Civilization VI: Gathering Storm - Can creators avoid taking a political stance when they are presenting scientific facts?


#1

The Civilization franchise has always been, at best, an optimistic vision of how competing world powers can grow together - at its worst, a cold war nightmare. With the latest Civ VI expansion, Firaxis is looking to add Mother Earth as a destabilizing factor in your countries bid for score domination; will this be another weapon to be used and abused by single-minded powers?

Not enough media (games included) are dealing with the ever increasing doom that is climate change and the reality is fucking frightening. Maybe Firaxis can pull this off because it’s looking to set the Civ series in a more thoughtful direction when it comes to Human’s role in the manipulation and destruction of our environment.

Still, and to the point, can game creators avoid taking a political stance by stating facts/scientific understanding? Does this give Firaxis the political breathing room that it desired while still clearly leaning left without having to state it? Eurogamer ran an article yesterday that had an interesting quote from a lead producer and designer working on Civ VI:

“No, I don’t think that’s about making a political statement,” said lead producer, Dennis Shirk. “We just like to have our gameplay reflect current science.”

“We did do our background research on trying to figure out where the global temperature has been over the last 150 years and what types of factors influence it,” continued lead designer Ed Beach. “So we feel like we don’t have to make a political statement, but we can take the common wisdom of the vast majority of the science community and embed that in the game and that becomes something really interesting for players to be able to engage with.”

What do ya’ll think? Can creators avoid taking a political stance if they are just stating their truth?


#2

We’re discussing this on a site that takes a stance that everything is political, so I’d imagine the bulk of people here would say that yes, this is a political stance. Combine that with the fact that we have conservative groups around the world denying climate science, and it’s now an unfortunate reality that stating the truth is controversial for too many people.

I personally think the more interesting discussion is what can the game industry do to address the biggest impending catastrophe of our lifetimes. This Civ VI expansion is a step in the right direction, but what more can be done? Perhaps we should reconsider what our constant need for better hardware does to the environment? Maybe we should look closely at the holding companies that own not only game studios, but also oil and gas conglomerates that threaten our planet. And perhaps we consider the carbon generated in travel to host large conferences when the internet can transmit the same information. Sure, it’s not the biggest impact overall, but the game industry can and should do better with environmental impact.

EDIT: And of course, games that seek to educate and spur folks to push for stronger legislation against companies that damage the environment should absolutely be encouraged.


#3

I think it’s cool that Firaxis is implementing this into Civ, but the argument it’s not political because it’s rooted in science is pretty flimsy. I haven’t seen how it’s going to be implemented, but it’s definitely not going to implemented with scientific accuracy as nothing in Civ is concerned with being a 1:1 simulation. The actual affects of climate change are going to be either downplayed or exaggerated in various ways in order to balance the game, and once people point that out the science argument falls apart.


#4

Science does not exist in a vacuum. Science, like everything we do and create, is human-made. Which means that it basic rules of operation (and the knowledge it creates) is filtered through our perspective on the world.

So of course, science is political. Maybe not the knowledge itself (depending on the subject), but certainly the conclusions that are drawn from it and the way we act on said knowledge.

It’s a huge misconception that when you talk about the world in facts and numbers, you can avoid taking a political stance on things. When in fact, believing that facts and numbers are the only ways to explain things, is already a political stance.

I’m fairly annoyed at this statement, because theoretically it could be used in instances where “facts and scientific understanding” are used to justify some really bad stuff. Now Firaxis doesn’t do this, but that doesn’t make the statement less dangerous.


#5

Science is political. It’s kind of silly to assume that, just because facts back up your decisions, they’re apolitical. Political decisions aren’t made in a vacuum!

After all, how many climate deniers genuinely care about the fact that the overwhelming evidence is stacked against them?

A more optimistic read of what they’re doing is not even giving climate deniers a platform to argue. Saying it is decided fact and moving on from there without discussion prevents climate change deniers from presenting their warped viewpoint. Which is a tactic I actually mostly agree with. If you don’t give fringe conspiracists an opportunity/platform to espouse their views, they can’t gain more traction with a wider audience.


#6

Facts are not political. What you do with facts is. Firaxis decided to accept the facts about climate change for what they are and implemented them in their game to simulate what’s happening in real life. That is political, even if they don’t realise it.
Most folks that say climate change isn’t real do know in their hearts that they’re lying. It’s more that they don’t care, but they don’t want to say that.

I don’t think, though, that it instantly makes Firaxis some sort of rebellious lefty company. Much like fascism, nuclear weapons and religious fanatism it is ultimately reduced to a gameplay element with pros and cons attached to it. I imagine you can use fossil fuels to generate energy faster than with windparks and solar panels and save on investment if you don’t make the switch to sustainable energy sources. In return you risk more natural disasters and bad relations with other civs. Just like eg. fascism is presented as an option to have an edge in warfare but risk rebellion and war with civs that picked another ideology.

Is that bad? That’s an interesting discussion. It’s definitely political, in a way that it shows the privilege to turn things like warfare, colonialism and imperialism into a relatively lighthearted game that doesn’t really deep dive into the personal and societal effects of those things. I mean, if you had an upbringing free of such hardships it’s easier to create and/or play it and say: oh well, it’s just a game.


