Playing the World Picture: Sid Meier’s Civilization and the Law of Abstraction


Sid Meier’s Civilization is the defining title of the 4X genre; identified as games where players explore a map, expand their presence on the map, exploit resources found on the map, and exterminate rivals from the map. The premise of Civilization across the instalments has been an unashamedly celebratory grand history of the West whereby the player as the controlling mind and will directs her civilisation from a single village in 4000 BC though to a future of global mastery and interstellar travel. Exploitation of natural resources, might as right, and technology as progress are hardwired into the series’ essential code. Further, the turn-based gameplay of pure strategy and timelessness suggests Descartes’ cogito. The game is experienced as a cascade of abstractions through exploiting and strategising the ‘world picture’ of the game map. This chapter argues that Civilization is the apotheosis of the West, bringing to screens what Heidegger identified as the subiectum of modernity. It involves playing within a world emanating from the law of abstraction; the world picture composed of calculatable quanta. However, in its addictive victory of abstraction lies the possibility of that worldview’s undoing. As a material artefact that is experienced for hours and days, it might play out as pure abstraction, but it cannot escape the material and the temporal. It is in this volatile intensity of Civilization that there is a possible mode of escape from abstraction

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