All rise and no fall: how Civilization reinforces a dangerous myth

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Civilization VI: Rise and Fall wants to solve a problem. That problem is perpetual growth, and it plagues many 4X games. Whether your aim is world conquest or cultural hegemony, victory in Civilization and many of its cohorts depends on domination. However peacefully you try to play, you’re often straight-jacketed into a utilitarian-psychotic view where all resources and people are just raw material to be assimilated, Borg-like, until the whole map is monochrome.

But as the early excitement of exploration and expansion ebbs to late game stagnation, the fun runs out. Historically, stagnating empires tend to fragment and collapse. But in Civilization VI, like many games, you’re the star of the show – and there’s nowhere to go but up.

Through the Civilization lens, raw economic strength is success. Population is power. Stateless barbarians and rival empires are the only existential threat. Only growth matters. Invest, improve, reap the rewards, invest again.

That means that sooner or later, in every Civ game, you’ll reach a point where the challenge is gone but there’s still a long grind before you reach the point at which you have enough capital cities, culture points, rocket launches or religious conversions to win the game.

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Rise and Fall, the first major expansion for Civ VI, makes bold moves to enliven the endgame, like introducing Dark Ages and “city loyalty” , which makes your cities more liable to defect but also gives you a chance of phoenix-like rebirth into a Heroic Age. The intent is to inject that early game dynamism into established empires, encouraging them to, well, rise and fall.

This problem of a stagnant endgame is well known to designers, and most modern 4X games attempt a solution. Stellaris breaks up its galactic-scale bloat in the mid-to-late game with robot uprisings and invasions from deep space. Endless Legend‘s long winters curtail growth. Crusader Kings II checks expansion with rebellious vassals, who have their own ambitions, independent of the player’s.

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But all these attempts to make the player feel like David when they’re clearly Goliath – to give them a heroic arc – are ultimately unsatisfactory, because they’re trying to escape the fundamental principles of their genre. The 4X model is perpetual growth. In order to escape the usual flow, and stagnation in the design, these games would have to rethink their core mechanics completely.

The idea of perpetual growth underpins much of our society, but games seem uniquely committed to it as a medium. It can be seen everywhere from the chase for highscores to the consumerist dreams of The Sims, who buy better things in order to enjoy better lives. Perhaps gaming’s roots in the toy and consumer electronics industries are one reason for the emphasis on growth; the constant hankering for bigger, faster, more. We climb the tech tree, we level up, we collect bigger and bigger weapons because of a widespread assumption that growth is an inherent good.

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In the traditional hero’s journey, the hero must surrender wealth, status, or power in order to attain what they really need (love, self-respect, spiritual enlightenment). But that can be hard to model in games – ‘press F for epiphany’ – without taking away player agency completely. It’s a narrative device that doesn’t easily translate into a mechanical choice or consequence. Often, the hero’s journey is reduced to material progression. Start with a wooden sword, end with a crystal sword. We get the first part of the story, but not the reversal; all rise and no fall.

There is a historical context for this modern myth of perpetual growth. It emerged from the Industrial Revolution, when incremental technological progress combined with the fruits of empire – a massive influx of natural resources and slave labour – produced unprecedented economic increase and a global population explosion from 1 billion in 1804 to 6 billion in 1999. Many of us act as if we believe this will continue forever, even to the stars themselves.

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It’s worth emphasising how unusual this view is and how much it is tied to our specific historical moment. Whereas Civilization VI and its predecessors see history as a glorious upwards march, previous societies saw it as a cycle or decline. The Greeks believed in a descent from the Golden Age to the Iron Age, where life was hard and children were ungrateful. The Aztecs knew the four preceding worlds were destroyed by the gods, and theirs too was doomed to die. Medieval Europe looked back to the Romans as the pinnacle of civilisation; when the Romans ruled, the pyramids were already 2000 years old. Pre-industrial peoples lived among the ruins of ‘greater’ cultures, and took the message to heart: remember you are mortal.

We live in a brief historical blip where abundant resources and a few centuries of astounding progress have allowed many to believe that the good times will roll forever. The universal law is progress, from the wheel to the flying car, Magna Carta to Martin Luther King, and not the cycle of life and death that we observe in every other aspect of the universe. We live in a dream of immortality.

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So it isn’t just a narrative problem that Civilization, and games in general, insist on perpetual growth. Yes, it produces the late game stagnation that Rise and Fall tries valiantly to shake up. But when games hew so closely to the perpetual growth model, they uncritically reinforce one of the most damaging myths of our time – a myth currently destroying our only biosphere.

In Civilization VI, climate change has been written out entirely, even as we live through planet-wide ecological collapse in the real world. The novel inclusion of natural beauty (as ‘Appeal’) only gives modifiers to growth. Famine is a minor inconvenience in your grand plan, as it was to empire-builders in Ireland or India. While older Civilization games included climate change mechanics (Alpha Centauri even set psychic death worms on polluters) Civilization VI is reluctant to take a side on ‘controversial issues’.

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So however many farms you build, the soil won’t degrade. You can’t poison or overfish the seas, and those whales that provide you with luxuries will never go extinct. Your mines and factories won’t taint the air. The forests you fell will never erode the soil to the point where your cities flood and roads crumble. Even in Rise and Fall, your empire enters a Dark Age by failing to grow enough, rather than, say, through overconsumption.

However welcome an improvement, Rise and Fall can’t fix Civilization. The problem is too deeply embedded. But there are games that point to alternative models. The feuding characters of Crusader Kings II and the story events of Stellaris mitigate brute expansion. Pirates! ages your captain, eventually forcing him to retire; a similar process could afflict empires. The forthcoming At the Gates casts you as a barbarian working to burn the empire down. Fate of the World addresses climate change directly, and emphasises both the destruction it could cause, and the sheer difficulty of abandoning fossil fuels in a world so dependent on them.

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Then there are games of decline. DEFCON is about minimising losses: can any of your civilians survive full-scale nuclear war? The browser-based Seedship penalises players who search for perfection; the longer you drift through space, the more likely you are to lose your precious human cargo. I can imagine a strategy game that focused on, instead of ruthless growth, the distribution of finite resources, or balancing the needs of different communities and the natural world. We have Sid Meier’s Civilization; what would Ursula Le Guin’s Civilization look like?

It’s vital we think of alternatives that challenge the myth of perpetual growth, instead of uncritically repeating it, not simply to create variety in strategy design, but also because that same myth is partly responsible for the destruction of our own world. Now more than ever, we need to imagine civilisation in new ways, and to imagine civilisations which don’t take as their underlying principles the drive to expand, exploit, and exterminate until the last lights go out.

175 Comments

Top comments

  1. Claudia Lo says:

    A good article, and much needed! I'd also point out the colonialist tendencies/roots of Civ, especially the idea of virgin land, and the depictions of people who already live in these supposedly-virgin, ripe-for-conquest lands as barbaric forces of nature bent solely on destruction.

    I mean, the very name '4X' itself tips its hand.
  1. megazver says:

    sigh, this again

    • joer says:

      Could we get less opinionated social positions from a philosophy lecture and more just talk about video games?

      • Ergates_Antius says:

        Like, for instance, the 16 other posts from today? Or how about the 16 posts from yesterday?

        Is it really that hard to not read the odd post?

      • jeremyalexander says:

        Sure you can, it’s a magical place called IGN.com and it’s right up your alley. You can just see big splosions and play games without ever using a single brain cell or having to use that useless piece of meat between your simple ears. Now shoo, off you go, the adults would like to have a conversation.

        • joer says:

          I have conversations about real life issues when I’m dealing with them. I don’t superimpose them on video games and then try to dictate the topics video games follow so that the “right socal morals” are taught to the video game players.

          But you do want that, obviously, so chacun a son gout.

          • Fomorian1988 says:

            Man, to think you could avoid all that by just not clicking the post and scrolling past it.

          • ZippyLemon says:

            the article mentions how climate change used to be dealt with much more starkly in Civ games – you know, games about civilisation itself – and discusses the semantic ramifications of the fact that it isn’t so any more

            so take your “superimposed” and your “dictate” and toddle off back to the jordan peterson circle jerk

          • Footnotes says:

            Yes, because a game called Civilization has “nothing” to do with real life.

      • billicatons says:

        I feel like you haven’t been to many philosophy lectures.

      • Gormongous says:

        I don’t understand what the issue is here. The article brings up tons of video games, even beyond the Civilization franchise: Stellaris, Endless Legend, Crusader Kings 2, Sid Meier’s Pirates!, At the Gates, Fate of the World, DEFCON, Seedship…

        So what’s wrong? Surely there are a plenty of “Civ VI 9/10, great way to have fun” articles out there for you to read, if that’s what you want. Why isn’t it permitted to have one or two articles about Civ VI that engage deeply with video game culture from a different perspective?

        • sosolidshoe says:

          Because that’s like trying to engage deeply with the culture of haute cuisine by over-analysing a Big Mac. Not every goddamn thing in the world has to be laden with deep meaning, and it is possible to just take something at face value rather than writing long, hand-wringing thinkpieces about the worst possible interpretation you can conjure up of the thing in question.

          Civ is Babby’s First 4X, most of the folk playing don’t want sophisticated climate impact modelling, they don’t want to research a 34-point plan of action for dealing with coastal erosion, they don’t want to deal with acres of minutiae in every area of socioeconomics and philosophy; they want to pick a fun caricature avatar of a famous world leader they might vaguely have heard about and play a nice relaxing resource management game with occasional basic strategic combat for flavour.

          Not bothering to include a complex thing in a product because you already have enough complexity there to achieve the thing you want to achieve is not some big honking “statement”, nor is it some grand indicator of our inevitable social collapse. Sometimes it’s OK to just eat a sodding burger.

          • Jekadu says:

            But we *want* to engage with this product beyond face value! As the article and various comments point out, there’s a ton of issues with how it depicts empires, civilizations, history and so on.

            Look at how people are reacting to the very simple observation that Civilization has overt colonialist themes! It’s true, and yet people would rather not engage with this because it’s “just a game”. We need to move away from the idea that there is such a thing as “high” and “low” art and that only the former should be critiqued; the only thing that separates one from the other is preference.

            Also, you’re doing a disservice to the developers by claiming that this sort of thing doesn’t matter for video games. Designing a game takes far, far more than just figuring out mechanics and systems. There is no separating the “art” from the “gameplay”–it’s practically impossible to sit down and create without running into ethical issues.

          • Footnotes says:

            You realize there are theories in international relations based on the politics of a global economy necessary to make a Big Mac happen, right?

          • acdha says:

            Here’s why this matters: while hardcore gamers may sneer at Civ millions of people play it and that influences them, especially the kids. There was an excellent overview of the dawn of the franchise which was recently posted:

            link to filfre.net

            Note how many people posted about the influence that Civ had on their lives and, especially, that it helped introduce them to concepts years before they reached that point in history class. Here’s a good example thread among a relatively educated community:

            link to news.ycombinator.com

            Now ask how many kids will never take an advanced course in history or politics (close to two thirds of Americans don’t go to college but a ton of them play games) or won’t ever question critically some of the concepts which are presented in pop culture as the natural order of things.

