Civilization 1 & 2
For much of my existence on this earth, I have been an unashamed Civilization addict, Sid Meier's historically-themed strategy masterpiece. The series has done more to cultivate my interests today than anything else, helping to determine my majors in school (history and computer science), my fascination with interactive systems, and my goal of a career in game design.
I was only four years old when the original Civilization came out in 1991, and I knew nothing of the game until a few years later, when my brother entered private school. He came home after school one day with Civilization installed on his laptop and showed it to me. I was hooked instantly -- before I’d even played it. The developers had abstracted an entire alternate history of Western civilization into this simple game that offered so much emergent complexity.
For those uninitiated, the game puts you in control of a small tribe -- one of some dozen-or-so historical peoples -- in the distant past, ready to settle down and form a civilization. Turn-by-turn, over several thousand years, your task is to guide your civilization to glory through a combination of city building and cultivating, military conquest, diplomacy, trade, and technological research. (Later games in the series added other elements, such as culture and religion.) You can control every aspect of your civilization’s development, including build orders, which resources to exploit, foreign and domestic policy, where to build a city or road, and where to send a unit (be it military, naval, or otherwise). To win the game you must conquer all civilizations, win the space race, or attain the highest score, which is determined according to the happiness of your people, the size of your civilization, the World Wonders you have built, and a few other factors. Later Civ games added additional victory types.
The series is renowned for its addictive “one more turn” gameplay and impressive depth, which is rooted heavily in (a Western-centric) human history. People have literally lost weeks and months of their lives to the game, determined to get revenge on the evil Aztecs, crush the annoying Greeks, build the Great Library, and otherwise make their mark on the world.
The cartoon series Pinky and the Brain never seemed so relevant. I could rule the world as I thought it should be. Or I could get a taste of being a tyrant, sadistically heaping misery on friends and foes alike. All the while I learned about differences between social and cultural groups, that not all are created equal, and that everything has underlying rules and logic, except human emotion.
My brother had customized his copy of Civilization so that dialogue options in the diplomacy screens were different. The choices became rather less, ahem, diplomatic and included such provocative rebuttals as “GO FUCK A COW!” At the time, I thought this was some kind of social commentary, as if the developers were sticking it to the aggressive speech veiled by politeness of political discourse. You can imagine my surprise when a friend got the game and I saw the real dialogue options, which were much more in line with the usual halting politeness and veiled animosity of relations between rival historical powers.
I later obtained the Super Nintendo version and was astounded at how well the game had adapted to console play. This perhaps foreshadowed Civilization Revolution, with its more colorful graphics and a similarly streamlined interface that suffered only from the fact that it was trying to jam a keyboard with over 50 buttons onto a controller with only a half dozen. Not that I cared whether the series would one day get a console-specific version. I had what I wanted, which was Civilization in its full glory.
Next came Civilization 2, which is perhaps my favorite entry in the series. I played the game incessantly, always on the maximum possible map size, with rules customized so that Bloodlust (conquest victory only) was turned on and defeated civilizations stayed just that -- dead. What makes the game so special to me, though, has less to do with the game itself and more to do with the circumstances in which I played it.
In the summer of 1998, my brother went on exchange to Germany and entrusted me with his laptop, which had Civilization 2 installed. My Ben Folds Five phase was at its peak (as was, incidentally, the band), and Whatever and Ever Amen became the soundtrack to my Summer of Civilization. I spent my days leaning back in an inflatable orange chair, with my feet on my bed and the stereo blasting, while I played Civ 2 and sang loudly out-of-tune: “She’s everything I want, she’s everything I’m not / Oh, I... / Have you got nothing to say.”
But like all good things in life, the summer eventually ended. My brother reclaimed his laptop, I went back to school, and I didn’t play the game again until I tracked down the Mac version a few years later, by which time the magic was gone.
What's your favorite game in the Civilization series? Are you playing Civilization 5? How has the series evolved over the past twenty years? Got any great stories to share about the game? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.
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