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 Social Constructs

I’ve been meaning to discuss the idea and applications of social constructs of Minecraft for a while now. When the game comes up in conversation I’m very used to friends and colleagues not only telling me a bit about what they have achieved through Minecraft, but also that they find there are social constructs and a sense of community at play in addition. Kids reaaaally seem to like it.

This post will untangle the idea of social constructs within the game by looking at qualitative and social analysis from research groups that are aiming to define how and why participants regard the game as providing an affinity of space. It’ll also discuss some ideas about how traditional social constructs are now being translated through servers.

A basic theory within the idea of social constructs is that of affinity of space. This speculates that certain spaces, whether they are physical – for example within a city – or virtual, can offer certain traits. These range from the positive such as welcoming and nurturing of social connections, to exclusive and elitist.

There are a number of studies that have published strong evidence for Minecraft being a positive medium for affinity of space, and also in education, creativity and other desirable applications. The interesting aspect is why the game has advanced in virtual social constructs where others have not.

Certainly in MMO’s and RPG’s there will always be some kind of social order – after all we are still individual human beings controlling what happens in a virtual environment. In social orders participation is the first key, as there must be participation to develop a functioning social structure. Further aspects required include:

– Personal contribution

– The sharing of information

– Social support and guidance

– Discussion with other members

– Individual assignment and completion of tasks to fulfil larger planned goals

An excellent representation of social structures within Minecraft can be illustrated by Pellicone and Ahne (2014) who applied qualitative analysis on forum threads to generate visualisations of structures that may also be present within the game. An example is shown below in Figure 1.

Source: Pellicone and Ahne (2014)
Source: Pellicone and Ahne (2014)

Additional theories of online structures, most notably Butler (2000), argue that structures similar to figure 1 are applicable to larger volumes of games. He argues that the presence and usage of servers are most likely to have a defining role in this as they allow for greater levels of communication and delegation of resources, therefore resulting in more complex social structures.

This ties in neatly with the affinity of space theory, connoting that servers are constructive and encourage positive space and social interactions. Dedicated players are usually content in their constructs. Dave is happy to farm, Brian enjoys doing magic, Larry likes to build. No-one is sure where Colin went. They work together for a common cause, and usually because a social connection has been formed between them in the physical world.

However, in addition to the immediately visible contours of the affinity space, there also exists a broader community of people who identify as Minecraft players, with some further identifying with the elite level of producer found within the larger Minecraft meta-game (Maccallum-Stewart, 2013)

Minecraft unfortunately is not exempt from the way that a perceived gamer culture often results in unwelcoming attitudes towards those who fall outside of that culture (Pellicone and Ahne, 2014). The difficulty is identification of gamer culture norm’s in comparison with Minecraft norm’s. Norm’s in themselves are defined by the actions and interactions translated into the virtual environment, which provide a level of anonymity for players.

A critical aspect of the social structures within Minecraft is whether the game or indeed any social orders within it can overcome physical social inequalities (for example race, gender, income, upbringing) of players. This is pretty difficult thing to analyse on a scale that is representative of the whole Minecraft gaming community, but it’s certainly a focal point for social-based research in the future.

Assessment whether there is a connection between the overcoming of social inequalities and the production of positive space within Minecraft can certainly be inferred. The game features very few negative aspects that would impact the development and sustainability of social networks, which in turn lend to the continual production of affinity of space.

creeper

Counter-Strike and DOTA2

Have you ever wondered why professional gamers (Pro-gamers) are dominated by young males? Have you ever considered why they have little age difference, or difference in nationality?

This post compares pro-gamers using the examples of DOTA2 and Counter-Strike, and assesses in what ways they are similar, and how this may be explained using human geographical statistics. So let’s begin…

Counter-Strike is a first person shooter game first released in the year 2000, and was rapidly developed into a series of games with versions ranging from 1.0 to 1.6. Tournaments of Counter-Strike have been running for nearly 13 years, and offer competitive gamers the opportunity to win large sums of money. According to http://www.ongamers.com, the list of top ten pro-gamers of all time by prize money won are as follows:

  • 01. $858,872 – ‘f0rest‘ – Patrik Lindberg (Sweden), 26
  • 02. $798,506 – ‘cArn‘ – Patrik Sättermon (Sweden), 29
  • 03. $777,772 – ‘dsn‘ – Harley Orvall (Sweden), 28
  • 04. $631,251 – ‘NEO‘ – Filip Kubski (Poland), 27
  • 05. $626,251 – ‘TaZ‘ – Wiktor Wojtas (Poland), 28
  • 06. $609,106 – ‘RobbaN‘ – Robert Dahlström (Sweden), 29
  • 07. $597,092 – ‘Loord‘ – Mariusz Cybulski (Poland), 27
  • 08. $593,528 – ‘kuben‘ – Jakub Gurczyński (Poland), 26
  • 09. $531,921 – ‘zonic‘ – Danny Sørensen (Denmark), 28
  • 10. $508,571 – ‘walle‘ – Dennis Wallenberg (Sweden), 27

There are three immediate points we can recognise: all of these pro-gamers are male, all originate from Europe, and all are aged mid to late 20’s.