      • Arumat22 says:

        Lol at everyone who wants to stay in an echo chamber

    • mouton says:

      You don’t have to read that 1% of RPS articles that dares to touch something else than GUNS, EXPLOSIONS, VIDYA GAEMS. Sorry that your escapist safe space is gone, but nineties are not coming back.

    • left1000 says:

      “Civilization VI: Rise and Fall wants to solve a problem. That problem is perpetual growth, and it plagues many 4X games.”

      I disagree with your opening statement, you never support it. Yes this is a video game. I’m not really sure what point you’re trying to make. I’m also not sure if using rise and fall as a jumping off point makes any sense at all to your central premise.

      The problem has never been stated by anyone ever as perpetual growth. The problem is that the game gets easier instead of harder halfway through. The problem is lack of antagonist, you’re right it harms the heroic arc. That’s why in games like CK2 the aztecs invade europe. Video games don’t need to solve the problem of war and strife. They just need to makeup new boss baddies for after you’ve trivialized all the starting ones.

      I could follow the parts of your article that related to this video game theme. However comparing aztec myths to european dark ages to current world problems was… too many disparate points to congeal into anything meaningful for me.

    • Foridin says:

      Maybe go to a different site? It’s pretty clear that articles dealing with broader implications of games are a very large part of RPS’ niche. If all you want is regurgitated press releases and opinions on which Witcher witched the best, there are more than enough websites out there that do that exactly, so maybe go to them instead of trying to change a site that plenty of people obviously enjoy.

    • gwop_the_derailer says:

      “sigh, this again”

      Has RPS been frequently writing about 4X games not factoring in the environmental toll of the expansion of human civilization? I seemed to have missed them all.

    • Beefenstein says:

      sigh, intelligent conversation again, they even use full stops and capital letters :(

  2. Riaktion says:

    Fair enough

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    Aerothorn says:

    This is the clearest, most concise summary of this issue I’ve seen. Good job, Alister!

  4. Claudia Lo says:

    A good article, and much needed! I’d also point out the colonialist tendencies/roots of Civ, especially the idea of virgin land, and the depictions of people who already live in these supposedly-virgin, ripe-for-conquest lands as barbaric forces of nature bent solely on destruction.

    I mean, the very name ‘4X’ itself tips its hand.

    • Faldrath says:

      Remember, Sid Meier’s Colonization had *no slavery*. That was so insulting. And yeah, Civ has always had the issues the article mentions, and you mention, and also only one path towards “progress”.

      • Grimmtooth says:

        Earlier Civs took global climate change into account. If you and your rivals kept burning all the fossil fuels without compensating, it would actually change the climate, turning jungle to desert and even submerging some coastal tiles. So that’s a very astute observation on the author’s part.

        • Captain Yesterday says:

          Yeah, earlier Civ games did simulate global warming by having tiles spontaneously turn into deserts, but that’s not how climate change works. If anything, it feeds into the misconception that “global warming” means “warm weather”.

          • ohminus says:

            You do know that “desert” doesn’t mean “warm”?
            Annual mean temperature in the Gobi is below freezing, an in the Atacama, temperatures can drop from a pretty warm during the day to well below freezing at night.

            What the desertification in earlier Civ games did was simply simulate the lower utility of the land tile for humanity.

          • doodler says:

            Yes how dare these games from the 90s grossly simplify a phenomenon we still don’t fully understand almost 30 years later. At least they added some sort of effect from your overexpansion even if the game didn’t add extra hurricanes and polar vortexes. The point that they added is shit went bad, you saying that this reinforced a misconception is revisionist.

          • April March says:

            Yeah, that pretty much matches what we thought global warming was back in the 90’s. That’s why we used to call it global warming, even.

            Plus, even as I agree Civ games need to explore this space, I don’t think the solution is a deep and complex simulation. Not when every other single aspect is just a flavourful number.

    • Peter Hines says:

      What do you mean? There is no colonialism in Civ. The native factions when you discover a new place are just as strong? (Excluding city states). Also,the reason they refrain from global warming mechanics is that it is very hard to predict how global warming will affect us in 50 years since most predictions fall flat. Also this article is dumb since it says the industrial revolution was run with slaves acquired through empire.

      • fuzzyfuzzyfungus says:

        “Barbarians” and “goody huts”(official name varies by game):

        You probably forgot those because they are, largely without comment, placed far below real civilizations.

        “Barbarians”: people who, without any particular reason, are always chaotic evil, have no diplomatic, religious, or cultural aspects at all; can’t turn into a ‘civilization’ even if they manage to capture a city. Particularly weird when the civilizations historically described as ‘barbarians’ by whoever they were raiding are often one of the playable civs; and even Ghengis Khan still has a faceless rabble of anonymous ‘barbarians’ cropping up on whatever tiles civilization hasn’t kept an eye on recently.

        “Goody huts”: the noble savage counterpart to barbarians. Never does their little collection of hovels turn into a city or a real civilization(despite the real civilizations starting from little more in ~4000BC), they exert no cultural, religious, or military influence; they don’t make even the most rudimentary tile improvements. They just, um, ‘give’ some resources to whoever brings a military unit to them first; before disappearing from the map(for what are definitely bloodless game-balance reasons, not side effects of the process by which they are persuaded to donate generously to their civilized discoverer).

      • April March says:

        What do you mean? There is no colonialism in Civ.

        I do believe he was talking about Sid Meier’s Colonization, a different game.

        link to gog.com

    • E_FD says:

      “the depictions of people who already live in these supposedly-virgin, ripe-for-conquest lands as barbaric forces of nature bent solely on destruction.”

      I really liked how Endless Legend subverted/refined the classic Civilization barbarian formula by combining it with a variant on later Civs’ city-states, making the barbarian units spawned by villages with distinctive traits and cultures that could eventually be peacefully assimilated into your empire.

  5. dgtljunglist says:

    Really dug this one. A thoughtful balance of in-game and meta-game observation.

  6. theWillennium says:

    Great piece! A big part of why I love Civ is that it’s an impossibly elaborate board game, but accordingly it’s also absorbed a lot of board gaming’s acritical colonialism and imperialism.

  7. His Dudeness says:

    I remember Factorio, where your pollution hit you in the face with a thousands of sharp teeth.

    • Darloth says:

      And you laugh at them as you’ve already turned the bounty of the land into a million billion bullets, leaving only depleted mines and scorched, dying trees behind you. Soon the waste from your powerplants will upgrade them to depleted uranium bullets.

      Later you probably pave the earth, just because it’s convenient.

    • Servicemaster says:

      “ctrl+f pollution” YES thank you His Dudeness, perpetual growth is only seen in the eyes of a relatively few amount of human generations. If we consider what the *end* of humanity would look like I think it’s far more likely that we will snuff ourselves out however it’s not that fun to lose a game or a species that has been played out for so long.

      Google ‘Holocene Extinction’ if you want to make your week feel much, much shittier.

  8. ashleys_ears says:

    “We have Sid Meier’s Civilization; what would Ursula Le Guin’s Civilization look like?”

    Oh my god. Shut up and take all of my money.

    • Bearded Games says:

      Yes, this was my favorite sentence.
      I’ve been toying with a game about terraforming, and the sentence “So however many farms you build, the soil won’t degrade” is exactly the kind of tension that makes for a great game.

    • Tuidjy says:

      Oh, I know this one. One ship full of CNC tools will be traded for its weight of unproccessed grain. Rulers will be swayed from their awful ways by cries of “Shame! Shame!” Etc.

  9. H. Vetinari says:

    The idea of perpetual growth underpins much of our society

    well, yes. growth is good.

    global population explosion from 1 billion in 1804 to 6 billion in 1999.

    it’s going to top out at 9,5-ish billion (if taking the medium growth scenario of UN) and then go down.

    we believe this will continue forever, even to the stars themselves.

    well, why wouldn’t be colonizing or mining in the space a good deal? finding resources in space sounds good to me. would you rather continue to mine and excavate on earth or grab resources from asteroids?

    Whereas Civilization VI and its predecessors see history as a glorious upwards march

    isn’t it? where is our own IRL civilization today falling behind in comparison with 1900, or 1800 or…on what factor are we generally doing worse?

    The Greeks believed in a descent from the Golden Age to the Iron Age, where life was hard and children were ungrateful. The Aztecs knew the four preceding worlds were destroyed by the gods

    The Greeks had Slaves, and Aztecs made human sacrifices. so I wouldn’t be citing them as an example.
    Also: tinted nostalgia Glasses – they had them before it was cool.

    that same myth is partly responsible for the destruction of our own world.

    well we had practical examples from the left and the right trying to create a Utopian society but “the right” ended up killing 6million people and starting a world war; and “the left” somehow managed to top that with around 80 million dead.
    I would rather we take things slower and gradually improve, and not take “one-stop-shop” type of decision like those two in the last century.
    there is room for improvement without a doubt, also we could speed up a bit more tbh; however one can see there is, despite the abundant historical evidence, another wave of grasping for the exact same “one-stop-shop” solutions from the last century.

    • jeremyalexander says:

      Sorry, but your grasp of history, or lack thereof makes me want to vomit. The “right” did not kill 6 million people, that’s just one group. The “right” meaning fascist Italy, Germany, Japan, and their minor allies, cost the lives of over 60 million people and that’s without having any reliable numbers on Chinese dead that could easily push that number upwards of 80 million. And that was just WW2. The various wars against Communist entities across the globe killed more, for example the American war in Vietnam killed 2.5 million Vietnamese civilians, injured 5.3 million, and led to 11 million being refugees. Those numbers can’t be linked to “communism” because communist Vietnam wanted to ally with the US to avoid domination by the USSR and China even though they were all communist, so that war’s casualties have to be on the side of the Americans. The “right” is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of millions of people from the advent of slavery in America to the colonial conquests and brutality of the European powers, to Bush administrations illegal and destabilizing war against Iraq that threw the region into chaos and caused the collapse of governments from Tunisia to Afghanistan, to Yemen. Your facts about history are very, very wrong. If you think that fascists killed 6 million people and the left killed 80, you need to do a little more research. You’re making a fool of yourself.

      • joer says:

        > Sorry, but your grasp of history, or lack thereof makes me want to vomit.

        Let’s assume your opinions are all correct. That’s hardly a mature and adult way to correct him.

      • Dyno says:

        Way to miss the point.

        Also, he was citing two particular examples from the 20th century, so your counterpoints are, well, in the wrong era.

        More importantly, skewed or not, those numbers were not meant as a comparison but just to illustrate a fairly sensible point.

        • doodler says:

          How about not attributing it to “the right” and instead to the “The Axis Powers”

          • Dyno says:

            Agreed to some extend. Wouldn’t have made much sense in the context of his argument, but that would have prevented some of the more childish responses.

