I play a lot of video games. I don't think that makes me a unique little snowflake, I'm stating it for empathy reasons. Like most people, I'll generally play a game through once or twice and have a bash at the multiplayer for a while until the sequel comes out a year later or I get bored. Over my 14 years of gaming, the longest I've played the same game for is probably a year and in today's gaming culture, where new ways for me to pretend to kill people arrive every week, that's becoming rarer.
So when a guy named "Lycerius" posted on Reddit saying he'd played the same save file of Civilisation II for the past ten years, Reddit, the internet news media and then Radio 4 went into overdrive; leading "Civilisation II" to trend on Twitter, alerting a new, zillion-strong audience of One Direction and Olly Riley fans to the thrills of historical, turn-based strategy video gaming.
Lycerius has been playing as the Celts and has reached the year 3991 (starting in 4000BC). If you missed this and are wondering what the year 3991 looks like, it's not the Utopian paradise we're all rooting for. Here's a summary from Lycerius' Reddit post that sums up his creation [sic]:
- The world is a hellish nightmare of suffering and devastation.
- There are 3 remaining super nations in the year 3991 A.D (the Celts, Vikings and Americans), each competing for the scant resources left on the planet after dozens of nuclear wars have rendered vast swathes of the world uninhabitable wastelands.
- The ice caps have melted over 20 times (somehow) due primarily to the many nuclear wars. As a result, every inch of land in the world that isn't a mountain is inundated swamp land, useless to farming. Most of which is irradiated anyway.
- As a result, big cities are a thing of the distant past. Roughly 90% of the worlds population (at it's peak 2000 years ago) has died either from nuclear annihilation or famine caused by the global warming that has left absolutely zero arable land to farm.
- The three remaining nations have been locked in an eternal death struggle for almost 2000 years. Peace seems to be impossible. Every time a cease fire is signed, the Vikings will surprise attack me or the Americans the very next turn, often with nuclear weapons. Even when the U.N forces a peace treaty. So I can only assume that peace will come only when they're wiped out.
Sounds like fun, right? Well I gave Lycerius, a 24-year-old insurance worker, a call to find out what the fuck happened.
VICE: Hey Lycerius, could you give me a run-down of the major events in your saved game?
Lycerius: I don't remember the beginning of the game, you have to remember this was roughly ten years ago. The furthest back I can remember is the industrial era, but the most notable events that I can recall are a war with Egypt, the Greeks launching a nuclear attack on my city, Donegal, and then reacting to that with a massive counter-attack and subsequently destroying the Greeks and moving on to the Soux.
A three-way conflict between myself, the Americans and the Vikings then began, and it has continued on to this day. The Vikings would use their enormous navy to bomb the northern coast, the Americans would strike back to try and re-take their land and at the same time I was sending ground forces into the area. It was very messy, an enormous fight. For the last few years, things settled into a back-and-forth stalemate that led me to asking for help on Reddit.
You got a massive response on Reddit. Any redditors been able to help you out?
Well, since I released the save file, someone on Reddit was able to beat it in about 58 years. It's possible but they were entirely focused on the war effort, not on making peace and keeping things stable, like myself. He had an interesting insight into the game, creating Howitzer units for the war effort that I had overlooked, plus he had a lot more co-ordination than I did. He pulled a daring Inchon-style landing just south of the frontline against the Americans to help win. But he focused the entire 58 years on the war effort.
Did that annoy you?
It doesn't bother me at all, because I play the game entirely differently. I play the game for the narrative because this game is intensely personal to me. I dropped it on Reddit because I was getting to the point where I'd been playing it for so long and I'd been on the longest stretch without any progress and so I wanted to see what they had to offer. I had no idea it would get so popular, I thought I'd get a few hundred views, get my advice and be on my way, but apparently a lot of people were interested.
From your statement, it seems the Vikings are the real problem when it comes to the "1700 Year War". Do you think if it was any other civilisation you could've completed the game without your enemy getting high on psychotropic mushrooms and berserkering you every 200 years?
Very easily, almost certainly. For a while I was focused on ending the war, I have been for about a real year now, it looks like the only way to do that would be to wipe out the Vikings.
You mention in the statement that most of the terrain is swampland. Why is that?
It's entirely swamp, where there isn't mountains or tundra it's swampland because of the global warming which the numerous nuclear wars contributed to.
When did global warming hit your game world?
I've no idea, it was probably about eight real years ago. I only play a few hours every few days and it's been a long slog over the past decade. Global warming usually happens in the modern era (roughly now, in our time) and what happens is it only effects the coastlines, so only the coast becomes a swamp, but it happens so much that eventually the whole landmass became swamp. It shouldn't do that but it just kept happening, and so the land was useless to farming.
How do you feed your populace without the farming land?
You don't; I've tried to clear the swamps so I can put down farms for the cities to grow but global warming would just outpace my farming efforts.
So you're no longer concerned about that?
Personally I am concerned, yes, because I don't want to destroy the world, y'know? I'm fascinated by how it devolved into this horrible wasteland, so now I want to see if I can restore the planet.
Have you ever considered cheating at any point?
Yeah, I started this game when I was 14, so when I got frustrated I would mess around and have fun but I've always kept one "pure" save game which I've been playing to this day.
Do you see any part of the reality you've created that mirrors events in the real world?
In the game there's a stalemate between two major powers and in today's real world, effectively you have the same thing, between the West on one side and Russia and China on the other over inaction in Syria. Often trying to out do each other leads to disaster.
Any events in your game that could happen to our world in the future?
Well, I imagine global warming, if not acted upon, will be a major issue the longer it goes on. Depending on whether we move into a post-national world or one that's built on broken up states warring amongst themselves.
Do you still see nuclear war as a relevant issue?
Yeah absolutely, it's not quite a concern as regards to major powers, but when any small nation has a nuclear weapons programme, like Iran, you never know. But nuclear material falling into the hands of terrorists to use in New York or Tel Aviv or wherever, that's a very real possibility. The threat of nuclear war is very real, it's just the nature of it now is different.
What nation do you think your Celtic empire most represents today?
Probably Soviet Russia.
Is that the way you would've wanted it to go?
No, I started as a democracy and I'd like to finish as one, but in a democracy a Senate can overrule you when you want to go to war and they were doing it so often that it was drastically harming the war effort. I believe I would've been wiped out, probably by the Vikings, if I hadn't switched to a Communist government at least until the war is over.
So after all this time, suffering and devastation, do you still enjoy playing the game?
The reason I carry on is because I want to finish it, I particularly enjoy the narrative and what happens in it, the people and the events that unfold. But mechanically, I'm just interested in completing it and bringing it to its conclusion.
If Lycerius' world is anything to go by, we don't have a particularly hopeful future to look forward. All the world's tech, diplomacy and science won't save us from total and utter devastation. Happy weekend, everyone!
Follow Henry on Twitter: @Henry_Langston