“It is plain that the vaster the social unit, the less possible is true democracy.” – Alasdair Gray.
Recently I’ve been playing a game called Alpha Centauri by Sid Meier.
For those not familiar with the game, it’s essentially a sci-fi, extra terrestrial version of the Civilization series by the same creator. For those not familiar with the Civilzation series, it’s essentially a turn-based game where a player chooses a faction and attempts to govern lands as they see fit.
In Alpha Centauri, players choose from one of eight factions from Earth who have made planetfall on an earth-like planet. Each faction must establish itself and dictate its own levels of diplomacy, knowledge, exploration, militia and governance. The game can be eventually won by achieving out and out backing as the planet’s leader…. or by exterminating the other factions.
I always set up my new colony under the title of ‘Y Cymry Newydd’ – The New Welsh – and name all of my new settlements and lands after Wales great towns and villages. I’ve even got other faction leaders to refer to me as ‘Stephen Deg’ – the Fair! Cool, huh?
As a bit of a lefty, I always tread the path of diplomacy; working with others for all to prosper. As the game can be a volatile one, my settlements are amply defended but I will not use military force to win lands. Instead I spread out to untouched lands to establish my new settlements.
But as the game progresses, it learns your style and attempts to disrupt your chosen path. As is always the case in my experience(s), other factions begin military campaigns in border areas and take my settlements as their own.
As attacks begin on Y Cymry Newydd, I immediately take to communicating with the attacking faction. It is then they ask for payment to call off their advance. And because I may or may not have cheated and given myself loads of energy credits (the planet’s currency), I simply pay the minuscule fee and ward them off. Pacts and treaties are forged and diplomacy is restored.
But even the most pacifistic among us would get annoyed when you receive a popup saying that the faction with whom you’ve just forged a pact has launched a surprise attack on another of your settlements. There are only so many times you can pay off attacking factions until you realise they keep on getting away with taking land, then money, then more land, then more money, then more land, then more money….
You get the picture.
It is at this point I reach my breaking point and, seeing as it’s only a game, I opt for the stance of all-out militia against those who cross me on multiple occasions. I wage a campaign so mighty that I forget about my original settlements who are busy trying to construct new roads and new and effective methods of sustaining themselves. My mind turns whole-heartedly towards domination.
Each of the attackers’ settlements fall under my control and, instead of welcoming them into my faction by improving them, their production is set to ignore technological advances and to simply create more and more troops and machines to continue the retaliation.
As I hope you can imagine, as more and more new settlements are created, the task of governing them becomes difficult. You simply don’t have the time to concentrate on so many people and their needs as you wage war for new land. Add this to the additional flow of newly-plundered settlements that then need to be maintained by their new leader [me], and giving them your all-out attention becomes impossibly difficult.
When the day is won and all factions who cross me are under my control, I then get bored and turn it off. I leave the former arms-producing settlements to fend for themselves as their whole world becomes a save-game file in my recycle bin that I’ll never play again. It’s far too much fun to start again than it is to revisit an old game!
Before I end the game, I take a look at the lands I’ve colonised. I look at the map of the planet and see my faction’s colours clad across it, slightly tinged by the colours of the faction(s) who chose to remain small and not enter into any military dealings.
I found it interesting how, despite losing the odd settlement to plundering factions, the factions choosing to keep their territory small produced the most advanced settlements. These were the factions whose towns and cities were at the forefront of new technological advances and they grew this way. The links across their territories were littered with fast roads and efficient energy, nutrient and mineral sources.
They were trading with both their colonial neighbours next door as well as across the seas to distant factions who shared their view of sharing wealth for all to prosper.
They had chosen the path I had turned down.
So, once again, I chose to restart the game…. but this time to play as they did.
I kept the same name – Y Cymry Newydd – and kept myself to myself. I didn’t involve myself in fights and maintained better control over fewer settlements. I was amazed at how quickly they grew.
Instead of losing my temper, I continued to ward off invaders with payment (and by arming my settlements to the teeth by cheating and spawning a huge military presence there).
Knowing all attacks on me would fail, I was left to concentrate on my own settlements and their peoples. I gave more time to establishing and maintaining more efficient and easy-to-manage communities. Each producing the means to create sustainable energy, happiness and prosperity. Each with their own projects on which to work for the benefit of the rest of the faction and the planet as one community.
It was pretty cool to see how exchanging the war-mongering mentality in order to lead a small faction within a large planet of equals could be so progressive. I spent less time trying to wield my might and ideology over others and more time concentrating on matters closer to home.
And as much as I initially never came close to winning the game by becoming the planet’s leader, there was always a place and a voice for me on the council. Other factions’ plans of, for example, melting ice caps (which would be devastating for my coastal settlements), were scuppered simply by the fact I had a vote. That vote on a planetary level was enough for me.
My inclusive and non-colonial mentality really rubbed off on other factions too. As I progressed through the game making advances in technology, renewables and governance, other factions paid us to share the information – although I often disclosed it for free. I had cheated, after all!
I allowed other factions to use our resources – ensuring they paid a fair and economical price to the people of the lands from whence said resources came. Our settlements were provided with the monetary means to progress further, while others used their purchased resources to progress themselves.
Upon finally being elected as the planet’s leader (and after I had persuaded everyone to protect the environment on which we lived), I left the game victorious.
A cheat, but victorious none-the-less!
Then I wondered how it could be applied to real life.
No, on our earth there is no danger of being attacked by native-planet Mind Worms! Nor do Chairman Yang and Lady Deirdre of the Gains wish to plunder for world domination. And no, no one can simply press Shift+K to edit their energy credits to be super rich.
But the principles are there. By becoming an efficient and welcoming community, concentrating on a much smaller and more manageable area, there is far more chance of offering what we have for the benefit of the rest of the world. There is far more chance of progressive motivation rubbing off on others in order to live in a shared world community.
I believe this is why smaller nation-states are becoming more and more prominent in our world. No longer is wealth measured in how many square miles you control, but how happy, healthy and fairly treated the people are.
In Wales, we do not wish to take over the world. We simply wish to be a part of it. To give our share in exchange for the freedom to provide ourselves with the means and privilege to progress under our own guidance.
That’s what YesCymru strive for. That’s what an independent Wales will strive for. It’s what I believe all smaller nations wish to do.
The subconscious fear that is ‘divide and conquer’ needs not apply. We are taught to fear going it alone. Taught by those who have governed us. But giving more control to govern less is a method that will always win the day.
Now, back to the game.
Where are my jet fighters?