Similarly to Counter-Strike,  DOTA 2 (Defence of the Ancients) has had increasing availability of prize money and was also produced by Valve Corporation. The game is an online multiplayer battle arena, which was released in 2013 as the sequel to the original DOTA. According to http://www.gosugamers.com, the top ten pro-gamers of all time by prize money won are as follows:

  • 01. $280,600 – ‘Dendi’ – Danil Ishutin (Ukraine), 23
  • 02. $278,100 – ‘Puppey’ – Clement Ivanov (Estonia), 23
  • 03. $277,300 – ‘XBOCT’ – Alexandr Dashkevich (Ukraine), 25
  • 04. $266,490 – ‘LightOfHeaveN’ – Dmitriy Kupriyanov (Russia), 25
  • 05. $240,000 – ‘Ferrari’ – Luo Feichi (China), 23
  • 06. $231,500 – ‘Zhao’ – Chen Yao (China), 23
  • 07. $229,000 – ‘Faith’ – Zeng Hongda (China), 21
  • 08. $221,700 – ‘YYF’ – Jiang Cen (China), 26
  • 09. $216,000 – ‘ChuaN’ – Wong Hock Chuan (Malaysia), 21
  • 10. $204,000 – ‘ArtStyle’ – Ivan Antonov (Ukraine), 24

Once again all of the top 10 are male, but are on average younger than the top ten Counter-Strike players, aged early to mid 20’s. Additionally there are players from Russia, China and Malaysia, which challenge dominent European title holders.

Despite the addition of Chinese, Malaysian and Russian pro-gamers and a shift in age range, little is different between both games top 10. What makes these pro-gamers the best at their respective game then?

Do different nationalities think differently or have different traits? Why do only male players dominate the top 10 in each game? Why are they so closely similar ages?

The first part of these questions can be answered by the availability of the web, and percentage of population that use the internet in the countries of origin of the pro-gamers. The table below illustrates global statistics of internet usage and population statistics (2013).

internetstats

The table above shows that the number of individuals of the population who have access to the internet was 566,261,317 in 2013. This means that nearly 69% of the population has access to the internet.

It is reasonable to conclude then that the ease of access to the internet is not the singular defining characteristic of pro-gamers, as both North America and Australasia record similar and higher percentages of population usage.

Another theory that had weight throughout the early 21st century was that male pro-gamers became dominant due to the effects of gaming addictions. This would manifest itself in a way that allowed the individual to concentrate solely on the game they were playing for long periods of time.

It also speculated that males were able to concentrate on singular aspects for a longer duration than women, who were argued to be better at multi-tasking. Thus, a reasonable assumption for how male players thought differently, and were able to excel in that particular game.

In 2012 this theory was contested by a research paper by Han et al (2012) who used MRI scanning to monitor brain activity between Pro-gamers and persons with online gaming addictions (POGA’s). In this they discovered that there were considerable differences between the two groups: concluding that a gaming addiction did not differ wildly from any other type of addiction, whereas pro-gamers showed heightened levels of problem-solving regardless of gender.

Alongside this there are countless other studies, especially in psychology, that produce evidence for the balance of genders in problem solving. To put it simply, males are not scientifically proven to be better at games.

One of the bigger issues that may account for the gender divide in pro-gaming is the the difference in embodied work. Women are far less likely to be recognised in a competitive gaming environment, especially in games that are heavily dominated by male gamers, fans, marketing, and judging panels.

Certainly recent ethnographies of the female role in competitive gaming has highlighted the different expectations of female gamers based on Bryce and Rutter’s (2005) call to change the perceived roles within the community.

Taylor et al. (2009) summarise that the dominance of young male gamers is not a result of a specific set of traits held only by certain people, but as the perceptions and preconceptions maintained within a community that most commonly reads female participation in sexualised terms.

Heightened marginalisation of females in pro-gaming tends to focus around games with higher violence and objectification. As such, games like Counter-Strike and DOTA2 not only disparage women, but have a self-sustaining community whose perceptions are difficult to change.

Do you think this type of communal thinking can be changed surrounding DOTA2 and Counter-Strike? How do think it could be done? Why do you think marginalisation exists in the first place?