The Hidden Impact of Civilization

The following content originally appeared on gamerwho.com. Due to issues with that site (It may not be around at all soon.), I will re-post some of the best content I wrote for it here on my personal blog. Enjoy and as always, feel free to chime in and tell me what your thoughts are.

I must confess, while I primarily am an Xbox man, sometimes I explore the games medium on other platforms. One such device that I often enjoy finding hidden gems on is the PC. More than its console brethren, this machine normally used for pornography by most of the world’s population is home to some truly wild and magnificently well done video game design. Of all the pieces that I’ve had the privilege to play, none sticks with me more than Sid Meier’s Civilization.

I first got into the series in late 2006. One day my dad, for reasons I can’t now remember, got me Civ 4 as a gift and I was hooked. Hours and hours were sunk into various legendarily long game sessions where I would take a single city from some historical country and build up an empire that would become the stuff of legend, at least to the 13 year old trapped in a small boring town.

And today, the passion continues still. I picked up Civ 5 shortly after its release and managed to get several friends of mine who weren’t into the series initially to download it from Steam. After many a fun night of playing (That’s not how you play the game!), it fell by the wayside again. Like all computer games, I find that the time I spend playing them rises and falls regularly. Recently, I got back into Civ and had an odd thought after burning a city to the ground and building a new city (I was playing as Egypt.) in place of its charred and useless ruins.

Did I just commit genocide or an ethnic cleansing?

I’m pretty sure I did. Though one can have a lot of fun in Civilization and its related spinoffs by conquering your opponents and messing with them in various other ways, the real world ramifications of these actions are often not seen by the player, who also often rules as a god over their own chosen nation that they end up building into a force to be reckoned with on the map.

Want to use nuclear weapons? You can! Sure, the map gets a little bit of fallout and some citizens may die, but in a few turns everything is right back to normal. The farms are producing again and the fact that a player chose to use one of the most destructive devices ever known to mankind is all but forgotten by the lines of code put out by the talented developers at Firaxis. In earlier installments, the icecaps of the games map would melt and the world would be irrevocably flooded. That feature should be brought back in future releases in the series.

Or, say you’re not a truly destructive madman and don’t feel the need to conquer your enemies, nuke their lands or burn down all they have built up, what’s an aspiring leader to do? Why, sanctions of course. Through the World Congress and the United Nations in game, you can have a trade embargo issued on a nation if enough players vote for it. Here too we don’t see the cost of such an action. Civilians don’t go hungry, no economies tank and nor do any uprisings occur.

Ultimately, I love Civ, but I wish the games showed more of the consequences that can arise as a result of the actions you choose to commit. Ever since playing This War of Mine, I must admit I’ve come to expect a little more from all the games I play that are set in a realistic or semi-realistic setting. I want to see just how bad things can get when I feel like acting like God. That’s something the industry and players need more of, in all genres and across all gaming platforms.

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