Banished: Real World Lessons from an Infuriatingly Difficult City Builder

As you’ve no doubt worked out by now, I recently graduated from university. And I’ve discovered in the last few weeks that going from having zero free time to having nothing but free time is a bit of a shock to your system. In my desperate attempt to fill my suddenly very empty hours, I have been binging my Steam Games, and one game I have spent more time than I care to admit playing over the last few weeks is Banished.

Banished Steam City Builder lessons we can learn from games

Banished is a city builder game. You begin with a small group of people who have been exiled from their previous home and determine how they will build their new community. It’s one of those games you spend more time watching than playing, and you’re not really sure why you’re even playing it. But then you play for another 4 hours.

There are many, many ways for your city to fail: starvation, freezing to death, natural disasters, over population, imbalanced population growth, the list goes on. The developers took into account nearly ever possible problem that could arise when trying to build a sustainable city from nothing, problems that in many ways our world still faces. As a result, this simulator could easily be used for educational purposes and to help model how trends today impact our world decades down the line. So, here are 3 super relevant and real world applicable lessons Banished teaches players.

Family Planning Is Literally Everything

Banished City Builder Games Real World Lessons

Maintaining controlled population growth is everything in Banished. If you have too many children born at once your resources won’t be able to keep up with the needs of your community, and even if it you manage to survive the boom this means that 60 seasons (years) later you are going to lose a ton of people from your workforce all at the same time.

Banished is a medieval city builder, so needless to say modern contraception is not in the works just yet. Instead you have to try to control your population growth through how many new houses you build, because once a new couple moves into a house they have another child every 7 seasons (years), regardless of whether or not they actually have the resources to care for all those children.

Despite having developed effective family planning methods and contraceptives, our modern world is very much facing these same problems. The earth is already beyond its sustainable capacity; it simply does not have the resources to provide for 7+ billion people. But the population just keeps on growing, mainly because family planning is so hard to come by in many places of the world. When women are given little to no control over their reproductive capabilities, the whole world suffers in the long run.

Greedy People Kill Communities

Banished City Builder Games Real World Lessons

Dividing up resources is something you are given very little control over in Banished. You can ensure there is always enough to go around, but you can’t actually decide who gets what. And sometimes you know you have plenty of food, and yet you are getting the little warning that people are starving. So you start clicking around trying to figure out what the hell is going on, and then you find it. The one asshole house with a total of 3 people in it hoarding enough food to feed them for years, while the family of 12 next door is quickly emptying their stores.

When families starve you lose the workers you were already relying on, plus years worth of potential workers before they even came of age. Sometimes you won’t have enough people in the workforce to replace the labor you lost, which means sectors of your city become shorthanded and less productive. You might have to choose between having enough firewood and having enough food. Or maybe between having enough tools and the next generation having an education. And if you don’t already have enough vital resources stored away, either option can be devastating to your community’s future.

Long story short, when 2 or 3 families in a community hoard resources, everyone suffers. Because eventually they are the only people left and they cannot build a community by themselves (no matter what their egos think).

Education is Ridiculously Important

Lessons from Banished School House city builders  In Banished, educated workers are much more productive than uneducated workers. Sure, this means children become students first instead of immediately entering the workforce, but in the long run there is absolutely no question that an educated population is far more sustainable than an uneducated one. More experienced Banished players know that it is vital that they build a school as soon as they are feasibly able to, because the longer it takes you to start educating your population, the longer you are stuck with uneducated workers hindering your progress.

And by the way, both boys and girls are educated and put to work in the world of Banished. Because even the game’s otherwise largely incompetent AI are smart enough to realize that keeping half of your population ignorant and wasting all of that potential is a really stupid idea.

City builders like Banished condense the timeline and give insight into how patterns and choices impact a community in the long run. They force players to pay close attention to how their cities are developing and to have considerable foresight into how their choices will impact their cities decades into the future. Looking around, it is pretty clear that we could do with some of the world’s current leaders taking the same amount of care into building sustainable communities.

I’m just saying.


All screenshots are mine.