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          Dios says:

          Your examples are stupidly wrong, as the pointed out. And that didn’t even get into the continually rising body count of your beloved infinite-growth-forever-somehow-ideology, capitalism!

      • SOME_RANDOM_GUY says:

        It seems like not having a grasp on history is the in thing around here, and it is a trait which you very clearly possess.

        Lumping the Axis powers together under “Fascism” has never been anything but intellectual laziness. Fascism is a distinct political ideology that has only ever come to power in Spain and Italy. Germany, Italy and Japan were no more bound together by ideology than the US\UK were ideologically bound to the USSR. Like the Allies, the Axis powers were nothing more than an alliance of convenience that joined the left wing National Socialist, the right wing Fascists and the Japanese which really didn’t fit into either side of the western left-right spectrum.

        And yes, the Viet Nam war can most certainly be linked to communism. Because they launched the war to reunify Viet Nam.. not the US, France or South Viet Nam. And even if they wanted to ally with the US ( which is a pretty questionable claim given that their military had been essentially run by the PRC since 1950 ), that wouldn’t change the fact that they were the ones who started it.

        Further, claiming that Bush was responsible for the “Arab spring” is also pretty questionable since it also included more military intervention by left leaning European nations than the US.

        Your little rant doesn’t actually work.

    • automatic says:

      “growth is good.”
      unless it’s cancer, right? or any other thing that compromises the system that it depends upon to exist, like life on earth. rivers, air, that kind of thing too. some people go by the logic that by killing the sick person you kill cancer. that’s sort of social darwinism and it’s kinda bad

    • khamul says:

      ‘Growth’ and ‘progress’ are tricky things to define – but I’d rather be on benefits in the UK today, and able to afford paracetamol, than a king 300 years ago, with no way to prevent my children dying from a fever.

      I think arguments about stability in consumption need to be taken very seriously – I am really worried about what we’re doing to the oceans, for example. But ‘finite resources’ is also something you need to define carefully: the sun is finite, and radioactive elements are finite. Pretty much everything else is recyclable, given enough power. Give us 50 years, and we’ll be digging up landfill sites because of all the easily-procesed resources in there.

      The problem with these kind of questions is, if your goal *isn’t* growth and progress, then what is it? Even if your goal is not having a goal, you have a goal in that objective. A society cannot help but choose to optimise for one ‘good’ over another – even if that good is stasis.

      I don’t know how you’d do it, but a 4X game where you tested societies with difference social aims – technical advancement vs honour, for example – would be interesting. Though I kind of feel that’s what Civ was always trying to be.

      • automatic says:

        that’s the problem of Civ. societies are complex. there are way more than a handful of objectives in RL societies because they comprise a plethora of different ambitions. overall, before just being able to treat diseases easily, people want to be healthy. If the mass produced paracetamol comes at the cost of the extinction of thousands of species of a rain forest and the destabilization of a whole ecosystem them you must review your concepts of progress. life is finite

        ps: it’s funny though how you see digging up garbage as humanity future

        • khamul says:

          Life is darned tenacious. If you look at what life has survived in the past, I very much doubt whether there’s *anything* humans can do, nukes included, to end life on this planet.

          Ending an ecosystem *we* can survive in, however, is a very different question. I suspect that we’ll already be visible in the fossil record, from the number of species that just stop as we get going… hah! If you want to survive humanity, you need to be tasty, cute, or smart. I wouldn’t bet against self-aware rats 100,000 years from now, and the selective pressure of humanity could be what makes that happen.

          Death is certain. Death of the individual, of the society, of the species, of the rainforests… in a million years not just us, but all the ecology we care about is also going to be gone. And that’s the blink of an eye from a geological point of view.

          I love the rainforests, and I care about them, and I don’t want to see them gone. I also want to be able to buy paracetamol. I *don’t* see why these things have to be in conflict. The problem is not progress, it’s *stupid* progress. Short term thinking, and greed.

          Nature doesn’t care if we wipe out every other creature on the planet. Nature don’t give a damn. Nature will rebuild from the cells in our bodies, as it always has. *We* care. The power that we have is not the power to destroy Life, it’s the power to destroy ourselves. So we need to get smart, decide on the kind of world we want to live in – and then make the sacrifices necessary to let that happen.

          You want less growth, less consumerism? Digging in garbage is a long way away from being the worst cost of that.

          • automatic says:

            Our life as a species is not infinite is what I meant. Industrialization has only a couple hundred years. As far as we know Earth has never sustained life of a single species that consumes so much energy in such a large population and we don’t know if it’s capable of it. People want to find resources on other planets exactly because of that. We are already in a state of decay. Human life is not healthy. We may have a lot of healthy individuals and comunities due to easy access to things like paracetamol but that is coming at the cost of the health of other individuals. How much can we grow within this paradigm until it’s not sustanable anymore and the majority of the individuals are unhealthy? Will we wait until this happens to realize that this is not just about rain forests? Good luck surviving being cute or smart when the own water you drink is full of garbage.

          • khamul says:

            Um, interesting assertions. You might be right, I’d suggest that ferns were pretty damn successful while the dinosaurs were around, and grass has been having a pretty good day for some time. Plankton are also big winners! In terms of energy consumption, you do know how much energy the sun dumps on the planet surface daily, right?

            Also, health? I can’t think of a time in human history when we have lived longer lives, with less suffering. Please do not rose-tint history. Most of it was *miserable*. Bad as it is living in some parts of the world at the moment, most of human existance has been worse. Why else is the population exploding? Because we’ve been getting better and better at not dying! Of course, we’re pretty good at being miserable even without what people used to suffer – and we’ve also been brilliant at finding ways to *make* life miserable whenever things have been going okay. Wars, oppression, and what have you. Also – don’t fool yourself into thinking that industrialisation is the *first* point we started wiping out species. Humans have been doing it much longer than that. We’re good predators.

            But I don’t really know what we’re arguing about! I mean, I disagree with you on the details, on your justification for your arguments – but I mostly agree with you on the big picture.

            My position is this: planets are for babies. Our job is to tech up, as quickly as possible, to the point where we can build orbital habitats that are not horrible to live in. Then we should move to them, and leave the ecosystem the hell alone. Then we can watch the beauty of nature in action without having to get involved in all the misery that evolution involves… and each habitat can happily run its own experiments in what a perfect society is like. And yeah, when you don’t have a whole planet sorting out your shit for you? That’s when you take consumption responsibly. As I said, planets are for babies – babies who haven’t learnt to think about the consequences of their actions yet. They are incredibly lenient in the mistakes they let you make.

          • automatic says:

            Dude, we ARE part of the ecosystem. As much as science fiction likes to show we how humans eventually will reach the stars and colonize space there’s no scientific evidence that this is even possible. We have humans that go to space and live months there, but how many generations we have of people that were born and grew up away from Earth? We have adaptation problems even when moving from a country with different food and climate. Like I told you before, industrialization is only a couple hundred years. It wasn’t not even a hundred years we sent a person to space and here we have a person saying planets are disposable to us. I understand your alienation though but I will not discuss this because it is a completely different subject. On the subject of energy, sure the sun is a huge source of energy but how much of it can we harvest? How much work do we need to develop the technology to use it effectively and how much energy are we spending on it? How much suffering is doing or not doing this is causing to people on earth? Those are relevant questions. It’s great to have things like easy acess to medicine on a drug store but since that is not a natural source it ALL comes at a cost. Humanity may not have began destroying the environment, other species and other people with industrialization but it accelerated the process, so we must be careful as much, and we are not.

    • Apocalypse says:

      “isn’t it? where is our own IRL civilization today falling behind in comparison with 1900, or 1800 or…on what factor are we generally doing worse?”
      Let’s look at the united states:
      Incarceration rates went up insanely, social security seemed not have improved much and my favorite:Social Mobility is way down compared to older versions of america. A normal rate would be 100 in 100,000. The united states have a rate of over 700. It used to be the usual 100.

  10. fuzzyfuzzyfungus says:

    At least some of the Civs do have degradation mechanics(the ‘pollution’ tile effect that just took a few turns of worker labor to remediate wasn’t too scary; but some of the permanent tile changes brought on be endgame global warming could really ruin your day); but it does seem like grim finite resources is more of an RTS(not TA and its descendants, which are about dueling rate limits rather than depletion; but You Require More Minerals tends to rule elsewhere) than than a 4X thing(with a few exceptions that are generally treated as notable enough to be faction mechanics, like Endless Space Craver depletion) probably because a grim negative-sum game is more palatable as a relatively short head-to-head than it is as an hours-to-days long ‘just one more turn’ fest that must inevitably end in disaster.

    That said, the tendency toward dry abstraction(and the sheer difficulty of attempting ‘real world’ complexity) seem to make it hard to render really vivid, visceral, decline.

    Even 4X and Civ games that are reasonably mean about their penalties(like Civ3’s goddamn ‘corruption and waste’ that typically made the fringes of your civilization so backward that they would take eleventy-zillion turns to build that courthouse to decrease the corruption that is preventing them from building that courthouse) still render them as negative tokens that counterbalance your Whig history progress tokens, or a different set of weights between production, science, and income: there’s a big difference between ‘fundamentalism: .5x science, free upkeep for first x units and double resistance to culture push’ and ‘fundamentalism: watching your society collapse into a grim, baffling, collective fever dream you couldn’t have imagined before it was already too late’.

    It isn’t notably pessimistic overall(actual medieval deforestation gets a pass; though there isn’t a whole lot of tech tree or good odds of getting beyond a mutually unhappy ethnic and religious mishmash without either centuries of arduous effort or building some big skull pyramids on the smoking ruins of civilization); but arguably Crusader Kings II captures more of the ‘fall’ bit than the more Civ-styled stuff because of how important the (always fragile and unreliable; often much worse) characters are; above and beyond the assorted resource numbers. Like pretty much anything on a computer there’s still a numbers game to be min-maxed behind the scenes; but it’s a lot closer than Civ to the “yeah, actually the country did descend into internecine bloodletting because the heir people wanted died of some pitifully ordinary infection and his heretical kid brother took over; then holy war” unpleasantries of history.

  11. Gormongous says:

    Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri did handle climate change well. Sea levels would rise with pollution levels caused by mineral overproduction, and solutions like launching a solar shade would often be resisted by inland factions that were happy to see their enemies drown even if the resulting hothouse atmosphere would be a net drain on everyone. It was a complex issue vulnerable to selfish interests, not just a penalty for you to avoid or to scrub away.

    Also, even though it was a classic 4X game where technology always made you bigger, stronger, and better, the theming around discoveries helped to make you as a player feel uneasy about it anyway. You were building neurally amplified mindworms and self-aware colonies, which were of great use on the strategic map, but the quotes for tech and buildings grew increasingly dark, desperate, despairing… There was a distinct sense that the average human, an invisible atom in the game’s systems, was living an increasingly miserable life full of oppression and anomie. The only response, at least as a player who wanted to win was to push harder and faster, praying for the putative utopia of transcendence. It really worked for me, then and now.

