When a Reddit user named Lycerius revealed he's been playing the same game of Civilization for the last 10 years, little did he know his post would go viral, generating (at last count) more than 500 comments. "Man Plays Civilisation II For 10 Years, World Disintegrates into 'Nightmare of Suffering'" was the title over at Huffington Post U.K. And grim it is in the world of 3991 A.D. The planet has been ravaged repeatedly by nuclear wars, starvation is rampant, the polar ice caps have melted (as a result of those wars). For some, the message is that nuclear weapons are bad. But for others (including myself): Nuclear weapons are bad in the hands of others.
Perhaps you can trust yourself not to fire an ICBM in the direction of an adversary. (I once launched a tactical nuke from a submarine—I was just curious.) But can you honestly trust the artificial intelligence to do the same? The answer is no. In Lycerius's world, three main powers exist: The Americans, the Vikings, and the Celts (which he plays). And they've been in a constant struggle for the last 1,700 years. "Every time a cease fire is signed," he writes, "the Vikings will surprise attack me or the Americans the very next turn, often with nuclear weapons. Even when the U.N forces a peace treaty." Unbelievable!
The problem for Lycerius is that he should have never allowed the other powers to have access to nuclear material (uranium deposits). Early on (at least in Civilization III, which I used to play), other resources present themselves, such as horses, iron, gunpowder, and, much later, oil. If another nation asks if you will trade oil for some other commodity, resist the offer. Lycerius also explains his attempt at democracy failed and his civilization fell into a Communist dictatorship: "The people hate me now and every few years since then, there are massive guerrilla (late game barbarians) uprisings in the heart of my empire that I have to deal with which saps resources from the war effort." (I've always preferred a constitutional monarchy.)
Luckily for Lycerius, a solution has just been found courtesy of a Civ player named Stumpster. (The game was placed into a dropbox, allowing others to give it a go.) And it only took him a mere 58 years (his thoughtful and elaborate explanation can be found here).
The gamer's addiction is understandable due to its "turn-based" design. Five years ago I interviewed Civilization's creator, Sid Meier, for THE WEEKLY STANDARD. Meier elaborated,
We were very fortunate in that we developed this one-more-turn thing where people just could not stop playing the game. There's always one more thing to do. The turn-based let people play at their own pace and a lot of problems involve trading different things off and you can sit there and say, you know, "Do I want a marketplace or do I want a barracks? I better think about this. This is interesting."
"So is it marketplace or barracks?" I asked Meier, who just laughed and said, "Yes." I also asked him if war is inevitable. "The intention is not," he said, "and this goes back to the original Civilization actually. We always intended for there to be multiple ways to win, different strategies with military being one of them. But it seemed to always come down to the most interesting strategies involved the military and war in some sense.... Theoretically you can [win without war] but you do, I mean there's other people out there and they're not going to be, you know, they have their own agendas, so you better prepare. Preparing is a good strategy."
Isn't it, though?