Bullfrog’s Theme Hospital turns 20 this year. Yet despite being two decades old, the game feels more relevant than ever.
The NHS is in crisis – if you’re even vaguely interested in politics, you’ll know that our health service is one of the main debating points in the run up to the snap election. Amidst claims of inadequate funding and back-door privatisation, it seems everyone’s forgotten that we’ve already had a taste of what privatised healthcare would be like: Theme Hospital.
Despite being designed and created by a UK team – who even based the eventual level designs on real hospitals in Surrey, this is every bit the same business sim as Theme Park. The hospitals are designed for paying customers and are concerned with generating cold, hard profit.
It’s not quite as callous as it sounds – if you played Theme Park then you’ll know that beneath the bright, cartoony visuals, it was very much a business sim. Theme Hospital utilised the same style of gameplay, but added in a large dollop of humour that meant you couldn’t draw direct parallels with real life: Broken Wind, 3rd Degree Sideburns, Hairyitis, Slack Tongue – just a few of the conditions that your clinicians would be dealing with.
Yet there was some scarily accurate foreboding for the future – your success or failure in Theme Hospital would largely be dictated by how well you could achieve your goals and move onto your next venture. The savvy hospital director would come in, hit their targets and leave.
Failure in the later levels often came down to investing in the wrong diagnostics or treatments for your target population – hospitals would become run-down with mice infestations and broken equipment. Insufficient staffing would mean patients either got fed up and left or died waiting for treatment.
Sound familiar? Play Theme Hospital today and you might well feel end up feeling like you’re playing through a BBC News report. The game has, ironically, been a better Health Secretary than Jeremy Hunt in terms of anticipating what would happen to the NHS. One can only hope that whoever triumphs in the general election next month has played Theme Hospital and heeds its warning.
Or at least invests in enough electrolysis machines to deal with a potential outbreak of Hairyitis.