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

Learning from Civilization V

What, then, is one to make of the R/civ Battle Royale Mk II? What is one to make of Civilization V?
The game is quite clearly unlike any other game of Civilization V, or any strategy game, ever played. It forces the viewer (who is necessarily on the edge of becoming a part of the player themselves) to re-consider what it means to “play” a video game, allowing for the rejection of processes of “gaming capital” and technologies of singular productivity. Its inherently co-operative nature, its existence predicated upon alliances in virtual space, provides a window into the formation of a digital posse, one which, in its own little niche, creates and “constitutes its mode of production and its being.”[1] The match’s “anti-play” activity thus presents a window into a uniquely games-based resistance, one opposed at once to the strictures of the form and the strictures of society.
At the same time, though, the match reveals a conservative streak within itself and the online community. The co-operative narrative “anti-play” that allows one to envision a kind of communal resistance more often serves to reinforce the biopolitical and presentist ideologies that are encoded within the base game. Rather than resisting the biopolitical technologies of contemporary states, the “anti-play” reinscribes it. Rather than exploding the game’s focus on the nation-state, the “anti-play” of the match counter-intuitively re-encodes its importance.
This trouble may at this point seem like trivial quibbling— worries over the politics of an offshoot of a computer game— but Civilization V’s central impulse towards re-creating the contemporary world makes its (bio)politics a matter of interest. The will to mirror contemporary life, reinforced dialectically by the game and its players, makes it clear that the game encodes ideological visions that are not (that can never be) limited to the magic circle of the game-space. That the Battle Royale is capable of untroudbledly retaining its paradoxical ideological construction speaks to deep divides within not only the game and its community, but within the society that has helped to shape them.
This piece, though, cannot presume to play the vanguard role and attempt to reconcile them. Just as it was only from the demand of the online community that the innovation of the “anti-play” match was created, the contradictions of the community’s gameplay will only be solved from the bottom-up. Rather, this piece seeks to illuminate the (bio)politics of the Battle Royale as a means of forcing one to recognize these divisions within the seemingly benign spaces of contemporary society.
As mentioned earlier, games studies scholars have stringently argued that the Civilization series could be an important learning tool.[2] The game itself embraces the role of teacher, including a “Civilopedia” in the place of a help menu in the UI screen. There, the player can read about the game’s vision of the history of the Songhai Empire and/or the development of ‘Tengriism.’[3] The lesson Civilization V can provide, though, is not about history or world geography. Rather, it can teach one to recognize the biopolitical technologies, and one’s own complicity with them, that organize our world on the lines of bare life. Once that lesson has been learned, the game can end and an irrepressible joy can begin to be created.
[1] Hardt and Negri, Empire, 408.
[2] Squire, “Civilization III as a world history sandbox”
[3] Firaxis Games, Civilization V: Brave New World

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