Sometimes I crave a game experience that no-one seems to offer anymore. Sometimes, it’s not the hero’s journey writ in space marines, treasure hunters or modern soldiers that I want – it’s not even caring for a farm, organizing a mafia, or matching three gems that calls me. No, sometimes, I want to transcend from the human condition, wrestling with morality decisions that have no right answer, with the ultimate goal of throwing off my petty concerns for flesh, self or identity and elevating the entirity of humanity to something far greater than it can possibly imagine.
Only one game lets me scratch this very particular itch – Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri (SMAC). In the Civilization games, one of the winning conditions is to successfully send a colony ship to our nearest neighbour – Alpha Centauri. SMAC picks up just as the colony ship nears the end of its incredible journey – the sleep bays malfunction, some unknown agent murders the captain, and instantly the passengers and crew fracture into idealogically opposed groups. Each takes a landing pod, and takes to the surface.
And what a surface – the air is poisonous, the land is awash with deadly and dangerous red fungus, and the seas bubble with nitrogen and are knotted with yet more fungus. Plantlife thrives, but no animal life can abide the atmosphere – and yet patches of native fungus develop movement and amass themselves into writhing clumps known as mindworms. They attack anything they find – paralysing their targets on telepathic frequencies. The suns occasionally throw off deadly solar storms, crippling communication, and other times align in the heavens, boosting the photosynthesis of the fungus and causing tidal waves of primordial attacks.
What astonishes me, more than this, is that no matter how harsh the environment – it is your fellow humans who are the real threat. Whether it’s the God-fearing, chosen ones demanding that you hand over your corrupt and forbidden scientific knowledge, or the CEO of the only corporation that made it down trying to squeeze you for a few more energy units, or even the tree hugging environmentalists lashing out at you because you killed fungus in self defense – every group ultimately hates you, every group wants a piece of what you have. They’ll backstab, bribe, lie, cheat, steal, kill, threaten, poison, bomb or infect to get their way.
So, in the end, when the game comes to a close and I have successfully melded humanity’s future with that of the newly conscious Planet-mind, it is with great relief that I say goodbye to the fighting, the hating, the struggle and crushing of human beings, and it is with a surprising amount of satisfaction I read the final page of the tale of the future of humanity.