Archive for April, 2009

Civilization 3 and its discontents

April 22, 2009

Civilization 3 is a computer game in which you control a civilization from 4000 BC through to the Space Age, allying with and attacking your neighbours along the way before eventually building a spaceship to Alpha Centauri.  There are many good and addictive features to the  Civilization series, including  slow but steady progress each turn,  and the intermittent rewards of technology advances.  Brad De Long realised:  ” I could either have Civilization on my computers, or I could be a deputy assistant secretary of the US Treasury.  I could not do both.” So why the discontent?

There are some minor quibbles (do you really need to have Monotheism to become an advanced society?  Isn’t the Fascism government type [increased production at cost of population] a little tasteless?  With turns lasting several years, don’t wars go on too long?), but the crux of the problem is illustrated by a Biblical story.

Here’s Matthew 8, verses 5-10:

8:5 When he [Jesus] entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him asking for help:
8:6 “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible anguish.”
8:7 Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.”
8:8 But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Instead, just say the word and my servant will be healed.
8:9 For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I say to this one, ‘Go’ and he goes, and to another ‘Come’ and he comes, and to my slave ‘Do this’ and he does it.”
8:10 When Jesus heard this he was amazed and said to those who followed him, “I tell you the truth, I have not found such faith in anyone in Israel!

The key verse here is 9 – the centurion doesn’t have to go around and do everything – he just gives general orders and his soldiers or slaves carry them out.  He correctly figures that an important person like Jesus has a similar set-up.  Civ lets you give general direction for many things, as the centurion would, but there are far too many things that require micromanagement.  This is especially acute during wartime, when you need to retool all of your production and direct all of your units to conquer the enemy, while guarding your cities against their attacks.  Should your enemy be across an ocean, that doubles the complexity, with the need to build transports and escorts.  Add in a possible air war, with fighters, bombers, and flak, and you will only be inclined to start a conflict if the other party really has it coming.

But perhaps it is as well that the game has such flaws, as otherwise we would have many fewer deputy assistant secretaries of the US Treasury, and then where would we be?