Civilization 5: Beyond Earth

Over the past couple of years I have accrued over 300 hours playing Civilization in its many instalments. As of a few weeks ago, Civilization 5: Beyond Earth was released. Much excite.

This post is going to quickly outline some initial features of the new game, in the same sort of geographical sense in which I’ve discussed the previous games. Obviously, this presents an interesting new angle to reading the map as we’re now based on a range of new alien worlds in which we must colonise to preserve our species.

This bridges on a very interesting type of geography that has been aiding planetary identification and space missions for half a century: Astro-Geography. It was actually a physical geographer who first theorised (and then proved) that Mars once had flowing water by identifying features cut into the geology that could only have been formed by water-based erosion.

In Beyond Earth there are, as you would expect, alien resources. These range in perplexity and uses throughout the game.

There is also a new type of obstacle aside from the native alien species. This is called Miasma, and is a toxic gas that gathers in certain areas making them impossible to use during the early stages of the game. Miasma is named after the classic ‘night-air theory’ which theorised that diseases and pollution were caused by pools of travelling gas. The research tree enables you to eventually be able to clear miasma from tiles, or to launch orbital satellites that can disperse it for a set amount of turns.

Miasma is generated by the game to cover random tiles, however it does tend to group in sections based on the planetary formation. For example, it tends to cover lowlands such as plains and marsh lands. It also favours xenomass, as this has the potential to spawn alien nests. Therefore, tailoring your civilization’s expansion to tiles that are free of the gas is a good tactic to employ until you’re able to combat it, but be wary of taking up too much land along mountainous areas as these only really have the benefit of heightened defence and not much else resource-based.

Another excellent example of resource development is the ability to build geothermal wells and other new types of energy reactors. This hinges on the Kardeshev theory of civilization progression, another theory originally based on human geography and population increase. Hoyt and Burgess initially postured that as a result of the human race being unable to sustain enough food for such steep population increase, we would begin to seek and invest in new technologies (i.e. interstellar travel).

The Kardeshev scale is a way of measuring a civilization’s technological advancement in 3 categories: Type I is able to utilise all natural energy resources on its home planet, type II can utilise both home planet energy and it’s immediate star, and type III can harness all natural energy from it’s galaxy. This makes the ability to harness natural resources on a whole new alien planet an interesting insight into your civilization, and one that is incredibly exciting to a geography nerd like myself, know that we probably won’t even make Type I in my life time.

Consequently the new types of reactor and energy sources are definitely a good early game strategy, and I advise unlocking engineering on the research tree as soon as possible. Harnessing geothermal’s may take a little longer as its located way over on the Ecology branch, but certainly worth it, especially as there are branches which incur improvements to your existing geothermal wells. In terms of physical geography, they appear close to mountainous or hilly regions, which indicate plate boundaries.

In addition, it features some technology currently available in this day and age, such as hydroponics and solar satellites. I found these quite nice to use, as it gives you some little roots back to earth, and implies that the green technologies we currently research and in invest will continue to be used and improved on in the future (these technologies in the exact same form though may be wishful thinking though).

In conclusion, I think it’s an excellent progression to Civ 5 and its expansions, and gives the player their own chance at deciding their civilizations future. The technology branch can be difficult to read but after a few games you get the hang of it. The technology is interesting, and the graphics mirror that. Basically, if you’ve ever enjoyed any space-based games such as Alpha Centurai, Sins of a Solar Empire, or Endless Space its well worth a try.

P.S Siege worms are dicks.




Minecraft and boobs.

Minecraft is a multiplayer sandbox video game based in a virtual world, which is modelled on the real world. Players are able to build and craft everyday items using blocks. The cubic geometry of Minecraft lends itself to the teaching of various academic subjects, and is immensely popular in the gaming world.

Minecraft also has a functioning ecology, with chemistry and physics aspects interwoven within the game that can be used to develop the scientific literacy of players. Not only does it function in many core aspects of the environment (though cubey), it represents an excellent case study in human geography via gender divides in a community.

One of the most common social representations of video games is the imbalance in the gender divide. Most people assume that a significant proportion of players are male. In 2012, 47% of the gaming community were actually female. The applications of minecraft in teaching and learning environments has been argued to have been a considerable boost to this figure in years to come.

Obviously the balance of genders in video games is a result of a plethora of positive advances in the gaming industry. However, getting all genders to understand the real-life application of games at a young age has proved to contribute to greater cognitive development at an early age, more respect for women in the gaming industry, a reduction in prejudices against female gamers, and an increase in the number of women taking further studies in a game-based course.

To understand why the gender divide came about in the first place one must understand one of the biggest factors associated with the gaming industry: the fact that one of the biggest drivers of the gender disparity is the dearth of women involved in making games. Once a designer has reached an age where they are able to develop or design games, quite often strong opinions on the industry have already been formed, and subsequently cannot be changed easily.

Unfortunately, this usually leads to games which only address a male perspectives and expectations. Often this is to the detriment of the female perspective and expectations, for example rarely having a strong female lead. Even less likely to have a female lead that is not basically naked.

Boobs. So many boobs.

Minecraft, is one of the building blocks for the balancing of equal opportunities for the next generation (see what I did there?). In situations where its used in learning environments, no previous assumptions or prejudices are discussed, and this creates a positive atmosphere to all kids, whether they have or haven’t been exposed to game-learning before.

Game analysts and educational staff for the first time have been able to predict figures of the likelihood that a person will experience or develop their gaming knowledge at a later date, after they have been introduced to learning through minecraft. This is only based on a handful of individual cases in the US at the moment, but certainly has the potential to expand in the teaching curriculum over the next few years.

Their preliminary results show these main points;

– The kids exposed to minecraft showed a reduction in gender stereotypes when exposed to gender specific testing.

– The kids exposed to minecraft were able to problem solve at a higher level to those who had not.

– The kids who were exposed to minecraft we statistically significantly more likely to continue gaming and problem solving in later life (thus more likely to bring more female game developers on to the scene).

Although there are many other learning-based games specifically targeted at children, minecraft is set apart from the pack as it is used by a range of age groups with no modifications dependent on age. As a result when kids develop a bond with a game that they enjoy as they are growing up, minecraft offers the ability for someone to keep playing without feeling that they have outgrown it.

Despite it’s cubey nature, minecraft has some pretty cool geographical crossovers, and also social prediction algorithms that further establish it as a medium for human expression in a virtual environment, rather than simply a game to pass the time. It is regarded as being engaging to all ages, genders, and across many levels of gaming expertise. More importantly, it can be all of these things at once. 

(This was actually a social experiment to see whether the use of ‘boobs’ in the title would generate more post views. We shall get back to this subject, and hopefully you’ll have more human geographical knowledge as a result).

What other aspects of minecraft do you think apply to geography, or vice versa? Do you think there are other social phenomena that occur in the minecraft world?