A Video Game Master Class on Life

What the Civilization series taught me about success and happiness

The front face of the Taj Mahal
The front face of the Taj Mahal
Photo by Julian Yu on Unsplash

The story makes the game

Alpha Centauri told an explicit story about humans’ arrival on a new planet, violent factional politics brought over from the old world, and a living planet on a cycle of death and rebirth. The cutscenes, quotes, and plot breaks made it real enough to inspire me to write terrible fanfiction (no, I don’t know where it went).

Good is only good enough on easy mode

Built into every game in the series are endless small ways to optimize outcomes.

Identify your unique abilities

Each nation comes with unique abilities: buildings, units, improvements, and special rules that give them a small advantage in certain situations.

A screenshot description of Gilgamesh’s unique abilities
A screenshot description of Gilgamesh’s unique abilities
Screenshot by author. I’m still not sure how I pissed off Sweden.

Explore, then exploit

It’s not enough in Civilization to know your strengths.

Left: the very first turn, you’re pretty much lost. Right: with the map explored, the real game begins.

One path, many endings

One thing that makes Civilization fun is that there are multiple ways to win. More than once, I’ve been just a few turns away from a “science” victory, launching a colonization spaceship, only to lose to some upstart who converted every player in the game to their heathen faith while I wasn’t looking.

You get to decide what victory means

A few months ago, I explored some of these ideas on Instagram and got a thoughtful reply:

An instagram comment that says these ideas don’t apply to life, which isn’t ‘win’ or lose’ and has no fixed rules.
An instagram comment that says these ideas don’t apply to life, which isn’t ‘win’ or lose’ and has no fixed rules.
Screenshot by author.
A screenshot of a broken statue in the desert, a description of defeat, and two buttons — exit to menu and continue playing
A screenshot of a broken statue in the desert, a description of defeat, and two buttons — exit to menu and continue playing
Defeat? Or an opportunity to win a different game? Screenshot by author.

Strength Coach and Director of Barbell Logic’s Coaching Academy. Picks things up and puts them down. PBC, Pn2, CF-L1

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