circus also regularly fills up with garbage from my concession stand, and I have to walk around every day picking up discarded popcorn boxes and soda cups. I'm sure waste management is an important part of running an actual circus, and I'd like to give credit to Circus World for including it in their simulation, but I'd also like to time travel back to the meeting in which the designers of the game said, "Hey, maybe we should make the players have to constantly pick up garbage," and record it, and then play it back to them so they could hear what a terrible idea it was and not add it to the game, because there is nothing remotely enjoyable or challenging about constantly picking up garbage.

Every week, I move to a new city, and invest in higher quality acts as I earn more money. I replace The Mighty Man with Vigo The Strong, who lifts (or sometimes fails to lift) even bigger weights. I let the contracts expire on my two knife-throwers and hire Sharp Sam to replace them (Sam also flings blades at imprisoned clowns, but he does so whilst wearing a bucket over his head). Instead of hiring a dog that does nothing, I hire a dog that jumps through a hoop, which is a marginal improvement. I even hire a Ringmaster, whose job it is to help the audience follow the action and make sense of the surreal fever dream that is my collection of wobbling clowns and terrified animals.

I decide it's time to go big, so I move the circus to London for a fortnight of shows. I kick my promotional efforts into high gear with extravagant, daily parades through the heart of the city, enchanting the locals by stopping their traffic and filling their streets with elephant droppings for a solid week. You're welcome, London!

Unfortunately, the downside of forcing your largely untrained circus performers to work every day with no rest is that they tend to tire and make mistakes. After a few shows, the health of my performers is in sharp decline, and with most of my budget tied up in advertising, I can't afford to replace them with fresher talent. With ten days left in my London schedule, everything starts to come apart. In the video below, you can watch a typical performance from my London tour, which includes my clown collapsing onto his face, my trampolinist falling on her head, and an audience member who seems like he really wants to applaud a small dog falling over but isn't quite sure if it's entirely appropriate.

Conclusion: Alert the medical journals, because I've discovered the cure for circus fever: Antibiotics, plenty of fluids, and spending an entire afternoon playing a low-budget circus management simulation that you spent $30 on.

Christopher Livingston
Senior Editor

Chris started playing PC games in the 1980s, started writing about them in the early 2000s, and (finally) started getting paid to write about them in the late 2000s. Following a few years as a regular freelancer, PC Gamer hired him in 2014, probably so he'd stop emailing them asking for more work. Chris has a love-hate relationship with survival games and an unhealthy fascination with the inner lives of NPCs. He's also a fan of offbeat simulation games, mods, and ignoring storylines in RPGs so he can make up his own.