    • Son_of_Georg says:

      Yes, Alpha Centauri had a great way of making technological progress inevitable and necessary, but always questionable as to how much of a benefit it really was for the individual citizen. For some technologies it was easy to imagine how they might improve people’s lives, but others were downright dystopian. And with the default settings, you didn’t pick which technology to unlock next. You just picked the type of science you wanted to prioritize and hoped that it benefited you in the end.

    • melancholicthug says:

      I see you are too a man of culture. I was readying the typocaster to say something like this you’ve so eloquently explained. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: AC was, is and probably will be the best Civ, ever.

      – “Hey, let’s build a borehole cluster, that sinks down to the very core of Planet, to get them mad mineralz”.
      – “Yay! High five!”
      ….
      – *Temperature going up, sea levels rising, mind worms literally everywhere*
      – “Seems our capital is going to sink underwater in five turns”
      – “Huh. Who would have seen this coming?!”

    • E_FD says:

      Alpha Centauri really did a fantastic job with the fungal bloom/awakening Planet, both in terms of atmosphere/narrative and in keeping the late game tense even when you’re probably already way ahead of the competing factions.

      I probably wouldn’t notice or appreciate this if I wasn’t still playing the game from time to time nearly twenty years later, but they did a lot of really clever things like providing you with anti-polution improvements/secret projects in the midgame right when the first fungal pops are starting, lulling you into thinking this is an easily-controllable problem, then steadily cranking up their frequency and potence as you move up the tech tree, and taunting you by offering more and more abilities to massively increase production that will vastly outstrip your capacity for handling polution. And the pops create an escalating military threat from mindworms, tying up your units (which otherwise could probably steamroll any remaining AI faction by this point in the game), and you need to keep your rivals happy enough to get them to join you in increasing the solar shade every decade.

      • icarussc says:

        Man, I remember that … My endgame turns used to take forever, because half of my cities would be near these fungal blooms and I’d have 10-20 mind worm swarms attacking the city. Every. Single. Turn.

        • Tuidjy says:

          I remember farming those. I was going out of my way not to clean up the infestation, because not only was I leveling up my troops, I vaguely remember getting some kind of resources from each kill.

          In my first game of Alpha Centauri, I ended up with my jackboot firmly on everyone’s throat, including the Planet’s.

  12. jeremyalexander says:

    It’s a very good article, but it would be very hard to introduce such mechanics into a series like Civilization and still have it be what it was envisioned to be, a PC boardgame. Global warming, slavery, and better resource systems would certainly be doable though. The original SM’s Colonization game had a much better way of dealing with resources and trade. If resources were made finite, environmental changes affected food, or have the option to “overuse” a resource at a high risk-high reward type situation, there’s a lot that could be done there. As for the people complaining about this article, 1 nobody forced you to click on it, and 2 it’s their website and they can do whatever they want with it. If you don’t like it, don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

    • Nauallis says:

      I have no idea if it’s difficult to implement or not – but Civ2 had global warming & climate change, and city pollution as a tile modifier, including warnings that the ice caps were melting and the sea levels were going to rise. It only happened if you either detonated a bunch of nuclear weapons in a short time, didn’t clean up pollution fast enough, or converted too many forests, hills, swamps, or mountains into grassland and plains (or a combination of those three). If global warming happened (and it could happen multiple times in various increments) then a certain ratio of all coastal land tiles would instantly be converted to swamp and marsh, and inland tiles would convert to desert. Holy smokes that screwed up city production and food production. In hindsight, the sad irony is that oftentimes global warming was caused by the player min-maxing the environment for continuous growth by using engineers to transform marginal terrain into better terrain rather than because of negligence in pollution or nuclear devastation. The socio-economic commentary thus implied was rather farsighted for a video game.

      Unfortunately Civ2 never implemented actual sea ice tiles as exist in Civ 5, and 6. It’s sad that the newer games are missing a system as fleshed out as Civ2’s climate and terrain.

      • Nauallis says:

        It’s also a pity that Civ2 is basically abandonware at this point. It’s not on GoG, not on Steam, it’s not playable on any modern OS. All of the other titles in the Sid Meier’s Civilization series are still accessible, but not Civ 2.

        • doodler says:

          I mean it is, just not multiplayer. Will be the second result on the google, classicreload.com

          • Nauallis says:

            Hey, just wanted to follow up to say thanks for pointing out classicreload. Awesome that it’s possible to play in a browser window, without need for another emulator.

    • RamenJunkie says:

      Having checks and systems in place could be interesting, but it could lead to a different sort of stagnation in game play where you have to plateau you Civ and just sort of skip turns endlessly for 300 years.

    • April March says:

      I don’t think it would be very hard. They wouldn’t need to be a lot more complex than the myriad mechanics that already exist. If we could survive religion being added in a Civ V expansion than the game could handle it.

      I think the article is exactly on point when it suggests a breaking point predicated exactly on success. Any empire that becomes too large or too powerful eventually falls, and narratives of falls from grace (and the climb back up) are more interesting. Adding rules that would hinder players for doing too well might seem counterintuitive but I feel they would greatly improve the flow of the game. Would you really push for all your resources to get that Sphynx if you knew it might come back to bite you for the next three ages? As a bonus, it also portrays a fairer, more interesting take on real life, AND it mirrors the actual rise of fall of civilizations in real history.

  13. Gelor says:

    And here we go again… The writer seems to have blindly believed every sensationalist claim made by journalists or scientists (minus the scientists that doesn’t agree with them like Lindzen or Dyson of course, which our supposedly “objective” media never discusses). Claims of “ecological collapse” have been around for 50 years, and Earth should be inhabitable by now. Paul Ehrlich who wrote the “population bomb” claimed that millions would starve before year 2000 and entire nations like Britain would collapse. And he wasn’t a nobody but respected scientist, who never acknowledged that he was wrong.

    Today less people die from natural disasters than ever before and theres less starving people. Funny how in previous “more harmonious era” people died by thousands from famine and natural disasters. Last year many countries got record harvests, despite the fact that opposite was predicted. People like the writer of this article doesn’t understand that available resources or wealth is not the same thing as how many rocks or trees are in the forest. Ultimately people create wealth. Nature is not kind or generous. Oil was useless before we learned how to use it. Another thing to realise is that enviromentalism is a luxury only afforded by the rich. Do you think that a starving African mother gives a shit about forests when she cooks with wood? Ironically industrial revolution saved European trees, fact that is rarely acknowledged.

    Climate change is an important and controversial issue, but there’s many reasons to be skeptical about it. Like the fact that many of the predictions hasn’t come to true. Last year group of scientists released a study saying that climate models have overestimated the impact of CO2, which, if correct, would suggest the skeptics were right. In 2015 NASA and National Geographic released news saying that Earth has gotten greener in recent decades, and they suspect it’s ironically becuase of CO2. link to humanprogress.org Not surprising considering plants enjoy that stúff, but they said that the negatives would outweight the positives, despite the fact that there is still no concrete proof that natural disasters are increasing. When climate scientist Roger Pielke released a study saying that there is no evidence of increasing disasters, he got called a “denier”.

    Another good read: http://humanprogress.org/blog/no–capitalism-will-not-starve-humanity-by-2050

    Interesting how Earth has survived devastating asteroid impacts, ice ages, and mass extinctions, but can’t stand us? Mother Nature certainly has no problem destroying everything herself. It’s also contradictory how some people think how amazing nature’s and life’s resilience is, but then say how fragile it is.

    In our ruthless pursuit to “save the planet” we have pursued destructive policies like expensive and unreliable renewables, which require massive subsidies at the expense of ordinary people. But it’s all for the “greater good”. That’s what Stalin and Mao said. Some skeptics have said that if climate change really is that dangerous, renewables would be disaster. The right choice would be adaptation not mitigation and plunging us into dark ages.

    Ultimately this “we should limit growth” is a dangerous myth which can hurt the lives of millions of people. Of course we in the rich countries can afford elitist and suicidal economic policies, but people in the poor world cannot. Economic growth is a GOOD thing. If the writer thinks it’s a bad thing, he should live like he preaches. Give up all the stuff our prosperity has brought us. Live in a forest in “harmony with the nature”, instead of spewing empty words and acting like a hypocrite.

    • Son_of_Georg says:

      I wonder though if any of that could make for interesting game mechanics for a Civ game. Here’s an example: I live in a part of the US where foresting used to be a major industry. Environmentalists regulated the industry out of business maybe 15 years ago. Now there are tons of unemployed people and a lot more deadly forest fires. Obviously, clear-cutting the forests would have made short-term profits but long-term problems (to be clear, this is not what was happening before). On the other hand, shutting down the foresting industry has made for all sorts of problems too. Finding the right balance is a part of life, and could make an interesting game.

      I have a feeling that it isn’t the right mechanic for Civ. In my mind, Civ is best when treated as a simple conquest board game, and not as a history simulator.

    • SaintAn says:

      InfoWars is that way —>

    • Shinard says:

      OK, I’ve got my own research to get on with so I can’t go through every paper published on climate change. But here’s 5 reviews on the subject – not analysing climate change themselves, but analysing other papers on climate change. So each one covers several hundred, or even thousand, individual papers on the subject, including papers which disagree. This isn’t media coverage, this is objective (as far as that’s humanly possible) scientific research.

      J. Cook, et al, “Consensus on consensus: a synthesis of consensus estimates on human-caused global warming,” Environmental Research Letters Vol. 11 No. 4, (13 April 2016); DOI:10.1088/1748-9326/11/4/048002

      J. Cook, et al, “Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature,” Environmental Research Letters Vol. 8 No. 2, (15 May 2013); DOI:10.1088/1748-9326/8/2/024024

      W. R. L. Anderegg, “Expert Credibility in Climate Change,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Vol. 107 No. 27, 12107-12109 (21 June 2010); DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1003187107.

      P. T. Doran & M. K. Zimmerman, “Examining the Scientific Consensus on Climate Change,” Eos Transactions American Geophysical Union Vol. 90 Issue 3 (2009), 22; DOI: 10.1029/2009EO030002.

      N. Oreskes, “Beyond the Ivory Tower: The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change,” Science Vol. 306 no. 5702, p. 1686 (3 December 2004); DOI: 10.1126/science.1103618.

      Basically, the vast majority of scientists agree that climate change is happening, that human action is a factor, and that the effects are going to be bad. Yes, some scientists disagree. That’s our job, to a certain extent – to question current knowledge. You’ll find some scientists who’ll disagree with almost anything you care to name. I have two key rules for looking at scientific questions – 1) There are multiple answers to every question and 2) One of them is right. Or just because there’s someone questioning everyone else, doesn’t mean they’re right. And if >90% of independently researched scientific papers agree on an answer, that’s probably the right one.

