Thursday, 14 June 2012

Hail Lycerius, General Secretary of the World

Lycerius, you may have heard on the radio or other media, has been playing the same game of Civilization II for ten whole years (or several thousand years in-game time). He is now far into a dystopian future in which the ravaged earth is divided between his Communist dictatorship and two other aggressive empires.

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.
 big cities are a thing of the distant past. Roughly 90% of the worlds population (at it's peak 2000 years ago) has died either from nuclear annihilation or famine caused by the global warming that has left absolutely zero arable land to farm. Engineers (late game worker units) are always busy continuously building roads so that new armies can reach the front lines. Roads that are destroyed the very next turn when the enemy goes. So there isn't any time to clear swamps or clean up the nuclear fallout. 

And of course the UN is no good at all at peace-keeping. Fascinating how one man's game pretty much mimics what I think is happening to us. Perhaps less war in our future, but the reckless destruction of the globe is very much around the corner.

Hearing this story warmed the very cockles of my heart in a way that hasn't happened since I last saw a child fall over. Civilization II was both the core of my being and the darkest moments of my student life many years ago. To that game I owe my status as an Apple Macintosh user - because Civilisation II didn't exist on Macs and I wanted my life back.

Imagine the scene. A scummy shared student house in rainy North Wales. A ground floor room packed with books and quite possible the worst PC ever made, the Time PII 8.4Gb piece of beige shit. I bought it to start my MA (everything was hand-written on my BA) and after a few months of getting it fixed (a courier told me he kept his family fed on carting broken TIME PCs around), I bought the computer game I'd seen the big boys playing in the students' union media office. I was transfixed: a game which allows you to macro- and micromanage an entire planet. Nerd heaven.

Sadly, I sucked at the game. Not my fault, you understand. Capitalism's fault. The game-play is clearly ideologically rigged to prevent players succeeding by running a peaceable, green, communist regime. This is clearly where it departs from the real world, as I intend to demonstrate just as soon as I can get you bastards in the camps and rebuild the world according to me. I loved Civilization II (and very much didn't love Civ III or Alpha Centauri), but became very, very frustrated with this political bias. So I played it less and less. However, my friend Richard - an addictive personality - really took to it. Not having a computer of his own, he basically moved into my room. 'Just one more go' was his catchphrase - usually uttered at 6 a.m. as I begged him to go home so I could get a couple of hours' sleep before going to university. At one point, I recall being quite ill and deliriously watching him removed the PC, screen, keyboard, mouse, speakers etc etc so that he could carry on playing without becoming infected. At no point did it cross his mind to make me a cup of tea or Marmite on toast, or even check that I was still alive. This is the kind of thing we had to do in those days, before blogging, Facebook and Twitter, you know.

Gradually it became clear that the only way to ever sleep - or work - again was to dump the PC. I also had a little problem with Minesweeper too. I never bothered with speed, but concentrated on adding more and more mines to successfully clear. Someone told me that Macs didn't have any games, so my mind was made up. Soon enough, the university chucked 50 Mac IISe machines into a skip and I got hold of one (curiously enough, it contained the membership list of an Edinburgh Freemasons' Lodge) and my problems were over (and I rarely saw Resentful Richard again). Although there's a Mac version of the new Civ… many times I've been tempted to buy it. No doubt Civ II seems hilariously archaic compared to the stuff you young chaps and chapesses run: little video, no prostitution or murder, blocky graphics, lots of statistics and little gore… but it was and I suspect still is, compelling.

I salute Lycerius. I'm amazed he's still able to run it on whatever ancient machine it's compatible with, I admire his patience, his dedication and his optimism. One day - with the help of the Redditors - he'll achieve his goal of world domination. Rather scarily given the past few years, their collective wisdom recommends turning to Fundamentalism as a system of government and smiting everyone in reach.

And then he'll step blinking into the sunshine, wondering what on earth he can do with the rest of his life.

1 comment:

Ewarwoowar said...

Civ II is without doubt one of the greatest games ever. Not sure about the penultimate paragraph though Voley - pretty certain it would still run fine (and incredibly quickly) on my Windows 7 OS.

The rest of your post rings very, very true however. I too read that chap's experience on Reddit, and I found it very familiar. As you say, there's simply no way you can progress through the game being peaceful, cultivating areas and concentrating on agriculture etc, it just can't happen.

You either wipe out, or you are wiped out.

All of this is making me want to fire it up again :(