Nukes, dictators and mad Vikings in virtual future

Lycerius’ dystopia – a nightmare world of swamps, flooding and nuclear fallout in Civilization II.

A gamer has become an online celebrity after playing the same game of Civilization II (a history simulation) for ten full years. His virtual world has now reached 3991 AD – and is an Orwellian nightmare.

Released in 1996, Civilization II remains one of the most admired video games of all time. And, unlike most blockbuster titles today, it is not a mindless shooter. In Civilization II, players take on the role of gods, guiding a chosen nation through history, from its first settlement in 4000 BC all the way up to the present day.

But what happens when the historical simulation does not end? In 2002, one gamer (who calls himself ‘Lycerius’), decided to find out. Even when the game was officially finished, he played on.

Ten years later, Lycerius’ game has become a nightmare. The virtual year is 3991 AD, and only three great nations survive: the Americans, the Vikings and the Celts. These three have destroyed their smaller rivals, and are locked in a brutal war that has lasted for 1700 years.

The struggle is relentless – but the world the three nations are fighting for is a wrecked, polluted waste, devastated by centuries of war. The land is scarred where great armies have been burnt to ashes in the atomic glare of tactical nukes. Whole cities have been bombed flat.

Settlements that remain are shrunken, depopulated shells, where those inhabitants who are not long dead from famine work like slaves in factories to support the war effort. Lycerius rules a communist dictatorship. His enemies, even worse, are theocratic civilisations where fundamentalist god-kings rule over brainwashed fanatics.

Meanwhile, the Earth itself is revolting against its human destroyers. Global warming has turned the virtual planet into a flooded swamp, with once-great nations swept away by the rising waves.

Within hours of appearing online, Lycerius’ description of his ruined world became an internet sensation. Thousands of commenters visited his original post, offering advice on how to end the ‘eternal war’.

But many visitors came just to marvel at how extraordinarily nightmarish the game world had become. Lycerius’ world is as bad as anything in dystopian novels like George Orwell’s 1984 – but instead of being invented by a writer’s imagination, it was simulated by an unthinking computer. Could ‘eternal war’ in fact be a realistic prediction of the future of humankind?

Virtual reality?

Most people think it is foolish to worry about a computer game. After all, it is just a simulation – and an old and simple one at that. The real world is infinitely more complex and uncertain than any computerised imitation.

But some say the video game makes good predictions. Why? Because it accurately reflects a single vital truth about human existence: that on a planet with finite resources and a rapidly growing population, the natural condition of nations is not peace, but war.

You Decide

  1. How realistic is Lycerius’ virtual future?
  2. How would society change in a world of never-ending war?

Activities

  1. Choose any other video game you have played and enjoyed. How many lessons can you think of from that video game that could be applied to the real world? They can be serious or funny.
  2. In groups, create a design brief for a video game that would simulate something in the real world.

Some People Say...

“The world will never see another global war.”

What do you think?

Q & A

No one canreally take computer games seriously!
That depends what you mean. Complicated simulations are used all the time by scientists trying to work out how the real world works, although these ‘computer models’ are more sophisticated than most video games.
What sorts of things are computer models used for?
All sorts. Computer models are used to predict weather and climate; the spread of disease; the movement of planets; changes in society; even the outcome of battles. And even normal video games have some practical uses. Some modern military games are used as training tools by the US Army.

Word Watch

Civilization II
The first Civilization game was designed by the legendary games producer Sid Meier, in 1991. It was a huge hit and quickly spawned four direct sequels and a host of related sequels. The current version, Civ V, is played by millions today, but Civ II is still regarded by many as the high point of the series.
Mindless shooter
The FPS, or First Person Shooter, is the most popular game genre today. Other popular genres include RPG (Role Playing Game), RTS (Real Time Strategy), and simulation.
Tactical nukes
Nuclear weapons can be divided into strategic weapons (designed to wipe out whole cities) and tactical weapons (designed for use on the battlefield).
George Orwell’s 1984
In his novel 1984, George Orwell imagined a world in which three huge superpowers, Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia were fighting a perpetual and unwinnable war. This war kept ordinary people in a state of permanent poverty, but also ensured their patriotic loyalty to their totalitarian masters.

Subjects

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