What is courage: to question?

miscellaneous Dec 8, 2019

Before moving to Australia in 2000, I had never played a strategy game before. I was raised on a diet of Nintendo games [SNES & N64], a lonely SEGA Game Gear and some edutainment games. I also had Riven, which to this day...I have never finished.

Anyways, soon after moving to Adelaide, my parents purchased a spanking new PC. Feast on this baby:

  • 600 MHz Pentium III
  • 128 MB DDR
  • 20 GB HDD
  • DVD-ROM and CD-RW

We even had a webcam! But more importantly, it came with a few games. One of which became the most important piece of media in my life. I am talking about the magnum opus that is Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri.

Designed and written by Brian Reynolds with the support of Michael Ely, it is an offshoot of the Civilization series with a heavy science-fiction twist. Part of what makes the game work is that the narrative and the gameplay work in tandem. They support and elevate one another. I don't think I've ever seen another strategy game come close to it. The philosophical, societal and economic commentary has never been replicated elsewhere.

For example, read these two quotes:

"As the Americans learned so painfully in Earth's final century, free flow of information is the only safeguard against tyranny. The once-chained people whose leaders at last lose their grip on information flow will soon burst with freedom and vitality, but the free nation gradually constricting its grip on public discourse has begun its rapid slide into despotism. Beware of he who would deny you access to information, for in his heart he dreams himself your master."

- Commissioner Pravin Lal, "U.N. Declaration of Rights"

"As distances vanish and the people can flow freely from place to place, society will cross a psychological specific heat boundary and enter a new state. No longer a solid or liquid, we have become as a vapor and will expand to fill all available space. And like a gas, we shall not be easily contained."

- Sister Miriam Godwinson, "But For the Grace of God"

It demands your full attention, it demands your intellect, it demands your spirit. Even today, I read the lore and quotes by its fictional leaders and find that my understanding of them has deepened or changed due to anecdotal experiences.

The game is hugely replayable and is available on Good Ol Games for Windows, Mac, and Linux. The expansion pack is included.

If you have a lot of time on your hand, I recommend reading this compelling multi-part retrospective on the series. If you prefer videos, got you covered here.

Oh, I nearly forgot to answer the question. The blog's title comes from an in-game book written by one of the alien races.

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