      That said, I do agree on adaptation and mitigation rather than going back to nature. I think most sensible people would – if everyone went and lived in the forest, there’d be very little forest. I’ve been to some interesting seminars on current thoughts in conservation, and the main thought at the moment seems to be to think of what value nature has for us, and decide how to conserve nature based on that. Which sounds cynical, and, well, is, but is a better option than preserving nature in our romanticised image of what it should be, or just sectioning off large parts of nature from any human intervention. If human intervention has a practical danger or downside, an alternative needs to be considered. If not, keep an eye on it to make sure we haven’t missed anything but otherwise get on with it. I am curious about your evidence for renewables being the destructive option, though?

      • left1000 says:

        the scientific community agrees that it is happening and we are contributing. there is indeed much debate about exactly how bad the graph of how bad things could get looks. how steep that graph is, and if we’re doomed in 2050 or 2100.

        elon musk has a very simple argument on the matter though that I find useful. it doesn’t matter if we’re fucked in 2050 or 2100 or 2200 because the solution is the same either way and we should be making progress towards that solution. If you believe a very pessimistic progression of climate change then you might think there’s more of a reason to rush, but even if you’re a total optimist you should be able to agree on the same end goal.

        also…. all this talk of asteroids and ice ages and what not… no one is saying we’re destroying the planet, just that we’re destroying the conditions of the planet that make it so livable for humans. There have been five major mass extinction events in earth’s history so bad that it would be likely the event would’ve wiped out humankind. The earth recovered just fine, but we wouldn’t’ve.

        • Jimbo says:

          People personify the planet to play on emotions all the time. Calling it ‘Mother Earth’ for instance, or showing the Earth crying. It is far from universally accepted that the Earth doesn’t give a shit about the fate of humanity or any other species.

    • Pharaoh Nanjulian says:

      You need to go back to the first principles. The point you’re making is that certain predictions have not come to pass. Of course, as we cannot foresee the future. Q.E.D.

      However, the logic of endless growth being impossible is undeniable. As a commenter above pointed out, endless growth is cancer. We are using far more resources than we can sustain.

      Any ‘growth’ in the economic sense is used to mean an increase in GDP. GDP was invented in the USA in the 1930s as a method of analysing a country’s economy in an attempt to prevent another Great Depression. It was certainly never intended (and is harmful) to use this method as a means of comparing countries and ‘past performance’.

      The planet is a zero-sum game. If I exploit a resource which increases my wealth by 1 and your wealth by 1, we think we’re 2 up. In reality Nature is -2, leaving us with 1+1-2=0. This is not taken account of in GDP, or economic growth analyses, in which every disaster, toxic spill, police emergency and so on is a positive as it stimulates the exchange of money.

      The alternative is not mining asteroids or other high-tech ‘solutions’ as they also are just pie-in-the-sky predictions that would need an unprecedented use of energy, finite resources and time with no guarantee of success.

      If instead we were to use the awareness of the technologies we have and use them appropriately, we can have fulfilling lives without endless growth and without reducing our comfort. We have an astonishing knowledge of how things work, how historic societies managed the land, themselves and how they thought. There is no reason we cannot attain a golden age made from the best parts of all these prior attempts at living well. And do it within our planet’s limits.

      Thank you Mr MacQuarrie for an excellent article that cuts to the heart of our current situation through the medium of vidyagames!

    • ohminus says:

      There is nothing “controversial” about climate change, and your claim that none of its predictions have come true is plain and simply false. We’ve seen habitats shift, species on the brink of extinction (and possibly some already dead), we’ve seen glacier turnover speed up, massive losses of ice mass in many regions, we’ve seen countless other effects of climate change all of which you would be aware of if you actually were scientifically literate. And before you protest, there is a pretty telltale sign that you aren’t:

      Citing Paul Ehrlich as an authority because he was a respected scientist shows three things – you do not understand what Ehrlich studied, and you do not understand that scientists specialize, and you have no idea about Ehrlich’s actual qualities.

      Ehrlich was a physician who developed into a biomedical researcher. But his expertise and his research was on the cellular level. So citing him as an authority on population developments is a testimony of not understanding science.

      • rommelgain says:

        I love how the majority of the masses have so willingly swallowed the global warming scam. It’s interesting to see how many people quote falsities with such fervor, like that 97% of scientists agree. Bunk. The global warming scam was devised as a measure of further control- of people, of money, of economies, of the planet at large. Do you even find it interesting that the ‘cure’ for climate change is imposing carbon taxes or ‘rich’ countries giving money to poorer countries? How exactly is this supposed to accomplish anything for the environment? Why is it when there is a meeting of the concerned they all away to some posh, expenisive resort area aloft in their private planes, riding in caravans of oil chugging limos? They could have all met over this crazy invention called the internet and saved the carbon if they were really concerned yes? Do as I say, not as I do…
        Science isn’t about your feelings or your virtue or how empowering it makes you feel to be ‘one of the righteous informed!’ Check your dystopian worldview of man as sinner and realize it’s most likely just a replacement for your former Christian leanings (ironic isn’t it). You replace God with Gaia, supplant chastity with composting and now you are ready to leap on your Times Square soapbox and expound ‘REPENT ye sinners, for the end is nigh!’, such certainty in your parroting of what others have told you. But do still remember to tithe when they pass the Carbon hat, for Gaia needs your money! Remember too if you do not, horrible and lasting change will sweep your world and ye shall live upon hell itself! Do not fret dear citizen that yet nothing profound has come to pass for it most certainly will one day! Did the hat come round to you yet? Ahh, excellent…and don’t you just FEEL so much better?
        The internet is ripe with knowledge so use it. Inform YOURSELF. Don’t be a parrot. Ask yourself one simple question. How is it that less than .04% of the atmosphere of which we contribute about 6% of that, supposed to be the end all arbiter of change and destruction? Does that make any sense? Water vapor accounts for 90-95% of the green house effect here on Earth and is frequently found emitted from the same sources as CO2 – cars, factories, breathing. Have you stopped taking hot showers to help with the problem? NO, that would be silly. Silly indeed.
        Why does NOAA find it necessary to change historic temperature records from the past by adjusting them downward and adjusting the modern ones upward? Why have temperature recording stations in cooler locales been culled while leaving the warmer ones? Wouldn’t MORE stations (higher resolution) be better? Why would Miami be flooding but not other coastal areas? More gravity there?- or maybe they should desalinate as opposed to drawing water from underground…Why are some islands disappearing yet others are popping up out of nowhere? Go forth and seek knowledge. It is very ILLUMINATING.

        • Risingson says:

          “simple question”. That is a huge red flag. This is not about yourself asking a simple question. There are lot of variables around.

        • popej says:

          Says “rommelgain”

          Good grief you could at least try and blend in.

    • Foridin says:

      I don’t think anyone has ever claimed that the literal planet is at existential risk. As you said, it’s survived various asteroids and ice ages. You know what both of those have coincided with? Mass extinctions. I’m not concerned about the planet, I’m concerned about humans and the animals they rely on being able to live on it. Others have done much better jobs debunking your nonsense on climate change than I ever could, but that specific bit of dishonest rhetoric bugged me.

    • mattevansc3 says:

      You are right, we can’t believe those sensationalist scientists. After decades of warning us about various forms of climate change that led to political and societal change that were aimed at preventing these catastrophes from happening, these various forms of climate change never happened. Clearly that we aren’t extinct proves them wrong

  14. Premium User Badge

    Graham Smith says:

    Please keep this discussion civil, folks. And that goes for the people who agree with the article as much as those who disagree.

    Thanks!

    • H. Vetinari says:

      Please keep this discussion civil, folks. And that goes for the people who agree with the article as much as those who disagree.
      Thanks!

      What discussion would that be Graham? For it to be a discussion one has to be able to post comments and not have them deleted or. just not be allowed to reply.
      I have since posted 3 replies and can see none.

      If you don’t want to have a discussion, than don’t let Authors post nonsense (this “Article” is full of them – seriously, if the Author is older than 25 it’s sad to have such a narrow minded POV) because people will call bullshit on them or. disable the comments.
      ATM you are having an echo chamber, not a discussion.

  15. mac4 says:

    It’s a good and thoughtful piece. Thanks, Alister MacQuarrie.

  16. andycheese says:

    Great article Alister. You hit the nail on the head. I am a long-time Civ fan, but as much as I enjoy the games, their view of the past as a tale of ‘eternal progress’ has always left me with an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. However much you dress it up with cartoon avatars, it’s a horribly whiggish view of history. The notion of a continuous, large-scale civilization, occupying the same geographic territory from stone-age to space-age and beyond, is patently absurd. There’s an irony in the fact that many of Civ’s playable empires hit the historical dustbin so spectacularly that our current knowledge of them is limited to mere scraps and fragments… then again, maybe its absurdity is what makes the game so attractive.

  17. Dogahn says:

    I often hit that growth grind point and stop playing a game. I want the player driven narrative sandbox games provide, but I need to feel like I could fail to stay interested. I recently reinstalled Cities Skylines because I picked up natural disasters DLC. Now, as good as I am at city managing there is a chance that economic recovery is not possible (I had to crank the frequency to max though). A challenge has been introduced that doesn’t detract from my personal storyline. I have a similar problem with Civ games, where is the fear of failure? The game is at its best when I’m struggling against reasonable opponents. When it’s distilled down to just build the best economic/social/military engine… once the end is envisioned the game for me is over.

  18. sk says:

    While the point is valid, you could say the same about any shooter not making the player deal long term physical disability that even a ‘flesh would’ can cause. Not deal with the grieving family and shattered communities that mass murders cause when addressing open world games. No life spent in dementia after playing Madden, etc.

    Ultimately, they are vidya games! and we play them to escape reality, not address it. The more AAA, the more escapism present in them.

    • April March says:

      That’s different because a shooter doesn’t intend to show the entire life of a gunman. And if it intended to, and showed the dude at age eighty still circle strafing with the best of them, it’d look like a farce. A game about all of history, though, should certainly include all of history.

  19. Aetylus says:

    Interesting article. I love the idea of games representing growth and decline and being much more cyclic in their play. But there is a problem that from an enjoyment perspective the decline part is very rarely fun (for most people… if you disagree, cool, but lets assume you’re not mainstream :) ).

    Most games apply some level of gentle braking on the leader to slow their advantage… a “corruption”, or “revolt risk” or the like. But those mechanism can be fun while they are a slow-down technique… once they lead to a properly declining province or a collapsing country they tend to drag the joy out of a game.

    The only decline and collapse mechanisms I’ve found that I enjoy are the “internal political overthrow” in CK2 (mostly because of the wonderful storylines that it generates), and the “early-leader-syndrome” of the board game Diplomacy (because it leads to delightful backstabbing of friends).

    Does anyone have good examples of games where decline and collapse are actually fun to play (rather than just being a nice idea)?

