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Mercurio on civilization and the referendum

May 8th, 2011 by

This has not been a good week.

To parallel the British political situation this week, I tried my hand at simulating the complete control of a nation in Civilization V. There are other ways for me to play chess with the lives of mortal men, but I lack the time or motivation to run a successful spin campaign at the moment, and I have no faith in the British public to understand simple sentences at the moment.

I have always had a problem with the Civilization games. They boil diplomacy down to the very basics of “give me your stuff or I shall invade and take it anyway” which is, as we all know, a half truth. A good diplomat will use threats to cajole and scare and trick, but a great diplomat will make do all that without actually saying anything. A great diplomat can get his way by the way he places a pen on the table, how late he is to a meeting, or how many buttons he has done up on his jacket. A great diplomat is a master of reading the human mind, and Civilization does not allow much room for that.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I like a nice bit of war. I have literally played chess with men as the pieces, and that was one of the most enjoyable things I have ever done. It took me time to learn the intricacies, to sacrifice as many men as possible and still win, to leave the door open for a rematch and to make it seem as though my opponent stood a chance. The whole thing was quite invigorating, and though the wars in Civilization work differently, the basic premise is the same.

But after 200 years of war, you start to tire of the endless bloodshed. Income is slipping, your forces are becoming too expensive to maintain, the economy is collapsing around your ears, and the people bitch and moan for more bread. What is a tyrant to do? The people need to be happy or they won’t have babies. The less babies there are to tax, the worse the economy becomes. You have to resort to political means to quell the noisy proles, police states and martial law. It is doable and, for a time, heavily cathartic.

I had a coastal city that I had named Persephone after a childhood sweetheart. It’s people were violent, enjoying the war more than any of my other cities, but they were also impudent. If it wasn’t food they wanted it was more civic buildings, if not that then water, if not water gold and so on. They were impossible to please, even after I had summoned Elvis Presley back from heaven itself to play a once in a lifetime gig at their Colosseum, backlit by the great pyramids. Still they complained, and when I sent in the soldiers things barely improved.

It took me converting to a police state to finally shut them up, war weariness being slashed by the secret police and armed gangs of thugs roaming the streets, smashing in protesters’ faces. It was only after the people fell in line, however, that I realised the idiocy of these actions. The fight to keep the people repressed but compliant, having to resort to overt totalitarianism, the whole thing. I realised just how naïve the people behind the game were.

The developers believe in the electorate. The most financial sustainable systems in the game are drawn from democracy, from the supposed rule of the people, but they are all too easy to derail with war and unconventional policies. The people don’t like it, and if the people aren’t happy the cities will not grow, and you won’t be able to conjure up an army when the wolf is at the door. But real politics doesn’t work that way, does it? Real politics is all about making sure the people are smart enough to be useful, but dumb enough to trust you.

It is in this that Civilization really hits home. Change the political system all you like, the only thing that really changes is your title. President, King, First Minister, they all have the same powers, the same responsibilities and the same interests. Metaphysically speaking, the way you sell your government to the digital people changes, but how that government works never does. The people hold elections in a democracy, but I can only assume it is done under a First Past the Post system, as even after two centuries of total war, with millions of deaths and an economy so low that children could trip over it, they never vote me out. I have spat in the eyes of men who call themselves God Emperors, slapped the faces of men who lead armies larger than the population of my country, ripped an eye from the head of the Dark One himself, and my people still put their little cross in the box next to my name.

Every opportunity to end the war, even those that were ostensibly favourable to me, ended in rejection. My scientists were working on nuclear weapons. I had no fear of losing the war – the entire world was against me at this point, but their constant bickering meant that only one country at a time ever managed to field troops – but they needed to be brought to heel fast and without mercy. When I finally destroyed the capital cities of my enemies in one fell swoop, the world was forever changed. Nuclear winter rolled around the globe like a horseman, and I didn’t care.

I had the support of my people.

I killed billions of people, but my subjects rejoiced.

And as I watched the fallout swirl around the digital globe in a perfect golden maelstrom, the referendum results came on the television.

As an electronic world lay crumbling beneath my feet, I watched democracy die. I watched a nation use its one true democratic vote for over thirty years to say “No, we’re quite happy with a system that denies us a true say in the governing of our country. Leave it to the politicians, they know what they’re doing. Let that insular and self-aggrandising group of distant autocrats do what they want with little in the way of public reprisal. What’s so great about majority rule anyway, so long as the government is stable?”

And I wondered, then, why you are even allowed to vote at all. Would you truly miss it? The people in my Civilization didn’t seem to care, all it would have taken to stop my nuclear apocalypse was a few votes in the right place, but of course the game didn’t model that. What it inadvertently modelled instead, though, was the utter bovine idiocy of the human race.

Follow the leader.

As long as the government can make decisions whenever it likes, who cares what those decisions are. As long as someone can claim a majority of seats in the house, who cares whether the majority of the country voted for him.

And people ask me why I dislike the masses.

Mercurio Silver is a grumpy misanthropic immortal with bold statements and a narcissistic need to force them on others. With his sharp tongue he shares his most recent realisations and thoughts right here on Midlife Gamer every Sunday.

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