By RPS on December 11th, 2011 at 10:58 am.
On the 11th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me… Well, nothing. Because they’d perished, like the rest of them.
Happy Christmas, everyone.
It’s… the soul-crushing but fiercely brainy environmental misery that is Fate of the World!
Adam: The body count that I accrue in the average game of Fate of the World is higher than anything I achieve in anything other than the most militant of space strategy games. As Galactic Overlord Smithsonia I may deliberately destroy the population of an entire solar system, just for kicks, but put me in charge of saving the Earth from climate change, along with the wider, awful weight of humanity, and all my best efforts only seem to speed up the process of annihilation.
With its premise of a fictional global body tasked with preventing the disastrous effects of climate change, Fate of the World could easily have been a series of heavy-handed lessons about the evils of current energy policies, a finger-wag at the doubters and deniers. Fine. Perhaps that’s in there but I always feel that the game is wagging its finger at me, the fool who took on the job of fixing things, rather than at any particular group in the real world. Every step I take eventually feels like an assault upon my geopolitical naivety.
MAybe the world isn’t ruled by bastards after all, but kind-hearted individuals each laden with a banquet’s worth of plates to spin. They’re also barefoot, so as soon as a plate drops to the ground and smashes, they are wobbling back and forth on increasingly lacerated feet, their soles sundered by the failures of the past. Perhaps there’s also a legion of lobbyists armed with feather dusters darting about the place, tickling the plate-spinners so that eventually they fall to the ground convulsing with laughter and agony, a ruined mess of gore and failure lying in the ceramic shrapnel of failed ideals.
But Fate of the World doesn’t convince me that the top of the political pile is dominated by anything other than bastards. It doesn’t even try to. But it does ask me to take all my optimism, belief and do-goodery and attempt to make things better. And I fail. Again and again and again. I don’t think I’m entirely rubbish, it’s just that saving the world from ourselves turns out to be quite complicated. Every butterfly that I save from extinction seems to flap its wings and cause acts of wanton genocide and financial meltdown in a less fortunate part of the world.
It’s not chaos theory but the game is as much about the interconnectivity of events and actions – cause and effect – as it is about global warming. It presents problems spanning everything from economic crises to genocide and asks, “What would you do?” Perhaps you’ll be guided by ethics or idealism but that won’t last long, because Fate of the World doesn’t just ask the question, it goes on to provide the answer.
“This is what you did”, it sighs. “You killed the pandas. You propped up a dictator, you caused tens of millions to starve. War is not and will never be over and you have ruined Christmas forever.”
But that’s not to say it’s wholly depressing fare. While I always feel trepidation when I end my turn, waiting to see what fresh Hell my encouragement of the electric car industry has wrought, the process is fascinating. I pick options I initially recoiled from because I know now that their long-term consequences are more favourable than my bleeding heart optimism allowed me to believe. Far from finding the game preachy, I took away the lesson that the big issues shouldn’t be simplified, that taking sides is futile, and that, with so much at risk, there is no such thing as an easy choice.
I also learned that if you have an imported Christmas tree you’re probably responsible for the soil erosion that will eventually cause Scandinavia to slide into the sea as its population fight bitterly over the last remaining fertile land, their violence fuelled by the influx of weaponry that followed the rise of militarised Finnish drug cartels. Enjoy!
Alec: So it turns out even biofuels are bad news for someone. Biofuels! They were supposed to fix everything, I once believed. I thought they would make the world a better place, but they wrecked a continent’s economy and agriculture, they caused mass unemployment and even starvation… There is no hope. Nothing works. What are we going to do? We’re so screwed! It’s all over, we’re going to die in fire and drought and flood and disease and all the monkeys are gone already and there won’t be any computers, cars or plastic anymore and Oh, God! Oh, Jesus Christ! Oh, my God! Christ! No, no, dear God! No, Christ! No, no!
Fate of the World is a very difficult turn-based strategy game indeed. There is a good reason for that. Saving the planet – saving civilisation as we know it – is not going to be a cakewalk, after all. So while it teaches me, it also scares me, rather a lot.
I’m going to shut down my PC now, before it uses any more electricity.