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You play as...a person. Who? Well, that's up for the game to decide. When you first start up the game, it automatically generates a random character who, theoretically, could be any average person in just about any country (the website boasts 190 possible countries). Your objective is to get this person through life, from birth to death. Hopefully dying of old age instead of, say, being tortured in prison.
Oh, yeah. Since this is supposed to be a Real Life simulator, it tries its hardest to present how life is actually lived in (insert country here). That includes the bad stuff: being permanently paralyzed after an assault, having nearly all your possessions stolen from you, your girlfriend breaking up with you... The difficulty is determined largely by which country your character lives in: a rich first-world country (for example, the US or UK) is considerably easier to live in than, say, China or India.
To further help the "education" part (after all, this was meant to be played at schools), Real Lives also includes random facts about the country your character lives in. Some facts have a...quite dubious educational value. (For example: "Americans watch and play many types of sports.")
The actual game begins right after your birth, and, at first, there's nothing to do except press "Age A Year" and watch the random events happen. But as you get older, you are given more control, being able to go to school, find a job, start your own business, pursue romance, and have children.
Real Lives provides examples of:
- Better Than It Sounds: For some, the huge number of variables makes for a surprisingly interesting game.
- Character Customization: As well as using the randomly generated characters, it's possible to create your own. You pick a name (from a drop down list, don't expect to name your kid Sephiroth), gender, country, city, urban or rural, and personal attributes. The only thing you can't control is your family. Later on, you can also choose your characters' interests.
- Crapsack World: Sure can feel like this sometimes. The Random Event %s can stack up on you, leading to situations like Afghanistan being pounded with seven massive earthquakes and four wars in a 20-year period.
- Difficulty Levels: Not really, but some countries are much easier to have a good life in than others.
- Downer Ending: "You have been murdered at age 4." Also a lot of other ways to die (starvation/malnourishment, tortured in prison, terminal cancer...).
- "You have died trying to save the life of a friend."
- Driven to Suicide: A possible cause of death.
- Edutainment Game
- Freeware Game: The 2004 edition (the 2010 edition is a commercial product).
- Gay Option: Sort of. You can't choose to be straight or gay (just like in Real Life!), but your character will randomly become exclusively interested only in members of the same sex...which means that it's impossible for your character to get married or have children. Unless they live in the Netherlands.
- In the '04 edition, at least, it seemed you started life as a bisexual. This Troper is quite certain she had a sequence of "Interesting Girl", "Interesting Girl", "Interesting GUY" at least a few times, and if you turn down the first couple of gay romances, the game offers to make you straight.
- Heroic Sacrifice: As mentioned above, you can die trying to save your friend. Unlike many aspects of the game, you do get a choice in this, and you're not guaranteed to die.
- Infant Immortality: Averted (see Downer Ending, above). This game is based on real life, after all.
- Karma Meter: Your responses to various scenarios (Will you steal a car? Tell a white lie?) affects your "conscience." You can also improve it by volunteering or through social and political activism.
- Random Event: The entire game is made up of these. There's nothing stopping the same event happening twice in a row, either. "51 years old: Car was stolen. (buys new car) 52 years old: Car was stolen." Oh, Goddamnit.
- Raising Sim
- Simulation Game
- Vanity Window: The map in the center of the screen is the only window which can't be hidden. It's also the window most likely to get in your way (especially if you're using a widescreen monitor)
- Video Game Caring Potential: It's surprising how much you can feel it when your virtual "favorite" sibling dies.
- Video Game Cruelty Potential: Not a lot of this, but it's there. Go ahead, divorce your spouse and make him/her take all 6 of your kids. Go ahead, ruin that guy's life so you can get a few extra (insert currency here). Go ahead, leave the dying guy out on the street to rot.