#7

There is actually some interesting research about the production of facts and science, like Bruno Latour’s career and other stuff on, for example, how the gender composition of science (lots of dudes for lots of time) has defined science production, that I can’t find right now.

But yea overall I mean everything is political. It seems people/companies/politicians have very muddled definitions of what “political” is and big companies are scared to commit.


#8

Good point, not only what you do with factual data but also how and by what means you obtain them is relevant and political. Thanks for sharing the link ^^


#9

fwiw multiple previous civ games had global warming. it was actually my first exposure to the concept :slight_smile:

I do very much think that Civ’s mechanics reflect the views of its developers and influences/reinforces the views of its players. Its a mix of that and just what can easily make fun gameplay.

Whether you like it not, youre essentially playing a autocratic colonial empire no matter what policies you choose. So long as there isnt an established city theres an assumption that land is uninhabited. Every decision is solely made by an individual ruler where the people only react rather than give input. Communism throughtout the games is essentially a synonym for a police state. The systems are designed for empire building and that very much reflects the way history is taught with glorifying Greece, Rome, Britain, America etc.

But this is the status quo for how people think about history and playing into that is political (though not recognized as such). I’d love for game mechanics that subvert that, adding new diplomatic and domestic options to consider what is good for people rather what is good for empires. The climate change stuff definitely plays into that, allowing people to work together to prevent disasters (though i doubt you have to provide relief efforts and such).


#10

I recall a member of the Cree people being unhappy with the inclusion of his nation in the game, stating that Civ by definition makes a player do things that align with colonialism and not with the values of the Cree. Which I found interesting, I will find the article in a moment.
I agree with you that it would be interesting to see Civ play around a bit with its victory conditions and make you do other stuff than just “be better than all the others in this particular thing” - what always irked me is that when you don’t win the game, the cutscene shows a desolate landscape and the message that your civ died, even if you ended second with a huge flourishing empire.

EDIT: Here it is :slight_smile: https://www.polygon.com/2018/1/4/16850906/cree-nation-civilization-6-poundmaker


#11

Agreed - I was trying to convey the idea that they are using widely agreed upon “facts” but they still don’t want to take a political stance. It’s pretty plain to see that the science is deeply embedded in the culture/society that houses it and that can lead to some really bad science.

Sorry to have annoyed you :smile_cat:


#12

Facts are deeply political, hence the phrase “there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." People routinely use facts or statistics to push worldviews (e.g. white supremacists and crime statistics) and people who believe that the cloaking of science makes them unbiased (see: Richard Dawkins Fan Club-type atheists) tend to be wildly biased without fail.

When companies say they aren’t political, like when Nintendo said that having only straight relationships in Tomodachi Life wasn’t political, what they usually mean is “we don’t want to get involved in arguments and so are taking the safest choice amongst our own social circles.”

People generally believe that saying that women shouldn’t be able to vote is political, but saying that women should be allowed to vote is non-political. In reality, both are just as political but one is simply more popular politics than the other.

I don’t think saying that they’re being factual is going to change anyone’s mind on whether Firaxis is being political one way or the other, otherwise it would have all been solved long ago. People who don’t believe in Climate Change inherently believe that the facts are different, so they’ll just accuse Firaxis of peddling bad facts.

That’s not to say it’s a bad idea to include it in the game, but I don’t think there’s much point in all this Public Relations hedging about whether they’re taking a political stance.


#13

So hot take: Facts aren’t political; the processes by which we acquire and utilize them absolutely are. (It’s tempting for me to get into ontological questions here, but I will spare you all the boredom.) Everything is political only because everything is subject to political constructions. More specifically, scientific inquiry is deeply influenced by the politics of both the institutions in which they are made and the political climate in which they are acting.

2K Games is a US company. While right wing pundits consistently fuddle with science, climate change is the single most politicized scientific concept in United States. By choosing to implement climate change in their game about global politics necessarily frames it as a political issue. Whether 2K admits it or not, this game, by analyzing that issue, is absolutely political. Saying otherwise is a little facetious.

Regarding the quote from Dennis Shirk, it honestly seems like he’s trying to brush off angry (read: wrong) fans by saying “this wasn’t a political choice, we just went with the facts”. Probably won’t work. I’m actually interested and glade about Firaxis implementing this, but it’s a little annoying to act like the cigar isn’t a cigar.


#14

should’ve clarified it a bit better, that I was annoyed at their statement, not at you. Sorry for that.


#15

Agreed - these types of statements are becoming more and more senseless.


#16

I think this is absolutely it & I think it’s a not-uncommon defence in this space. It’s a convenient PR line that offers you a no-thought shield to any speculation and doesn’t leave that much wiggle room for dispute. A “it’s up to you to decide” makes everyone unhappy. while often going into the actual answer (whether for good or for bad) is messy and uneasy, especially if it was not a consensus decision for the team or is something that does invite further discussion.

I’m not assessing it, but that’s my thought on it.


#17

Sure, the science is inherently political in it’s creation and dissemination but it’s easy to imagine a world where it wouldn’t necessarily be as overtly political as it is today, where it’s practically a plank of one of Americas political parties.