    • Dogahn says:

      Cyclical growth and decline… Northgard looks promising, RTS based around your clan’s survival. Most of what I’ve read implies that its winter system really makes you think about that Domestic/Militaristic balance. I’m hoping it pans out.

  20. Troika says:

    All rise and no fall makes Jack a dull boy

  21. JonasKyratzes says:

    For those looking for a response to the kind of anti-growth ideology supported by this article, I would highly recommend “Austerity Ecology & the Collapse-porn Addicts: A defence of growth, progress, industry and stuff” by Leigh Phillips. link to zero-books.net

    • Aetylus says:

      I don’t think I can get past the Blurb. When they use phrases like “the back-to-the-land ideology and aesthetic of locally-woven organic carrot-pants, pathogen-encrusted compost toilets and civilisational collapse”, I can only see it a another us-vs-them bit of divisive sensationalism rather than a sensible overview of the issue.

      But if you want a good critique of free market capitalism, I’d recommend “How Markets Fail: The Logic of Economic Calamities” by John Cassidy. It pokes into all the holes in free market capitalist ideology without jumping to the extreme opposite conclusion that the whole system should just be thrown out. Basically it says its a very sensible ideal to have a rational balanced view on things instead of jumping on either Left or Right as The One True Path.

      Its not very often you see The Economist praising a book that promotes more regulation: link to economist.com

      • JonasKyratzes says:

        It’s not sensationalist, although it can be highly sarcastic. But it is very strongly opposed, on both practical and philosophical grounds, to the anti-growth branch of contemporary Green/leftist thinking, which I’d say is extremely widespread, and of which this article is a prime example.

  22. Babymech says:

    What a silly article. Trying to point out the specifically western flaws of the game with the patently western premise that all activities need an ‘arc’ and that there needs to be conflict and dynamic resolution for a pastime not to be flawed. What about a game that is designed like a bonsai garden? A lot of significant early game choices while setting everything up, mid-game learning and mastery of the principles, and end-game tending to a a pleasant homeostasis. Pretending that the western mythos of the hero’s journey has to apply to every story limits entertainment to comic book formats.

  23. Laurentius says:

    This article is bad. There is no nuance to this analysis. Sure one can think that perpetual groth is a myth, even dangerous one. Still many assumptions are completley off. Just because romans considers time to be circular and we are destined to eternal returns doesn’t mean it is or was true. It is article written on Internet in 2018 and read by people and we are not hunting caribous instead. It has to be atributed to something that we are where we are.

    • Beefenstein says:

      “It has to be atributed to something that we are where we are.”

      Is that thing perpetual growth?

  24. Syt says:

    I love articles like these, even though I don’t always agree with them. Games, like any cultural product from trashy blockbuster movies to the highest of literature are a product of their time and context which bears analysis. A shoot’em up in the 80s was created in a different cultural environment than a shooter in the 10s. In order to further the “are games art?” discussions we need articles like this that look beyond the entertainment value of a game.

  25. ilitarist says:

    I think author misses a point when he talks about what people before thought.

    For most of history people did think that the good age had already passed and it’d be only worse after that. And as some historians argue (see Why the West Rules For Now for example) this belief was one of the reasons people avoided progress. This ideological conservatism wasn’t just a reflection of a harsher world, it was reinforcing backwardness and traditionalism. Societies that broke out of this mindset were able to progress forward, the ones that turned to traditional romanticism and revanchism broke the idea of progress.

    The belief in an infinite progress can be seen as a driving force of the civilization – though, of course, we can’t look into minds of those who helped with progress and helped make our societies more complex. So Civilization without an idea of infinite progress may very well be a story about never passing The Great Filter – about societies in a medieval stasis. There people would believe that making economy better would mean getting more slaves from somewhere, all the wise things are said by the ancients and that the war is a scheduled event that should happen anyway.

  26. Charles says:

    Your article is nonsense propaganda.

    The entire premise, that there isn’t perpetual growth, progress, is silly to begin with.

    Humans have made constant progress throughout history, both recorded history and before such records were kept.

    Not everyone in Civilization wins. Only one civ wins the game. The others stop progressing. They lose through wars, culture, etc. It’s a lot like real life in that way.

    In closing, Civilization games are great. Lots of fun. Maybe they aren’t fun to you, different strokes and all.

    I doubt they would be nearly as fun and popular if they played the way you want them to.

    • Asurmen says:

      Er, it isn’t silly. While there are resources available, there will be growth. A cohort will eventually reach equilibrium (after a possible small regression) simply because not all resources are sustainable.

      We will absolutely eventually run out of fossil fuels and uranium, and renewables do have some issues that make then let than ideal replacements. Without that source of power, modern human race will regress.

      Your counter argument, that humans have made progress throughout history, is an illogical one. Past success are not predictions for future events. Humans grew because there was excess or adequate resources available. That doesn’t mean that will always be the case.

    • Beefenstein says:

      “The entire premise, that there isn’t perpetual growth, progress, is silly to begin with.”

      I can’t reply to this as I can only assume that either 1) you are aware of reality and you are trolling or 2) you are not aware of reality and there is little I can do.

    • Beefenstein says:

      “Only one civ wins the game. The others stop progressing. They lose through wars, culture, etc. It’s a lot like real life in that way.”

      I have a feeling that you desperately want the ‘right civilisation’ to ‘win’ and make sure all the others ‘stop’. I have a feeling this might end up being ‘your civilisation’ and that then you would ‘win’.

      I have a feeling that your use of the word ‘propaganda’ is taken by me as ironic.

  27. Risingson says:

    Thanks for this. Though some of our dear commenters are shouting “lefties! commies! greenies!” your points are very valid, but hey, games have always been spreading this kind of ideology and politics: the difference is that these politics (market above anything else, colonialism, social darwinism, etc) are so naturalised that they are seen as NORMAL. Nobody was questioning them until recently. Nobody thought that “Colonization” was kind of insulting, and if anyone thought that, it was because they were thinking too much about “just a game”.

    I don’t know. Articles in newspaper are talking about violence in videogames all the time, but nobody talks on how these cerebral strategy games (or space trading games, now that we are talking about it) are basically good old randian capitalistic propaganda. It would be nice to have more discussions about this.

  28. Elgarion says:

    Very interesting. In my opinion the core is here :

    In the traditional hero’s journey, the hero must surrender wealth, status, or power in order to attain what they really need (love, self-respect, spiritual enlightenment). But that can be hard to model in games – ‘press F for epiphany’ – without taking away player agency completely. It’s a narrative device that doesn’t easily translate into a mechanical choice or consequence. Often, the hero’s journey is reduced to material progression. Start with a wooden sword, end with a crystal sword. We get the first part of the story, but not the reversal; all rise and no fall.

    In board games, Small World put a “Fall” mechanic. It’s quite interesting : after a few conquests, you have to choose an other civilization, and use to your advantage the ruins of your predecessors.

    • Syt says:

      Avalon Hill’s History of the World had a similar approach: link to mobygames.com

      • Elgarion says:

        Nice, I didn’t know it. Thanks for the link. For my curiosity, was it good, or interesting at least ? (it’s too old and I’ve tons of games I haven’t played yet)

  29. Jimbo says:

    If it ever was a cycle it was one humanity broke out of long ago. Romans, Egyptians, Aztecs and Medieval Europeans would recognise each other’s societies as human despite the years / distance between them. They would all look at us as gods.

    Any graph showing ‘human progress’ from the beginning to now would have a massive (and still accelerating) upswing on our end which would dwarf any of the blips which came before.

    That’s not to say focussing on the blips wouldn’t make for a more interesting game, but nor can it be said that the blips fairly represent the overall course of human progress to this point. From where we stand now, far above any who came before, it is hard to describe the path which brought us here as a cycle.

    • April March says:

      I don’t know. I think you only think that because you can’t actively visualize how the past feels beyond a few decades, perhaps centuries – since few people can. So you assume that Romans and Aztecs and medieval Europeans would looks similar to each other, because they look similar to you – but they mightn’t.

      I even think a medieval European might look to ancient Romans with awe as well. They had public baths! Aqueducts everywhere! Roads and a postal system nearly continent-wide!

    • shde2e says:

      I disagree with the idea that we have broken this cycle by now. These cycles often describe the rise and fall of great civilizations, which tend to stick around for a while. For example, the Roman empire was in gradual decline for over a thousand years, with some upswings in between.

      Furthermore, we are going to face a number of challenges that don’t really have a lot historical examples. At the rate in which we are burning through resources, and destabilizing the global ecology, I can very well see human civilization stalling or going back into decline when things start breaking in the massive production chains we rely on.

      Oh, and that’s assuming we don’t nuke each other into the stone age. Which we almost did about a hundred times by now.

  30. Gothnak says:

    I have a monthly argument on Facebook with my friends about increasing population. Surrey (Where i live) now has a population density of 700+ people per square metre, and whenever i suggest it is too busy (Roads blocked, no NHS dentists, hospital waiting times, trains packed, house prices through the roof) i just get told ‘ah, but that’s the government not investing in infrastructure.

    I then say, ‘I don’t want more roads, more hospitals, more trains, more homes, I just want less people’.

    They reply ‘But we can get rid of some of the golf courses’.

    And I reply, ‘But I don’t mind the green golf courses, it’s the people, i don’t want tower blocks and tiny starter homes, i want people spaced out enough so everyone has a detached home and a garden’

    And they reply ‘Ah, but we need more people to pay the pensions and NHS costs for the aging population’.

    I then say ‘Why can’t we tax estates more when older people die to pay for their own care, therefore it doesn’t affect them when they are alive, and we don’t need to have a constantly increasing population? Jobs are going to be automated soon, we just don’t need this many people.’

    And then they get annoyed when i start threatening to take away their inheritance. In short people are fine taxing their children to the hilt to pay for them, but not taxing rich old people to pay for their own care.

    TLDR – Let’s have less people in the world please.

    • Jimbo says:

      It’s always a hard argument to make though unless you’re prepared to lead by example.

      • Gothnak says:

        No kids for my wife and I, so my cash will all be going to the government.

        Then again, by the time i’m older, i’ll have left the UK to hopefully somewhere like Italy (Brexit withstanding) so in theory i’ll leave them my money rather than the overcrowded UK.

        • Risingson says:

          You are not really thinking of the world you want to leave to your kids, do you? You haven’t really thought on how your mindset affects negatively your kids, have you?

          Or do you plan on doing what some elder people do now of calling them snowflakes when they grow up and see that the selfishness actually is not good for resources or the environment? That actually people living in the same block is better for energy management?

          EDIT: didn’t read the kids part. So, do you really want to leave a worse world for the people that come here? Are you really defending to your friends, openly, that you don’t give a f about the world after you die? When does this stop? Do you really care about your friends or are there for utilitarian aims? Are you one of those people that say that “selfishness” is the motor for everything?

          • Gothnak says:

            I want to leave a static world for everyone to enjoy as we do now. The more people we add, the more strained the world will be, the more cramped everyone will be, won’t that make all their lives worse?

