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

A Tripartite Plan for the Analysis of an Internet Gaming Subculture

"Can you build a civilization to stand the test of time?" So asks the introductory video to 2K Games' popular and acclaimed turn-based strategy game Sid Meier's Civilization V. In the context of the video game, the question is a rather facile one-- can you the player make the proper choices (press the proper inputs) to allow your score to go up? Although the game's conceit and presentation attach a veneer of prestige and academic history to the ludological pursuit, the base units of Civilzation V gameplay are fairly rote "4x" (gameplay built on the principles of explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate) fare. 

Considered from a biopolitical standpoint, though, the game's introductory question reveals a disquieting central philosophy, one which inculcates the player in a system of homogenization and exploitation. The game's untroubled sense of what a "civilization" is and its at once teleological and euro-centric vision of how to "test" a civilization hinge upon an open embrace of modern biopolitical tools and constructs. To play Civilization V is to wield power over a vast nation of digital homo sacer and to make the 'taking of life and the preserving of death' into a game. Although, of course, it is merely a game, one must ask what the affective importance of Civilization V 's ludic structure is, and what impact it has upon the imaginaries of its many players.

In 2015, the year in which AFK threatens to overtake IRLCivilization V 's opening question must also be considered in the context of the online communities that have formed around it. What makes the game fertile ground for internet forums, and what allows said forums to resist the entropic death of stale posts? How have the individual players of the game, which is primarily a single-player game, succeeded in allying themselves and forming communities online? And how have said communities shaped the 'players' and the 'playing' of the game itself? This essay takes as its subject one of, if not the, most prominent Civilization V communities, the "r/civ" sub-forum which has developed on the website reddit.com. "R/civ" has in the past ten months created a unique phenomenon in an effort to stave off the 'Heat death of the video game forum,' a game played solely by artificial intelligences, and merely spectated by human players. This essay argues that this AI-only game, called the "r/civ Battle Royale MkII," explodes contemporary conceptions of game-playing. In the "anti-playing"of the Battle Royale, the online community reveals new manners in which to intervene in and reinscribe the biopolitical technologies inherent to the video game.

This essay is divided into three interlocking paths, labeled below:
  1. The Game: Civilization V
  2. The Phenomenon: The Genesis of an Internet Subculture
  3. The Lessons: Learning from Civilization V 

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