Beyond Earth: Civilization’s Culture Victory or Great Mistake?
“Since the earliest of civilizations, we have made much progress. But that progress came with a cost. Our world has changed. And despite our advances in both science and technology, we can no longer deny what is clear: our time on Earth is ending.
So we turn our gaze upward to the stars. And embark on the greatest journey in human history. A journey into the unknown. To discover a new world. A new home. A new beginning… for mankind.”
Sid Meier’s Civilization is uniformly held as one of the best franchises in gaming today. Without fail, each release builds upon its predecessor
adding to its gameplay in necessary and unique ways.
Earlier today, it was announced that the next installment in the series will be a sort of spiritual successor to another classic Sid Meier title: Alpha Centauri. The difference between Alpha Centauri and Civilization is not in its style of play, but in its setting: not warring nation-states and empires, but the conquest of space—humanity begins to rule the cosmos by culture, military, or diplomacy.
Civilization: Beyond Earth takes humanity’s enterprise once again to its cosmic future. After a global catastrophe called “The Great Mistake,” humanity is forced to make its hardest and most momentous decision of our time: perish as a species bound to its own web of life; or, plot a mass exodus, flee the planet, and start a new civilization beyond Earth.
In this circumstance, we have to start fresh.
There exists a legend from a more ancient part of the world called The Apocalypse of Adam.
Found in the now famous Nag Hammadi Library, The Apocalypse of Adam tells the story of a time in which Adam (Hebrew: man; humanity) learns from his wife, Eve, knowledge of the eternal God.
In this Jewish Apocalyptic text, Adam learns that humanity is more powerful than their Creator. But by the designs of the Demiurge (an architect), they have been thrust into a series of apocalyptic endeavors which maintain division and separation of Adam, Eve, and the environment in which they live.
The design of the Demiurge is to destroy humanity. There is a sense in the text, as well as in much historical theology, that the Demiurge is another name for Satan (the adversary of humanity). The Demiurge is responsible for the deluge (the great flood found in the Noah myth, as well as many others throughout the world) and the disparate philosophies found among the nations.
Not until the great illuminator arrives is Adam presented with an opportunity for salvation. The thirteen kingdoms of the world proclaim different narratives for whom the great illuminator is, but it is not until “the generation with no king” speaks that full truth is proclaimed.
Civilization: Beyond Earth strikes upon a theme which is common in our media today. Movie after movie, game after game, we see a common core apocalyptic theme that comes through and underlies the very real threat human civilization faces today.
Not in the way biblical prophecy foretells, but in the ways we relate to each other all over the world. Whether it be in the form of war, famine, pestilence, and possibly above all, environmental catastrophe, there is a growing sense of peril which situates humanity at a crossroad. Will we live or will we die?
The report on climate change from the United Nations has taken a major tonal shift. It no longer focuses on “managing” climate change, but “surviving” it.
This dire warning is not a biblical prophecy. Rather, it is one rooted in scientific data and the necessary sense that humanity has the option of living together or dying alone.
A lot of people, especially in America, believe climate change is up for debate. They often say scientists are still wondering about the causes or implications of shifts in earth systems. This is true in a way. There is debate about how climate change has taken place or the effects human beings themselves have had on such things. But there is very little debate and almost full consensus on one thing: climate change is real.
Throughout history, humanity’s great struggle has been rooted along the lines of something else: taking over the world. Like Pinky and the Brain, empires throughout history have competed with each other over resources, populations, and the ownership of culture. Sid Meier’s Civilization has done the best job at conveying this notion in a way which is fun, accessible, and at least semi-historical.
How do you play? Do you take over the world through diplomacy, military, or culture? Maybe you do it through economic advantages and slowly but surely usurp your competitors through enslavement? There are a myriad of ways to play the game and countless ways to win. That’s what makes Civilization so much fun to play.
It’s also what makes it so addictive. It’s even become a funny meme that there’s always “one more click” in Civilization. Always, without fail, whenever I play to world conquest I want to keep going; I want “one more click.” In Civilization V, the latest and greatest in the series, you can go to 2050. At that point, should you not have won otherwise, you might find your civilization reaching for the stars.
Civilization: Beyond Earth is an exciting new turn for the series. Aside from the fact that people have been asking for a sequel to Alpha Centauri for years, the Beyond Earth moniker is impeccable.
The United Nations has deemed 2015 a year devoted to climate change. Now more than ever, people need to awaken to the reality that we are actually in serious danger. I think it’s interesting that Beyond Earth suggests “Earth is dying,” but in reality, it’s actually humanity that will die—not Earth.
One of the key arguments against humanity’s involvement in climate change is the sense that the Earth has gone through many climate changes in history. Remember, we are only several millennia out of an Ice Age. Things like a great flood are historically plausible as there have surely been many natural calamities which have affected human beings on this planet before recorded history.