            I’m suggesting kids DON’T pay for their elders, they get the money they earn for themselves whereas the older generations pay for themselves, then each generation is self sufficient.

            Currently each generation is paying for the previous one, and therefore each generation has to be slightly bigger than the previous. This is not sustainable.

            I can’t see anything i have said makes it worse for the future, it makes it better for the future, and I won’t even be here for it.

        • Jimbo says:

          Yet either scenario conveniently sees you getting to live out your life. You are neither proposing to shorten your own life or move somewhere much less desirable in order to relieve the over-population of Surrey. I’m not suggesting you should do either, only that not doing so makes your argument hard to respect.

          This is why the over-population argument is always hard to sell. The people making it almost always see themselves as exempt.

          Not having children won’t do much to help as it will just result in an older and less productive population, which will lead to an even greater drop in living standards than overpopulation does.

          If you haven’t raised any children to contribute to society during your old age, then unless you have been unusually productive during your working life it’s likely that you will end up being a net drain overall. People invest an awful lot of their own time and money into raising the future contributors to society, and society as a whole benefits from that. You get the benefit of others doing so without (most of) the expense.

          This is obviously compounded if you then choose to leave your personal wealth -no doubt largely accumulated by avoiding the expense of raising future contributors- to a different society to the one which educated and raised you.

          If the lack of children is not by choice then that’s a shame. If it’s a choice based on thinking it will in someway help society as a whole then it’s deeply misguided.

          • Gothnak says:

            Firstly, yes i am looking to leave the busy part of Surrey to somewhere else, as i mentioned Italy would be good, and that has much lower population. I’ve also started a company where people work from home, our Lead Artist is in France and our Lead Animator now doesn’t have to commute to busier Surrey, so i’ve actually caused there to be 2 less people here already.

            I’m also not suggesting ANY people shorten their life, i’m suggesting that less lives are created, and that each life has a better time of it.

            We are already suggesting having a national living wage, as fundamentally many menial jobs will be automated in 50-100 years, so we simply don’t need as many people to do the crappy jobs, so how about those people just don’t exist in the first place? Therefore all the other people doing the important jobs can carry on doing them.

            Having an older population is fine initially as fundamentally it’ll just mean a smaller population in 30-40 years when the old people die out, that is beneficial to the human race and the earth as a whole. Doing it in conjunction with automation is clearly the intelligent choice.

            Also you saying me leaving my wealth to a different society is wrong. Tbh, Surrey needs my money less than Italy which is much poorer on average, so actually i am helping solve the inequality of the world also, rather than concentrating it in one area of the UK. So i’ll have to disagree there too.

            You also clearly decided not to answer any of my points about how a rising population is not a viable option for the future, and that i am somehow selfish and evil for not adding to the already rising numbers :).

          • Jimbo says:

            “Having an older population is fine initially as fundamentally it’ll just mean a smaller population in 30-40 years when the old people die out, that is beneficial to the human race and the earth as a whole.”

            No, it will mean a smaller *and much older* population. Given the aging population is already one of the biggest problems we face right now, it’s hard to see how going further in that direction would be ‘fine’.

            A smaller population with a much older average age will not lead to a rise in living standards for the remaining older people even if the roads (now with nobody to maintain them) are less busy, let alone for the people who now don’t get to exist at all where they otherwise would have.

            The great resources black hole of our society is old, unhealthy and unproductive people, not the young and productive. Encouraging people to not have children will inevitably worsen that situation down the line not improve it.

            Any increase in living standards by lowering the population would obviously have to come from skewing it towards the younger and more productive, not towards the elderly and unproductive. That means people no longer living once they stop being productive, not preventing them being born in the first place.

            How is a future contributor going unborn more beneficial to humanity than your continuing to live beyond your ability to contribute more than you consume? On the contrary it would be far better as far as living standards go (assuming we are only taking those who get to continue living into account) if everybody dropped dead at ~60 and got replaced by a 20 year old.

            A rising population will be perfectly viable if we are going to advance technologically at anything like the rate you are suggesting. Just because there would no longer be a menial job for someone to perform doesn’t mean there is no reason for their existence at all; arguably it would mean there is more reason for their existence, as they wouldn’t have to spend so much of it doing a menial job. Other people do not only exist to benefit you.

            Italy is obviously not much less desirable for you, in fact it seems to be more desirable. You are arguing for lowering the population but only as long as the consequences are only felt by others and not by yourself. It is hard to convince anyone on those terms and why your argument doesn’t get taken seriously by anyone you make it to.

            “I believe in increasing living standards by lowering the population density, so I’m killing myself when I turn 60” is a viable position.

            “I believe in increasing living standards by lowering the population density, so I’m going to move to Italy and increase the population density there instead” isn’t.

  31. sinter says:

    Add the carbon budget into the game.

    Once you reach, say, the information age, the carbon budget should become visible. From that point, it’s either invest in research in climate change mitigation technologies together (through world Congress for example), or once it’s exceeded have all adjacent low-lying sea tiles be ‘lost’ with no recompense after a set period of time. Reduce agricultural yields similarly.

    • April March says:

      Or! It doesn’t get added automatically, it needs to be voted through World Congress. But carbon useage has other, negative effects, and you can only see it if it’s an active resolution. That would kind of create the dynamics you see in the real world to a T.

    • shde2e says:

      Doubly interesting for players who have a lot of coastal cities, as those cities would be lost when the sea rises…

  32. Kefren says:

    Many thanks for this thought-provoking article – you have articulated an issue I’ve felt with many of those games but never been able to put into words. I come to RPS for stuff like this. Games intersect with and shine a light on many aspects of our culture, and that needs to be acknowledged – especially the harmful aspects.

  33. Greatgutter says:

    Hi, long time reader here.
    While I usually love these kinds of articles, I think it’s useful to have an empirical corrective; I certainly don’t appreciate a serious position repeatedly labelled a ‘myth’ with little to no data to back that assertion up.
    A cursory look at link to ec.europa.eu and link to stats.oecd.org reveals that in spite of significant economic growth over the given period:
    Total solid fuel consumption for the EU halved since 1990 (Eurostat) – and that’s despite adding in lots of new member states.
    Share of energy produced from renewables doubled since 2004 (Eurostat) – again, NMS likely have a lower share, so this is understating progress.
    Total CO2 emissions have been steadily going down for both the EU and US for at least 10 years. (Eurostat, OECD)

    Most growth accounting excercises for developed countries produce an estimate of ~60% of GDP growth coming from TFP, that is better use of resources, with the remaining 40% coming from increased resource use (including labour). This in spite of GDP being more for measuring ‘stuff being made’ rather than the actual quality of said stuff.

    In other words, there is significant evidence pointing out that growth (for developed economies) doesn’t just mean ‘more stuff’ but also ‘more stuff using less input’. If we want to produce less of a footprint on Mother Nature, more growth may actually be the way to do it.

    More speculative: The fact that previous societies had cyclical notions of rise and fall is testament to the fact that due to population pressure these mere usually barely-above-subsistence economies for the vast majority of the population, which meant that they were one natural disaster away from state collapse due to falling tax revenues (see eg. late imperial China or late imperial Rome). Cyclicality was a fact of life as the state was always vulnerable to hostile takeover. Developed economies today are unique in the fact that the vast majority of the population lives above subsistence – this leaves a comfortable margin for elite extraction which seems to produce rather long-lived states, by historical standards.

    Even more speculative: additionally, from a game-theoretic perspective, growth makes cooperative strategies more beneficial than competitive strategies – eg. in a repeated Prisoner’s Dilemma, the better the payoffs to cooperation you can expect in the future, the more you’ll be inclined to cooperate. We can probably expect growth to be a variable contributing to social stability and cooperation and there is some evidene of that, eg. link to doi.org . If we want to overcome problems like climate change, cooperation and democratic governance are at a premium.

    The notion, put forward by one commenter, that Social Security is worse now than it was in 1900 or 1800 doesn’t really pass a smell test (or any other, really). Social transfers as a proportion of GDP has skyrocketed from around zero in the 20th century and stayed more or less constant in mkost developed countries since around 1970. In the US, the proportion actually increased from 22% in 1993 to 28.8% in 2013 (OECD). This may be a byproduct of rising proportion of old-age pensioners – but keep in mind this is a percentage of an increasing GDP.

    This is not to discourage RPS from doing these sorts of articles – I do think games are a form of art and can and should be analysed as such and for me, this attitude is a big draw to RPS. And confronting my right-of-centre beliefs with opposite opinions is always useful, if annoying. However, these notions always need to be confronted with fact.

    • icarussc says:

      This has my vote for Best Informed Comment, though there are a few others in the running.

    • Elgarion says:

      Very nice, interesting and informed comment. Kudos to you !

    • SanguineAngel says:

      Hey! This was great. And, if I may say so, very respectful.

  34. Smaug says:

    Good god, this same article has been written repeatedly for 30 years now ever since the first Civilization game came out.

    Also, every bloddy strategy game works this way, even the examples you brought out are either not from the genre (Pirates!), not even in beta (AtG) or just as “blobby” (Paradox Studios games).

  35. kalzekdor says:

    There is growth, or there is death. Civilizations of any significant size don’t handle equilibrium well. They tend to stagnate and decay.

    Knowledge is hard to kill, and knowledge breeds knowledge. Barring apocalyptic level events, it’s safe to assume that our technological capabilities will continue to rise. Whether or not our current accelerating rate of advancement will continue is up for debate, but, regardless, we will advance.

    Ignoring these facts means ignoring human nature. Growth leads to overcrowding leads to expansion leads to growth. The cycle is inevitable. The only other option is to die. I’m not willing to give up. Are you?

  36. ThePuzzler says:

    I wonder if the “lost golden age” myth is more or less dangerous than the idea of “progress”?

    “Things were much better in the old days before we had bronze / writing / trains / feminism / homosexuality. Back then we all listened to our authority figures and obeyed them without question!”

    I think the nastiest idea that 4x games can’t get away from is basic nationalism. “It is vitally important that my country does better than all the other countries! This is a cause worth fighting wars over!”

  37. Helixagon says:

    I liked the part about gameplay and how to potentially make Civ games better. Less so the conflation between vidjagames, a deliberately simplified form of fun/escapism, and environmental issues. I feel like RPS writers sometimes reach just a -little- too hard in their logic in the attempt to write something meaningful and important.

    • Beefenstein says:

      “…vidjagames, a deliberately simplified form of fun/escapism, and environmental issues.”

      When people are talking about a game series which has included climate change as caused by pollution your argument becomes a little ridiculous.

      • SanguineAngel says:

        hey now, it’s certainly not ridiculous. That seems like a bit of hyperbole. Sure, there is a link between the topics discussed and the game content that OP has not directly referenced. However, there sure was (in my opinion) a sharp division of topics covered here between gameplay mechanics and real world politics/sociology and I can see how that’d feel a bit jammed in. And honestly, their comment was perfectly polite criticism.

