Empire of the Earth (Piece Done in the Hexagonal Style of Sid Meier): The Biopolitical Thought in an Internet Game Culture

A Community of Bards

In previous sections of this work, it has been argued that playing Civilization V entails the wielding of biopower and the proscription of alternatives. In the “anti-playing” of the passive AI-only Match form, though, one can potentially see an escape from those aspect of the game-play. This section will consider how the r/civ community’s ‘anti-play’ of the Battle Royale takes o the role of narrating, and how their affective play ultimately fails to intervene in the overarching biopolitical technologies of the base game.
Envisioning the r/civ community’s engagement with the Battle Royale as a form of cooperative “anti-playing” of the game forces one to ask what activity this “anti-playing” actually entails. Normal play in Civilization V involves the player taking part in governance and directing her population in state-building tasks, progressing the player’s civilization towards a victory. In the Battle Royale, though, those activities are explicitly avoided in favor of a passivity of player inaction— there are no “cities” for the player to control, no territory to claim.
Rather, the play at the heart of the “anti-play” of AI-only Match Form is based on cooperative activities of observation and narration. The community’s primary interactions with each other and with the game-world of the Battle Royale take place through the stories they craft out of the AI interactions. These narrations allow the community members, the anti-players, to feel as if they are in fact impacting the space of the game by discovering or delineating rationales for past actions or by (in)correctly predicting future occurrences. Moreover, the community creation of narratives of the Battle Royale allows the entirety to obscure, if not outright ignore, the fact that the AI-as-AI’s actions are necessarily contrived and predictable.[1] It also allows the community to create ludic drama by injecting character, personal voice and a vested interest into proceedings that could otherwise be non-interactive.
The move to this “anti-play” of narration in the Battle Royale is a powerfully suggestive move for the posse of r/civ community members. When playing the game alone (even when seeking advice from the sub-forum), the players perform a very clear and direct ludic labor, now which is clearly productive and rewarding in-game. When “anti-playing” the game though, the community members perform a kind of ludic affective labor, one which is aimed at not at the production or manipulation of in-game objects but of immaterial affects and symbolic knowledge. The community’s valorization of this form of “anti-play” operates to equally valorize the immaterial labor of the contemporary, late capitalist world, with its equal focus on “the production and manipulation of affect” and “the labor of analytical and symbolic tasks.”[2] Understanding this implicit valorization allows one to further envision the Battle Royale as a resistant intervention not only in the biopolitical technologies of the game, but in the pervasive (bio)politics of the society out of which it has developed.
On the other hand, the community narration of the Battle Royale explicitly operates to symbolically reinforce the biopolitical aspects of play in Civilization V into the “anti-play” of the AI-only Match. Narrating all of the game’s factions as individual characters built around their figurehead leaders— so that the Portuguese civilization is as frequently called “Maria” as “Portugal” in sub-forum discussions on the game— aids in the game’s efforts to normalize and regularize its human populations. Each civilization’s vast population is imagined as a normal, individual assemblage, allowing for no deviance or discrepancy. The focus also reasserts the primacy of the nation-state in the game. Despite the fact that the community themselves is refusing to engage in state-building, their narration of the AI-only Match valorizes the concept. One need only consider the user-made maps, like the one included at the top of this page, to see the manner in which the community accepts and embraces the game’s insistence upon the nation-state form.
Moreover, the community’s observation and narration of the Battle Royale are explicitly focused on the demographics of each civilization— most every installment of the game includes data on the population and city sizes of each in-game civilization, and community predictions on future events are often explicitly founded on extrapolations of this data. The civilization’s that are predicted to do the best are those that have the largest populations and the greatest numbers of cities, or those which appear likely to join their ranks. Although this reasoning obviously has a clear ludological bent, it represents a symbolic concession within the “anti-play” of the Battle Royale. Although the community fo players is able to refuse to play Civilization on its terms, they continue to embrace its biopolitical technologies unproblematically.

[1] This facet of AI-only Matches is particularly fascinating. Many of the community members have worked out a variety of the Civilization V AI’s formulas in their efforts to gain “gaming capital” in their single player play. They therefore know that the AI player of the Battle Royale are likely to make irrational or mistaken choices in the game do to the limitations of the code, but the community members generally prefer to ascribe these errors to civilizational or character failures, rather than to failures in the game’s code itself. It all resembles a strange kind of Civilization kayfabe. 
[2] Hardt and Negri, Empire, 293-294.



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