Justin Hall's personal site growing & breaking down since 1994

watch overshare: the story contact me

PC, 1991
Civilization defined an entire genre of games -

a bit like Simcity, with urban planning aspects, but plopping SimCity in history, like Caesar III, but history that changes and evolves according to your choices.

Civilization makes history making competitive. You build a society, a culture, a race in cooperation, or against other folks. You are consistently reminded throughout the game that you are competing with other people ("You are 3rd in Technology, 1st in Population" etc).

You play one of a few tribes, in a crowded world that remains blackened out - undiscovered until you traverse it. You start off with one coverred wagon - the western symbol for settlers, and you build a city with it. Within that city, you can fortify with walls and marketplaces, each of which boosts your progress-rate, and most of which do not become available until you have discovered the technology or science behind them. Also your city can build other units, other settlers, troops and transportation - you'll fan out across the map and establish diplomatic ties, or obliterate your opponents, or both.


Comparing Civilization to it's 21st century incarnation, Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri (actually designed by Brian Reynolds), yeilds some interesting similarities -

Biblical intros, "In the beginning" or in the case of alpha centauri, the next chapter, "after they were kicked out of the garden of eden"

It's clear that if we are to be Gods, we might as well be good at it, so the quote goes. Sid Meier is positioning his civilization developing software as close as you can come to god training simulations.

It's a very human diety duty - building roads and placing cities, and the like. but you have the kind of control that a president can only dream of - you can micromanage as much as you need, as well as commanding immediate results from any level of government at your insistence.

Bullfrog's Populous games are more explicit in their god-imitation - you command natural disasters on unsuspecting citizens and try to encourage the growth and development of your own followers in a world crowded with other dieties. but ultimately Sid Meier succeeds in empowering his users on another plane (as evidenced by the endless sequels and admirable sales record of the "Civilization" series) - his anchoring of near-godhood in the activities of political, warfare, science and civic direction puts the player in the center of a world that grows to reflect his/her choices in as much as s/he is successful in learning and manipulating the rules of the game itself.

in that way is Sid Meier's civilization occasionally frustrating - it becomes clear that Sid Meier is god and you are acting in his creation as perhaps his favoured son or daughter.


Civilation eats hours with ease - spending that much time in any simulation, it's important to study the implicit lessons of the environment. these match perhaps the culture from which civilization was produced - the software industry, high technology late capitalist mindset of america.

first of all, success is measured as supremacy. having the most land, the most money, the most technology, the most cities, the largest population, the largest army.

At the time, the technological progress of Civilization was novel - you had to discover bronze before you could discover iron and each afforded its own civilization advances.


the wheel, for example

Civilization emerged from a society where technological might can easily trump army size (America vs. Iraq particularly), and this holds true for the game.

Civilization does reward diplomacy; things do not have to become violent. why is it then when i play the game i find myself handedly conquering the weak spear-chucking primitives with my tank driving minions? because in the vaccuum of morality in Civilization, where winning is clearly the reason to play the game, it's too easy to conquer quickly than it is to bide your time for a second place world peace showing.

sure there can be a price to pay for over-extending yourself, by conquering the weaker tribes surrounding you - iunhappy unassimilated citizens might riot. the tribe next strongest to your might make inroads into reclaiming your conquests. but it becomes a matter of strategy, because in Civilization there is no one to answer to.

in that way all computer games take place in a moral vaccuum - occasionally games like the Ultima series will set up a universe that punishes bad behaviour, with a system of karma or somtehing similar. but with most games, civilization included, winning is the highest victory, and that victory is rewarded regardless of the means.

Alpha Centauri later adds a wrinkle to this - it is possible to succeed at diplomacy, by managing the other players such that they make peace and widespread commerce - a victory for all in partnership.

perhaps it is something male, in my psyche, that enjoys all the more the victory of conquest - of ruling over the largest fief and seeing each of my competitors absorbed into my empire. perhaps if i play the game over time, longer, i'll learn its subtleties such that i can learn to savour the diplomatic victories. maybe I need to play on a harder level.

There's always been something alluring about military technology, and this game is little different from a Quake or a Doom. While military research often drives technology (or military simulators (games) drive PC improvements?) Civilization is clearly more intelligent - in the game you can develop democracy and genetic engineering.

Civilization assures you that growth is good. it wasn't until his later games that ecology and pollution become a major factor (rendered curiously enough in Alpha Centauri as fungus that periodically emerges from inside "planet" to come whup your ass for being an over-polluter - ecology as combat)

Civilization permits perfect detachment - you're all up in the affairs of people (though noticably less so than in Caesar III, where people are constantly bothering you with their personal stories and problems) but you only supervise. there's few proper nouns. it's possible to operate in your own sphere, working over a well-oiled world, communicating only with your other world leaders.

playing through Civilization, from the beginnings before christ up to the year 2000 is like putting together pieces of a puzzle until the game map looks increasingly familiar, like the world of the game player. with Alpha Centauri, the longer you play, the further from humanity you go. there's less stable ground to stand on, and it occasionally shows.

Gisle's Civ Page

Civilization and Its Discontents: Simulation, Subjectivity, and Space an academic examination of Civilization by Ted Friedman

Sid Meier's Civilization, or Rome on 640K a Day
by Johnny Wilson and Alan Emrich
(ISBN 1-55958-191-3, US$18.95).

microprose | warez | ritteds

justin's links by justin hall: contact