Civilization II a good “sociological simulator”? I say no

I was amused earlier this week to see a report from a guy who has been playing the same game of Civilization II for ten years. Here is a little bit of his report on the state of the Civ II world:

  • The world is a hellish nightmare of suffering and devastation.
  • There are 3 remaining super nations in the year 3991 A.D, each competing for the scant resources left on the planet after dozens of nuclear wars have rendered vast swaths of the world uninhabitable wastelands.

While I loved playing Civ II (and I think the gameplay was superior to later versions of the game), I’m scratching my head at how much attention this report has received in the media. Does it really tell us anything about the world’s possible future? Here is one overview from the BBC that I think goes too far:

A man who has been playing the computer game Civilisation II for ten years describes the year 3991 AD as a hellish nightmare of suffering and devastation.

Daniel Knowles, from the Telegraph and a fan of the game, says the game has certain assumptions built in to it about what will happen if there is a nuclear war or if you stop producing green technology.

“It’s a kind of sociological simulator… a giant economical model” he told the Today programme.

He believes gamer James Moore “would not still be playing it if he had reached an Utopia”.

Civilization II is a “sociological simulator”? I doubt it. Granted, the game is intended to replicate real-world nation-building and interaction. As you build your society, you have to make decisions like what kind of government to have (for example, in latter stages of the game fundamentalism is quite effective when waging all-out war), what to build and produce in individual cities, how to move certain units (military and otherwise) around, and pursue scientific and technological advancements. But, all of these types of games (and I’ve also been a fan in recent years of Age of Empires III) are only as good as what they account for. In other words, this is a low-level simulator of anything. The real world is far more complicated and many more moving pieces that games like this can allow. Indeed, these sorts of games seem geared toward all-out war between nations even as some would argue the international scene is getting more peaceful.

We are still far from a true “sociological simulator” that could account for all of the human variability in real life. This hasn’t stopped some scientists from trying – there was news recently of a group trying to put together a “Living Earth Simulator.” But, we need to remember what Civ II really is: it is a fun game with some modeling of human behavior but it really tells us very little or nothing about what the world might look like in 3991 AD.

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