Since childhood, I have been a big fan of life simulation games.
Despite my love of such games, I was never exposed to Jones in the Fast Lane until recently. It is essentially a computerized board game in the tradition of The Game of Life. The game focuses on survival and success. Like real life, the goal of Jones in the Fast Lane is to be as wealthy, happy, educated, and satisfied with your career as you can be. Also like real life, if you have a crappy job, you can’t pay your bills, you’ll live in a dump, and you will hate every second of your miserable existence.
There are a number of things I like about this game, but first and foremost I enjoy its simplicity. Unlike most simulator games, it can easily be played in one sitting. It’s challenging enough that it requires a modicum of strategy, yet simple enough that it doesn’t require much brainpower or frustration. Jones in the Fast Lane allows up to four players, but it’s 2009, not 1991, so who on earth would play this game with me? I just play against the computer (in the form of a character named Jones).
I am well aware of my strengths and weaknesses. In real life, I can’t find or hold a job, I’m temperamental, depressive, disorganized, and poor, yet in a life simulation game, I am Queen Supreme. Of course that’s nothing to brag about, but if I can’t be wealthy, happy, educated, and satisfied with my career, then at least I can escape for a while to a world where I am.
In order to succeed in Jones in the Fast Lane, you must attend Hi-Tech University while managing a busy job schedule. Despite its dubious credentials, Hi-Tech University offers a variety of degree options from trade school to post-graduate research. Career paths are highly dependent on academic paths, so to get better (and higher-paying) jobs, one must pursue more and more degrees and certifications.
Of course getting these degrees in Jones in the Fast Lane is far easier than it is in real life. After approximately 11 clicks of the mouse, you can have a bachelor’s degree for $50 in-game. That’s cheaper than a cola at Monolith Burger. But what does a bachelor’s degree get you? Not much, really. If you’re lucky, you can be manager at Socket City or Z-Mart. You may even get to be a bank teller, which is actually more than I ever did with my real-life bachelor’s degree.
The best gig in town is the highest managerial position at the factory. It requires a lot of education, and it requires a snazzy suit. I have no idea what kind of a factory it is, and with that salary (approximately $27-$34 per hour in 1991 money), I wouldn’t be asking too many questions.
Although I’ve mastered my own particular strategy for the game, there are times I have lost due to pure bad luck. When you’re in the beginning of the game and you are poor, you are more susceptible to apartment break-ins and even muggings. Often, the in-game economy is so bad that you can’t afford to go to school anymore, and you end up flipping burgers or doing janitorial work for $3 an hour. C’est la vie. Again, like real life, you can do everything you’re supposed to do, and do as best as you can manage, but it’s still not good enough. More often than not though, it’s easy to be a winner.