In the 2013 Russian film Hard to Be a God, life is a slog through a filth-covered world forever stuck in the Middle Ages (see Pagebreak). However, if you want to explore the god-like responsibilities of fostering a medieval society—without all the feces—try the quirky city-building PC game "Banished."
Like Hard to Be a God, "Banished" takes place in an unknown world frozen in the Middle Ages. The game begins with no backstory, other than the fact that you have been cast out from your home and must reestablish a community with little more than a handful of settlers, some basic foodstuffs, and maybe a barn and a few houses. There are no enemies, no technologies to research, no special buildings to unlock. There isn't even any money, only trade with a boat that shows up once a year. There is no way to win, per say, but plenty of ways to lose.
The primary battles are against scarcity; crop blights, animal sickness and human disease; and nature itself in the form of tornadoes, hard winters and scorching summers. Time moves in seasons rather than years, requiring you to allocate labor and plant crops according to the weather. Economics are the focal point of the game: food, iron, wood, herbs, stone and coal are the only resources. Firewood, clothes, medicine, tools, alcohol, leather and wool are the only goods you can produce. From those elements, you must build a town that can maintain the delicate balance of health and happiness needed to sustain a perpetually reproducing population. One element out of place, and the entire system collapses.
Presented in a top-down city builder view, the interface is smooth, allowing you to rotate 360-degrees and zoom in and out on the environment—including following individual citizens (who all have names, inventories and gauges showing their happiness and health). Though not the most richly rendered game, there's an understated beauty to the wilderness in which you're placed. The trees change with the seasons, thick rains fall, rivers flow through meadows and mountains, and snow quietly blankets the roofs and fields as smoke curls from the chimney tops.
Though it's definitely hard to be a god in "Banished," there's a sense of zen that comes with watching tiny children run through your streets as the graveyards fill up with citizens who (hopefully) died of old age rather than starvation or hypothermia.