Civilization VI is more game than drama

Before Civilization VI’s official release date, those with access to the unreleased version of the game were treated not to the ‘official’ theme on the game’s title screen, but with what would prove to be the theme music for the American civilization. The piece is a combination of two very different, very American pieces of music: the opening is lifted straight from Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man.” The rest is an orchestral arrangement of “Hard Times Come Again No More,” a 19th-century parlour song by Stephen Foster—the man who wrote mainstays like “Camptown Races,” and “Oh, Susanna.” The first…


Rudyard Kipling’s classic novel Kim is now a videogame too

Rudyard Kipling is a complicated figure. On the one hand, you have the arch-colonialist, the author of the poem “The White Man’s Burden,” and an all-around fan of Empire and the progress it supposedly represented. The man who spoke of subjected populations as “Half-devil and half-child,” and celebrated the bloody project of colonialism as a way to uplift the natives of India, the Philippines, and Africa to (British) civilization. But then there’s Kim (1901), the story of a young British orphan raised as an Indian native. At once a children’s story, a travel narrative, and a genuine work of joy…


Farewell, Civilization V

The Civilization series of games moves in cycles. On October 30, 2001, Civilization III was released; October 25, 2005 brought Civilization IV; the latest incarnation of the series was released September 21, 2010; and now Civilization VI arrives on October 21. There is a wistful sense of loss in this pattern—after a spring and summer five years long, the massive canopy of the previous Civilization game fades away to make room for the next, bigger, and hopefully better incarnation. But this is the wrong metaphor. The Civilization series is concerned with civilization: with cities, with growth, with increasing cultural and…

Sunless Skies

Sunless Skies promises a gloriously Victorian sci-fi tale

Rejoice! The stars are right! The stars are right because they are being murdered. Sunless Sea (2015) introduced players to the lonely madness and terror of an underground sea. Its expansion pack, Zubmariner, is set to take players to the claustrophobic depths of that ocean on October 11. Now, the sequel to Sunless Sea has been announced—named Sunless Skies—and promises to take its blend of well-written prose and pensive cosmic horror out into the actual cosmos. Fallen London is going to space. Sunless Sea begins with an epigraph from Joseph Conrad, expressing the central theme of the game: “The Sea…


Tahira: Echoes of the Astral Empire only adds to the noise

According to its Kickstarter campaign, the first seed of what would become Tahira: Echoes of the Astral Empire was the game’s emblematic image: a woman in blue looks down at her red, burning city. There’s a paucity of details that add to the drama; the mountains are uniformly dark, while the desert is boundless and bare. Both are supported by the game’s plain, unsophisticated aesthetic, charmingly complete with rotoscope animation. All of the above combine to create an interesting drama out of drabness: two splashes of color set against a dun disaster. But this image represents the whole of Tahira…

No Man's Sky

The apocalyptic fandom of No Man’s Sky

According to American evangelist Harold Camping, the Rapture was supposed to have occurred on May 21, 2011—the date was moved back five months to October when nothing happened. Apocalyptic preacher Ronald Weinland predicted that the world would end on September 30, 2008. This date was also revised to May 27, 2012, and then May 19, 2013. In a similar vein, No Man’s Sky was supposed to have been released on June 21, 2016—that particular rapture was pushed back to August 9. Though the fact of fandom is hardly unique to No Man’s Sky, the degree of devotion the game’s fans…


Civilization is coming to classrooms, and that’s a bad idea

If you wanted to find a small, distilled encapsulation of the Civilization series of grand-scale strategy games, you need go no farther than the musical trailer for Civilization IV’s (2005) original game and its theme song, “Baba Yetu.” The trailer depicts—as only Civilization can—the vast scope of human history, from the construction of the pyramids to the eventual exploration of Alpha Centauri. The song itself was the first piece of videogame music to win a Grammy. But even as the video portrays Civilization’s ambitions, it also demonstrates the series’ handicaps—namely, a kind of Western parochialism through which the series understands…


In Stellaris, every star looks the same

There’s a moment in Dreamer of Dune—Brian Herbert’s 2003 biography of his father, science fiction author Frank Herbert—that is worth noting for the way it skirts the idea of reference in sci-fi. It describes the Herberts’ reaction to the release of Star Wars in 1977: “The film was shocking to me, for all the similarities between it and my father’s book, Dune. Both featured an evil galactic empire, a desolate desert planet, hooded natives, strong religious elements, and a messianic hero with an aged mentor. Star Wars’ Princess Leia had a name with a haunting similarity to Dune’s Lady Alia…

A Machine for Pigs

The Aztec pessimism of A Machine for Pigs

“When, for instance, a man had fallen into one of the rendering tanks and had been made into pure leaf lard and peerless fertilizer, there was no use letting the fact out and making his family unhappy.” —The Jungle, Upton Sinclair We are familiar with Aztec myth only insofar as it is a byword for cruelty and human sacrifice. The image of the reluctant offering climbing the stone steps of the pyramids at Tenochtitlan only to have their chest cut open and their beating heart plucked out is repulsive to both the value we place in human life and our…