One of the more popular mod types for the Civilization games involve dropping new leaders into the strategy game, making it no surprise people wasted little time adding Donald Trump. There are three Trump mods on the Steam Workshop for Civilization VI, and two are played for a combination of laughs and trolling. The headline graphic for Trump Make Civ Great Again, for example, is a heroic-looking Trump piercing the neck of a dragon-themed Hillary Clinton.
The third mod, Realistic Donald Trump, is the one that caught my eye.
“This is not a purely hate on Trump mod,” reads the description. “This mod gives Trump bonuses and penalties like any real life world leader should have. If you cannot fathom the idea that our president isn't winning at everything then this is not a mod for you.”
The goal of Realistic Donald Trump is to craft a Civilization VI leader who changes, based on real-life events. Trump is, for the moment anyway, President, and his administration is rolling out policies that impact both the country and wider world. Modder Matt McDonald is spending time translating those policies into Civilization VI.
Recently, Trump’s proposed budget cuts impacted the benefits of a research lab.
McDonald, a 35-year-old former web programmer who became a call center supervisor after his employer moved to China, has been playing Civilization since the series started in 1991. His Steam clock says he’s put 1,261 hours into Civilization V and 744 hours into Civilization VI. He’s experimented with modding, but he only shared with his family. Realistic Trump Mod is the first mod he’s publicly released.
Though McDonald is no fan of Trump, he tries to account for political bias by asking the community to debate him on balance changes. If someone makes a compelling case, he claims to be willing to hear them out, even if they’re a MAGA supporter.
I recently spoke to McDonald about Realistic Donald Trump, what it’s been like to work on a mod that generates some incredibly polarized reactions and a whole lot more.
What prompted you to make this mod in the first place? Why was putting Trump into Civilization interesting enough to devote so much time to?
Matt McDonald: Once you beat Civilization a few times, I find mods are a great way to keep the game fresh and interesting, so I often check the workshop for new mods to change things up.
The first time I saw a Trump mod, I wasn't surprised at by all the crazy bonuses he got. It was so over the top it was kind of funny. Then, I noticed a second and a third. Each mod kept giving him bonuses that might have reflected his promises during his campaign, but did not reflect at all what he had actually done. A lot of Civilization mods are tribute mods highlighting other games or characters people love, but they often have some resemblance to what they are praises. The Trump mods praise a fictional character his supporters wish Trump would be, so I thought “What would it look like if I made a mod based off the actual real president that we have?” How would a real Trump fair in a game vs other civilizations?”
Something that hasn't really come out much about this mod is it's meant to be fun. I like a challenge, and trying to win Civilization with a civilization that is in many ways handicapped can be fun at times, just like trying to win when there is [a] wild card AI that loves nukes can also be entertaining. I tried to do multiple simultaneous agendas, hoping to make Trump as unpredictable in the game as he is in real-life. Sadly, that did not work but I'm still learning, and have made some progress in tweaking Trump's AI.
The difference with your mod, relative to other Trump mods, is that you adjust its parameters in real-time with his policies. How exactly do you do that, and how do you determine what shifts that makes in the mod itself?
McDonald: It's actually a lot harder than I had first thought it would be to convert the real world into Civilization logic. I want the mod to be fair, though, I'm not hiding my bias against Trump in any way. So in the spirit of fairness, if Trump changes his mind on something, I decided I need to change the mod, too. I want everything in the mod to be fact checkable. That is my armor vs. the hate I knew this mod would generate.
Trying to decide what goes into the mod is mostly about if I can convert this policy change into something that works in Civilization's logic. There are limitations to what we can mod, and there is the extra limitation of what I have actually learned how to do so far in modding for Civilization. A lot of the updates I release come from me having finally figured out how to add something I couldn't get to work before. Some of them are changes made because the community has presented a good enough argument to support the change.
If there is any limiting rule I have imposed, it is the change must be because of something Trump or his administration has done, and it must been a noticeable difference when compared to previous administrations.
I'm guessing your choices on how policy impacts the mod generates a political response from players. What's that been like?