        What I’m not too fond of right now is the polarity of comments around here. So many extreme and dare I say intollerant reactions! There’s room for subjectivity and for dichotomous opinion. There’s shades of grey in most matters but I feel like many of the comments around these more socially concious articles are quite black & white. Particularly when commenters start bickering. Here’s an opportunity to share a frank and honest exchange of ideas with an open mind – to collectively improve the world (or our little piece of it) by using common ground to discuss matters in a civil manner and reach conclusions with new imput from the article and from our fellow gamers. Instead, I see a lot closed minds attempting to shut down the opinions that make them feel uncomfortable.

        Apologies – this is not specifically aimed at you, and your comment was reasonably tame compared to others here. It’s just… the comments on these sections are beginning to get me down. You know? I remember when I first started visiting this site I stayed because it was a place where I found I could discuss things with people who held differing opinions in a friendly environment and there was no malice or judgement but open and sincere debate. That was nice.

        Edit: Also apologies to Helixagon for white knighting in here when I’m sure you don’t need me “sticking up for you” and putting my oar in. It’s just a vehicle for my own rant really.

  38. Malco says:

    Thank you for this article, you can tell it is such an important issue when the conversation in the chat gets as heated as this. People rightfully have very differing opinions on these subjects but the important thing is that they are being made to question those beliefs and form opinions. Exactly why RPS is still in my bookmarks, keep it up.

  39. SanguineAngel says:

    Hi Alistair

    I just wanted to say thanks. I came to this article thinking it was going to be a bit sensationalised and not really convinced that the attitudes perpetuated by games such as Civ towards progress and sustainability were significant or dangerous.

    Actually you’ve changed my mind. You’ve also addressed some pretty major mechanical flaws with the genre that have long bugged me and also suggested a few ideas that I think would be a good starting point. I’ve my own ideas too, inspired by this piece!

    Anyway, it’s an interesting piece, engagingly written and convincing. Thanks

  40. denislaminaccia says:

    I really enjoyed this article, Alister deserves a pay rise!

    • c-Row says:

      Just remember that endless wage growth is a myth.

      • shde2e says:

        You can totally have infinite wage growth.
        It’s just that the values of everything else have to rise accordingly, so all that changes is that your money has bigger numbers on it.

  41. Mostquito says:

    So the article thinks tis is the myth:
    “There is a historical context for this modern myth of perpetual growth. It emerged from the Industrial Revolution, when incremental technological progress combined with the fruits of empire – a massive influx of natural resources and slave labour – produced unprecedented economic increase and a global population explosion from 1 billion in 1804 to 6 billion in 1999. Many of us act as if we believe this will continue forever, even to the stars themselves.”
    Some thoughts on that:
    1., Incremental technological progress is getting faster and faster, so perpetual growth is more true than ever.
    2., The other two mentioned factors (natural resources and slavery) are less and less important. The slavery part is almost gone compared to the times of industrial revolution.
    3., And natural resources are getting more and more available thanks to technological progress.

    My view:
    Civilization games are getting worse and worse (but independently from the “myth of perpetual growth”), while real human civilization is getting better and better.
    Sure, one can easily focus onto endangered groups of people and species, but at a global level, humanity were never richer, numerous, healthy and well fed or cultured compared to any of the earlier eras.
    Time will tell if it can continue, but till then, the “myth of perpetual growth” is more like a fact.
    At least compared to the “myth of declining human civilization”.
    link to bbc.com

  42. Fetyukovic says:

    Not every piece of media is a tool for social engineering. The author finds fault with a game because it doesn’t suit his arbitrary view of an adequately influential worldview. The purpose of a game is entertainment. The argument presented in this article is no more relevant than “violent video games are causing people to be violent” or “guns in games are creating mass shooters”.

    Additionally, the author takes a dim view of modern society by insisting we are under the illusion that our culture is immortal. Sweeping generalizations like this only reflect the author’s underlying contempt for the way things are.

    People generally don’t want activism and social engineering injected into games. Also, the assertion that a game “sets a poor example” or “perpetuates a myth” is dependent on the assumption that people are brainless enough to be so vulnerable to simulations of real world concepts in video games that it shapes their view of the real world.

    Last, the world is a giant competition for resources. Maybe Civilization has distilled that basic truth into a straightforward meal you find unpalatable?

    Either way, thanks for putting effort into this work, even though I disagree with it.

  43. splorghley says:

    Growth is hard, yes. Sustainable growth is even harder. But – as David Hume pointed out in the eighteenth century – there’s no obvious logical step that takes us from those observations to the assertion that we ought not even try.

    My problem with this article isn’t that it attempts to take a critical eye to games – that’s great. My problem is that the article is mere navel-gazing. There’s lots of questions – many rather banal – but precious few attempts at answers. What would Ursula Le Guin’s Civilization look like? I’d love to see an article on that.

    • splorghley says:

      (whoops – forgot the closing i-tag after “would”)

    • Reblosch says:

      I’d love that too. I am skeptical about the criticizm in this article, but very interested about new ideas for gaming.

  44. teamcharlie says:

    I’ve always seen the problem (in Civilization at least, can’t speak for Crusader Kings which does at least seem to examine this issue from what I’ve heard) as much simpler than all this: what successful modern government really lets one person call all the shots? And I’m not even talking about the millennia- or centuries-long campaigns of Civilization. I mean, what successful modern country even lets one person call all the shots for more than a year or two? New presidents get elected or lose favor or have to work with a congress. Oligarchs make bad business ventures and get replaced with other rich dudes. Kings get assassinated. All these 4X games imply a constant, unified, dedicated intelligence behind the throne for the reign of an empire (and even behind any OTHER ruler who takes over unless it’s literally Game Over). At best, most empires like that (with a singular intelligence running most or all of the show) only had a golden age last exactly as long as the ruler him/herself and went into decline (slow or rapid) soon after.

    In short: a realistic game about a civilization is a game about backroom politicking. And exactly when a 4X game gets easier, when the bureaucracy gets better at running things in a more advanced society, is exactly when the leaders in a real country are under extreme attack via internal power struggles. That’s why these games seem to get easier exactly when everything should be getting much harder, because these games don’t generally model internal political strife as anything more than a minor annoyance or debuff when it should threaten to completely end your game.

  45. Kaitiaki says:

    I reset my password to login and say that this kind of article is why RPS is my favourite gaming site. Makes me feel ok about being a grown-up and game-enjoyer in 2018.

  46. ProfessorPicke says:

    The sillyness of this article is that somehow always wanting good times to last forever is a bad thing. I look forward to hope, future improvement and good times. What about this is not natural? What you propose is the myth. It’s misguided as hope was never due to some nebulous force to begin with; rather consider this: From where would someone get the idea their big authoritarian empires wasn’t perminent? Simply put, they just never thought about them not existing. Tell me honestly, have you ever even had the thought that one day America would no longer be a leader in the world and would collapse due to the seemingly inevitable decadance of all great nations? Likely not even once, despite you posting this very article.

    “Meaningless! Meaningless!”
    says the Teacher.
    “Utterly meaningless!
    Everything is meaningless.”

    9 What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun.
    10 Is there anything of which one can say,
    “Look! This is something new”?
    It was here already, long ago;
    it was here before our time.
    11 No one remembers the former generations,
    and even those yet to come
    will not be remembered
    by those who follow them. -Ecclesiastes 1

    “No one remembers the former generations”
    it was true then as it is true now. To this day no one remembers their former generations. History repeating itself wasn’t because of some nebulous myth that sprung around only in the industrial era.

    Next, growth is hope; Stagnation is dispair.
    You know this to be true in your own life. Whenever you’re not getting better, improving your skills, having the promise of some future good especially when it’s despite your best efforts, you’re instead regressing into depression. It’s intuitive.

    The real reason you even think to ask the question of infinite growth is because of the up and coming robotics revolution posing a question: “what do we do if the robots take all the jobs?”. In which the socialists swoop in and say “capitalism is based on infinute growth and so it doesn’t work”. Capitalism is based on infinite growth because human nature is based on infinite growth; it would be a problem regardless of ideology. Communism is based on stagnating in paradise with no further progress, which is just another one of the many ways in which communism goes against our nature and thus fails. It IS depression manifest even if it were achievable. Anyways I g2g.

  47. Kinsky says:

    This is kind of a lame take IMO. It’s certainly arguable that the design of Civ is symptomatic of this viewpoint of endless growth, but to say that Civ should be redesigned to more accurately reflect reality is ridiculous. While it may be true that this cultural short-sightedness is part of the design of the game, so is the desire to check a number of videogamey checkboxes like giving the player increasing control over their situation or watching all the numbers go up. I’m not saying that games shouldn’t be criticized on this level, it’s obvious to anyone that games are as valid and complex a medium of expression as anything else. It’s that Civ has drawn its lines pretty distinctly and all these elements you say the game should include to be Socially Responsible are clearly outside of its scope. You wouldn’t criticize Risk for not properly modeling military tactics, engagement rules, or international diplomacy, nor would you criticize a portrait of Elizabeth II for not properly depicting the sociopolitical struggle of women in the 20th century. There’s a place for these things in the medium of course, and as you point out, many other games make motions to introduce and discuss them, and that’s how it should be. Not every work of expression has to be retooled to teach people The Proper Lessons. Not every cultural node has to be turned into a battlefield in the culture war.

  48. Reblosch says:

    You confuse 3 things :
    – the world as it is ;
    – the world as you want it to be ;
    – the world as it is modelled in order to have a fun game.

    All 3 are pretty much distinct :
    – you might want a world without such a thrift for expansion, but the reality of human nature will not allow it : just try and ask Putin, Xi, Assad and Kim if they shouldn’t care more about the biosphere ;
    – as you rightly pointed, a realistic simulation of the world’s history without the room for the players’ hubris would struggle to be fun ;
    – you have yet to explain how a utopian view of the world’s hostory would make a fun game.

  49. mac4 says:

    Maybe what all us commentators have missed is that the author’s thoughts have been spurred initially by the Feb. ’18 Civ VI expansion specifically titled Civilization VI: Rise and Fall. So, justifiably you’d think, they reflect on the rise & fall bit and take it from there.

    Duh. (It only struck me myself just now seeing the expansion being promoted again on the Steam homepage.)

  50. Alpha3Lyrae says:

    And this article is exactly why RPS is my favorite gaming journalism site on the Interwebs.

    Ya’ll treat gaming as an art form rather than mere timekilling twitch-porn, like so many other sites. It’s refreshing to read a piece like this, which makes me think about my gaming in the larger context, rather than “will it give me an adrenaline hard-on for at least 12+ hours for less than $59.99.”

    Thanks guys. Keep up the good work.

    • Horrux says:

      I was about to write essentially the same thing as Alpha3Lyrae.

      Insightful articles about the implicit assumptions behind the design of games. YES.