Sid Meier's Civilization

The announcement trailer for Sid Meier's Civilization VI made me very excited. Not just because there was a new iteration of my favorite PC game franchise, but also because the message of the trailer made me excited for the possibility that Civilization VI would take a much more humanist and globalist approach to its gameplay and victory conditions.

The Civilization games have always had a very optimistic tone, treating human development as being constantly progressing forward. Growing your civilization and building more things is almost always better. For the most part, Civilization treats human history as a constant forward march towards a better, more prosperous tomorrow.

This is despite the games including mechanics for "Dark Ages", climate change, nuclear fallout, occasionally pandemics and plagues, and so forth. Regardless of these mechanics, the civilizations of the game never regress, unless it's by the sword or gun of a conquering civilization, in which case, that other civilization is glorified. Climate change or nuclear winter can run rampant and render the surface of the Earth borderline uninhabitable for modern human life, but a civilization can still accumulate enough science or tourism or faith or diplomatic votes to win one of the various victories, or they can be the sole surviving civilization, presiding over a barren wasteland. But it's still a win.

Civilization is a game about cutthroat nationalism.

Despite vague gestures towards diplomatic cooperation and solving global crises, Civilization is, at its core, a game of competitive, cutthroat, zero-sum nationalism. This design ethos is probably the result of Civilization's inspirations coming from competitive board games like Avalon Hill's Civilization and Risk. "Our country is better than your country," and the whole game is an exercise in proving that. Further, one civilization's success must come at the expense of every other civilization's failure, even if those civilizations are friends or allies. One civ wins; all others lose. Every decision made is done to move your civilization closer towards one of those victory conditions, and every diplomatic agreement, trade deal, or alliance that you strike is only a temporary means to that end.

So what did Civ VI's trailer do to change my expectations for that game?

This essay is also available in video format on YouTube.

The trailer

Well, first, it's important to know how previous trailers and intro cinematics for Civilization games had introduced their respective games. Usually, they emphasized a single nation or leader doing great things. Winning wars, building wonders, developing advanced technologies, and so forth. And they usually ask the viewer: "How will you run your civilization?" and "Will your civilization stand the test of time?"

The trailer for Civilization VI takes a different approach. Let's take a look:

Civilization VI's announcement trailer celebrates the collective achievements of all of humanity.
"We are the explorers, the inventors, the architects of change, the builders of a better tomorrow.
We strive, we dream, we inspire, always towards something greater.
All the odds we defy, the risks we take, the challenges we endure, only make us stronger.
There's no end to our imagination, and no limit to civilization.
"
   - Sean Bean narrating Civilization VI announcement trailer

Notice the language that is used. The Civ VI trailer uses plural language such as "we", "us", and "out". "We are the builders of a better tomorrow.". "the challenges we endure, only make us stronger." "There is no end to out imagination, and no limit to civilization.". And so forth. The trailer for Civilization VI isn't a celebration of one civilization or leader rising above all others and being crowned the "greates" civilization; it's about the collective achievement of all of humanity -- not a civilization, but all human civilization!

It's a beautifully humanistic expression that emphasizes plurality and doesn't elevate any one culture or race or nation above any other. It celebrates the collective technological advancements, engineering, art, and struggles of all of humanity, without implying that any one nation or group has the best stuff. It emphasizes that we can overcome challenges by working together, and come out the other side stronger for it. It implies that when we cooperate to build something or solve a problem, the result will be better than what any individual entity can accomplish.

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