McDonald: At the start, it was very negative. I had to remove a few comments because they were so bad they violated Steam's rules and guidelines for comments. I also had to delete and restrict comments on my steam profile to friends only. In person, it is easy for me to talk politics with people in a friendly and open manor. I try to be well-informed and get my news from many sources so I have a fuller picture of what is going on.
Online, however, is not a very friendly and open place for discussions. With how much hate started at the beginning, I was turned off to the idea of having to fight against everyone to prove my point or logic. I got encouraged when a few people starting speaking out in support, and that is when I started creating discussion threads. Not only have those threads helped me make adjustments to the mod but they also work as a deterrent now.
A lot of trolls want to point out one cherry picked fact and say I'm right you're wrong. Give them a space where they have to actually have a back and forth discussion with supporting facts and they suddenly become quiet.
Can you talk me through me one of your balance changes? Specifically, I'm curious about how you translated a specific piece of policy into an in-game stat, and how you worked with the community to settle on the best way to implement that.
McDonald: Some of the policy to in-game stats are pretty straight forward. A commenter suggested Trump get a bonus to space race due to increase in NASA funding. The funding increase wasn't very big, but his new space policy directive is very specific so it made sense to give Trump a bonus towards space race victory.
Other things have been much harder to add to the game. Most notability, the negative damage vs barbarians. Trump supporters really hated this, while a few people understood the need for something. There is a discussion thread about this, but the short [version] is after getting feedback, I did some more research and decided Trump's removing oversight for his generals and his "bomb the hell out of them" mentality was enough reason to remove the negative damage vs all barbarians.
But I didn't just leave it at that. I had always wanted to give Trump a negative vs rebels, not all barbarians. Rebels are barbarian units that spawn within your empire if your people are very unhappy. There is no way to give a negative damage modifier vs only rebels, however.
So instead, I eventually figured out how to rework the whole happiness system in the game. It took awhile, but now instead of negative damage vs all barbarians, Trump has to deal with a small chance of rebels spawning at the start of the game. It is much harder for Trump to keep his cities happy, which leads to Trump having to deal with more rebellions than any other civilization. So far, no one seems to object to this change, and I actually think it is a much better reflection of the current status [in] the US.
"It's actually a lot harder than I had first thought it would be to convert the real world into Civilization logic. I want the mod to be fair, though, I'm not hiding my bias against Trump in any way. If Trump changes his mind on something, I decided I need to change the mod, too."
What about your own political beliefs, if you're willing to share them? I have to imagine you have thoughts on Trump, like just about anybody these days.
McDonald: I was not fooled by campaign Trump. There were a lot of policies he had that I could not stand, and then there was some he said he supported that I could agree with. But not once did I think he would actually follow through on the good ones. He said he could not be bought, that he would drain the swamp, and he would not cut Medicaid or Social Security. Had those been true I would find his presidency as a mix bag of some good with some really bad. That has not been the case. Trump had a chance to be a great President if he would have only surrounded himself with people who care about America.
Instead, he listened to the Republican party, and surrounded himself with greedy, corrupt people who only care about enriching themselves at the expense of everyone else. Donald Trump is not a smart man, but he understands appearance is all that matters to a lot of people. The whole Trump empire is based off the idea that Trump stands for wealth and power. He has to keep up the appearance that he is strong, that he alone can solve things no one else can.
People complain about his ego, but it's more than just that. If Trump goes down as the worst US president in modern history, his empire may go down with it. Tax cuts to the rich have helped reduce all the negatives effects his empire has suffered due to his presidency, but Trump cannot afford to let his appearance of strength dwindle, not if he wants to end his presidency richer than he was when he started it.
A lot of my friends say they hate everything Trump has done, but really he hasn't done very much at all. The people he appointed, his administration, and the emboldened Republican party are the people making changes to America. Trump is the front man. He has power, but he is too lazy to actually use it most of the time. Trump's only concerns are how does this make me look, and will this make me more money? Running the country is not his concern.
He is fully content at letting all the people he was told to appoint do that, just so long as they don't do something that will make him look bad because that is bad for the Trump name.
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