But what’s different about this is not that humanity is facing something new, per se—it’s that our circumstances are unprecedented. There are 7 billion people in our midst, and civilization itself is significantly different than it was before the Ice Age or in some theoretical time of a great flood. If we do not keep in mind even very recent events like the earthquake in Haiti, we might forget that some 316,000 people died. That’s a lot of people.
So what exactly is “The Great Mistake” in Civilization: Beyond Earth? We don’t yet know.
What we do know is that after the exodus from our planet, we are to battle our fellow humans over whose vision of the future is the correct one. Who wins the culture war?
Needless to say, this is indeed a real prospect and once again speaks to the quality of this franchise in general. As stated before, what is so special about Civilization is that it allows you to compete for the takeover of the world in a lot of different ways. It’s a fight to see who’s vision of the future is the right one.
In a recently published feature on GameSpot, the team working on Beyond Earth says, “It is a very liberating thing, as all the gameplay systems we designed for Civilization are done so with an eye towards, ‘Does it fit with the history of humanity?’ [Beyond Earth] has been a huge opportunity to go ahead and do things that would not be possible in a historic setting.”
This is exciting for many reasons. For the first time in the Civilization franchise, we get to explore the possibilities of the future. And that, indeed, is part of the human setting in history.
History itself is a narrative we tell about the past. But that does not mean future events will not, in some time, be historic. When we are faced with the prospect of a great event, something like “The Great Mistake,” it asks us to consider the trajectory of human history in new and exciting ways. Sometimes these ways are scary, but it is precisely because they are scary that they get people to think beyond themselves.
The Federation in Star Trek wasn’t just a natural consequence of history. It came after a series of calamities—some natural and some national—which literally forced it into being. A sort of world unity in which all nations, all races, all creeds and classes had to come together because their historic trajectory was, simply put, unsustainable.
What does this idea mean for Civilization: Beyond Earth? The trailer says, “Our time on Earth is ending.” Humanity must turn its eyes towards the stars and start fresh. Are we moving to that point where we do, in fact, have to give up on our current circumstances and bring in something totally different? Like the United Nations implies, does our survival depend on it?
I’m starting to think it does. And that’s why I’m so excited for this new addition to the Civilization franchise.
Carl Sagan famously said, “The sky call to us…if we do not destroy ourselves. We will, one day, venture to the stars.” A still more glorious dawn awaits.
There is something universal about the call of the Cosmos. It’s not a new idea, either. Diogenes the Cynic in the 4thC BCE coined the term “cosmopolitan” which, quite literally, means a citizen of the Cosmos.
Whenever I play Civilization V, I play as Pharaoh Rameses II of Egypt or Empress Theodora of Byzantium. This is not because of any self-identification as Egyptian or Byzantine, but because I always play to win through a “Cultural Victory.”
In my opinion, that’s the best way to play. I don’t believe in the military option, unless I’m defending from invading forces. I don’t even care about the scientific option, unless it’s to better the state of my empire and venture to the stars. Diplomacy, also, is unconvincing. Rhetoric and high-level politics have historically rarely actually solved anything serious.
It takes more than these things to actually change the trajectory of history and, in a sense, move your civilization beyond Earth. It takes a full cultural-shift that moves identities beyond race, nation, class, or creed and into the most potent identity available: human.
There is a certain point where humanity has to recognize its common brotherhood. There is also a certain point where the world has to be understood as One—in fact and in deed. Maybe I’m just an idealist and am wishing for the universal brotherhood to be an established fact, not a dream for the future.
An interesting, and often forgotten character in the American historical narrative is Howard Thurman. He was enormously influential on Martin Luther King, Jr. and, in a sense, was a great bridge between the nonviolent spirituality of Mahatma Gandhi to the political and social activism of MLK.
In Thurman’s interpretation of the third temptation of Jesus, he says God created the Cosmos (order; unity) but it was Satan who created the relationships between them (chaos; division). To him, this exposed the fallacy of orthodox religion, which held it was sufficient to merely save the souls of men in order to bring about the Universal Kingdom.
However, rather than save the souls of men, we need to liberate them. For “in a framework of relationships evil in design…their very good deeds themselves developed into instrumentalities of evil.” In sum, “it is not enough to save the souls of men: the relationships that exist between men must be saved also.”
A lot of people who speak of a better world often leave it to supernatural divine assistance. While that’s all well and good, Civilization: Beyond Earth is positing “The Great Mistake” as something that does, in fact, happen. It’s so grave that we actually have to leave the planet and start fresh. In my estimation, this is beyond a prayer for divine assistance, and instead requires direct and serious action.
Al-Ghazali, a Muslim author from the 11th
century, wrote that the first precept of brotherhood is material assistance. It is in the third degree, siddiq, which we achieve universal spiritual love. This is not something imaginary or idealistic, it is a disposition to be achieved through brotherhood and not from it.
