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    Aug 31st, 2012 at 14:33:37     -    Civilization V: Gods and Kings (PC)

    I recently downloaded the new DLC for Civ 5 and was unsurprised to find myself once again completely sucked into the days-long fugue state that is playing Civ. The DLC adds on a couple new features--religion and espionage--some new nations, and a couple tweaks to the tech tree. In the vanilla version I was a pretty staunch Frenchman; Napoleon's early culture boost is amazingly helpful. If you pair it with an early Monument, and are perhaps lucky enough to find a culture ruin, you will breeze through the opening policies, collecting a free settler and free worker, which are so crucial on the harder difficulties. Now I am stuck on the Celts, who receive a religion boost for being next to unimproved forests. I could go on about the strategic awesomeness of this, but let's turn our attention to more delicate considerations. The idea of building a nation is part of what makes Civ so enjoyable, consuming your life for the duration of your play-time. And imagining my own little Edinburgh, building libraries and erecting shrines and so on, as a pagan, ecologically-friendly happy place, where on the outskirts of the city there are Sacred Forests that are untouched by man, harboring the spirits of the gods and etc. etc. etc., is immensely pleasing. Pictish warriors are incredible, too.
    Anyway, Civilization is definitely a game that can inspire creative, philosophical thinking about gaming. For instance, one could develop a robust, scholarly treatment of the implicit Eurocentric imperialism in a game like Civilization: Colonization, where your goal is to exploit native societies. (I think someone has done this already on one of those 'ludological' blogs.) I'm interested, though, in how Civilization relates to the idea of realpolitik--the idea that relations between nations are guided chiefly by the pursuit of power and exploitation, and all fantasies of benevolent rulers and policies guided by hope for the well-being of the citizenry are naive and foolish. I remember coming across some meme on Reddit a while ago titled "How I play Civ" that had a caption reading, "How I play at turn 10" with a picture of Gandhi above it, followed by "How I play on turn 250" underneath a picture of Hitler. It is a common phenomenon--you hope that in a game where you are allowed to live out your fantasies of nationcraft you would have the opportunity to be an enlightened king building a utopia. But that doesn't work for two reasons. One, the game is so centered around the military--it eats up half the tech tree--that just putting libraries and research labs and ampitheatres in your towns (with no corresponding graphics) gets terribly boring. Secondly, when you get bored, you want to start killing stuff. And if Catherine or Ramkamhaeng or any of the other greedy a-holes you neighbor decide they want some, you can't help but delight in razing their cities and hearing the lamentations of their people. The game just makes you act that way. Does this mirror real life? I don't know. But I feel strangely guilty about my murder sprees every time I start playing Civ. And I wonder if real-life rulers also set out in hopes of being one of the good guys, only to have the power game of nation-building seduce them into violence. Who knows. But if Civ is any indication, for all my good intentions I would become an iron-fisted ruler in a couple years and try to conquer the world were I to be president. Civ is one of those games that truly lets you feel like you have absolute power--being some sort of 1,000 year old god-king of a country--and, as they say, that will corrupt you absolutely.

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