If you are wondering what this has to do with the game of Civilization, there is no direct correlation. Instead, there is an indirect influence that urges us to start peering into our media and the sources of authority that tell us something is wrong. Something really major could, indeed, happen. It’s not an apocalyptic warning like it was in the past; rather, it’s about seeing reality as it is.
Polygon posted an article which said, “With Sid Meier’s Civilization: Beyond Earth, Firaxis is hoping to move beyond building a civilization out of nuts and bolts. It wants players to build humanity with their own mixture of the past and the future, a combination of ideology and religion—to build an ethos to sustain homo sapiens among the stars. Whatever we become will be up to players to decide.”
It’s up to you to decide the future of humanity.
We have already begun to feel the effects of climate change on our planet and almost every scientist, regardless of their political persuasion, believes it’s going to get worse. This isn’t a fantasy or a prophecy.
“The Great Mistake” in Civilization: Beyond Earth is a historical future which seems valid and concerning. But it also implies a different historical future: Can we do the right thing?
That “new future for itself among the stars” is an ideal we ought to strive towards because we want it—not because we are forced into it through an unprepared frenzy.
Much of what is suggested about humanity’s involvement in climate change is directly bound up with playing the real-life game of civilization via the military option, the scientific option, or the economic option. Victory comes through conquest rather than culture.
Thurman is absolutely right when he talks about changing the relationships between human beings themselves. It’s not about saving individuals alone; it’s about saving civilization itself.
Simply stated, we will not be able to attain world peace until we attain cultural unity. But there is a major problem holding us back from this sort of culture victory… a misinterpretation of prophecy.
Frequently, it is misunderstood that humanity ought to be a passive recipient of history and await the end-times as it has been prophetically ordained. This is a deeply troubling narrative and one which shapes the sort of argument which grants human being dominion over the Earth, rather than positioning them as stewards or caretakers of it.
I would imagine that part of “The Great Mistake” is going to take this into account. Zealotry and ignorance are oftentimes very useful in the mismanagement of material resources, the rise of empires through history, and competition over cooperation.
The Greek word oikoumene, meaning “to inhabit the whole world,” is helpful here. It is telling us to allow difference in global unity and to celebrate diversity amongst the people of the world, whilst still maintaining the underlying fact that we are all human beings sharing One planet.
We all occupy the planet whether we like it or not. We all share resources whether we like it or not. And like the song “Russians” by Sting says, “Regardless of ideology, we share the same biology.” That’s also a fact, whether you like it or not.
We have to recognize that “The Great Mistake” can come in any number of ways. Whether it’s through more and more climate calamities, a nuclear bomb, financial decay, or like in Star Trek, a eugenics war (humanists against transhumanists), these future histories are possible and very troubling.
Does your vision of the future match my own? Probably not. But we surely do not need to compete to settle who has it right and who has it wrong. That is precisely why Civilization: Beyond Earth poses such an interesting dilemma and advances the series into welcome new territories.
The mythical icon of Satan may be the one whom many say stirred division in the world, but we don’t need to follow that logic in order to do the right thing. We can do it ourselves. We just need to recognize that we are in this together. Then, and probably only then, will we recognize that the stars really do “call to us if we do not destroy ourselves.”
I am really curious how you plan on playing Civilization: Beyond Earth. Are you going to be a dictatorial warlord who controls their population through systems of oppression? Will you be a financial mastermind who makes certain classes of people indebted through scarcity?
Or will you help humanity get past “The Great Mistake” and make a civilization truly Beyond Earth?
In the end of The Apocalypse of Adam we face our perilous finale, but are ultimately saved. Not through the assistance of God, the force and cause of existence— but by the great illuminator and our own labor. Like Braveheart, he calls to unite the clans and we save ourselves from impending doom.
But until that day, don’t sit around and wait for it. Get out there and stop “The Great Mistake” from happening at all. If you want a civilization that is called to the Cosmos, you have to be cosmopolitan. You have to take that general position in order to achieve cultural victory.
Needless to say, the announcement of Civilization: Beyond Earth is exciting. It could not have come at a better time. Will humanity perish, or will we have “one more click”?
It is necessary to understand that this idea is not prophecy or fantasy, but evidential fact. If you want to avoid the Apocalypse and maintain a better historical future than “The Great Mistake,” humanity has one choice: join or die.
The generation with no king over it says that God chose him from all the Aeons. He caused a knowledge of the undefiled one of truth to come to be in him. He said, “Out of a foreign air, from a great Aeon, the great illuminator came forth. And he made the generation with no king whom he had chosen for himself shine, so that they could shine upon the whole Aeon.”
Here’s to the next click, this time in the cosmos…