The start of the affair: Civilization

[Editor’s note: Community member SilverDragon1979 takes a look at the original Civilization as part of June’s Monthly Musing topic. — CTZ] 

There was a time when computer games came on 3½” floppy disks. When Sid Meier was not a gaming household name. When computers where used for little more then word processing and data storage management. On a more personal level for me, there was a time when I thought the only game worth playing on the PC was Oregon Trail. This was also a time when I thought you only needed an 8-directional game pad and 2 buttons to play any game. A time when gaming consisted mostly of jumping from platform to platform, killing Goombas and monsters, racing down deserted streets, and failing to land F-14 Tomcats on an aircraft carrier. This time was known as the ’80s.

My family did not own a PC back in the ’80s. Instead, we owned a Word Processor  (I wonder if many of you remember what those were). The only PC games I got to play back then were learning games that I played on the Apple IIe in my elementary school, like Math Blaster and Oregon Trail

Before the ’90s came along, I had not yet been exposed to any other type of PC games. All of my videogaming was done on my Atari 2600, NES, and Genesis. It never even occurred to me that I could use the PC to play games for fun. Then along came a new up-and-coming game designer by the name of Sid Meier. He had released a couple of popular PC games such as F-15 Strike Eagle and Railroad Tycoon, but he had yet to make it big. It was tougher back then for PC game programmers to become well known because the PC game industry hadn’t really taken off yet. Sid Meier was about to change all of that, and my gaming world was about to be turned upside down.

In 1989, Intel released the i486 microprocessor. Containing 1.2 million transistors that could run at a minimum speed of 16MHz, and using a 32-bit data bus, this processor was about to change the PC gaming scene forever. Sid Meier was one of the first to take advantage of this new microprocessor and in 1991, he released Civilization, a turn based strategy game that let you “Build An Empire to Stand the Test of Time.” Civilization was Sid Meier’s grand opus; his 5th symphony for lack of a better metaphor. Never before had anyone created a game so ambitious or so grand in scope as to allow you to completely control an entire civilization from the founding of its first city to the construction of its first space colonization starship. It was the game that put Sid Meier on the map, and a game that would go down in history as one of the greatest games of all time.

I was 11-years-old around the time that Civilization came out. I was hanging out with my buddy Justin at his house and we went into his dad’s office downstairs to get something. I stumbled across a box on the office desk that had a picture of a modern day city on it that appeared to be sculpted out of stone. Buried below this stone city was a statue of an Egyptian Pharaoh and above the city spelled out the words “Sid Meier’s Civilization” in large bold writing. I was extremely intrigued by the cool box art and I asked my friend what it was. He said it was a new PC game his dad has just bought that let you build cities and go to war. Unfortunately that’s about all he knew since he hadn’t played it himself, and we weren’t allowed to play until his father got home.

Eventually, Justin’s father did come home and I finally got a chance to sit down and play Civilization. I remember starting up the game for the first time. I got to choose whatever civilization I wanted to play as and after some deep thought (how much deep thought can an 11-year-old have?), I chose the Aztecs. After choosing my civilization, the game finally began. I was shocked when the first screen appeared. All my entire civilization consisted of was a little settler. The only land that was visible to me was a small circle in the center of the screen while the rest of the world was completely blacked out. My first impression was that this was going to be a very simplistic game. I mean come on, how could any game that starts out so simple be so complex. I was so wrong!

I quickly chose the site for my first city and before I knew it, I was researching new technologies, building city improvements, training new troops, sending scouts out to explore the world map, and founding new cities. A couple hours later I was trying to manage four or five cities and make all of my citizens happy. Suddenly, a representative from another civilization appeared and we signed my first peace treaty.

The game that appeared so simplistic at first suddenly was not at all. I soon found myself running out of land as the boarders of my civilization were coming into contact with those of other civilizations, and those other guys weren’t really big on sharing land. Being the greedy American I was, I decided to rage war with one of my neighbors that were encroaching on my land. I put all of my resources and manpower into raging the war and before I knew it, I had committed genocide and wiped the entire civilization off the face of the planet. 

Suffice to say, my first gaming session with Civilization lasted around eight hours. I didn’t get home from my friend’s house until around 10PM that first night and my parents were furious. Even with the scolding I received from my parents, I was back at my friends house the next day playing again. Nothing was going to stop me from conquering the entire world, and eventually I did. With my nuclear missiles, tanks, and aircraft carriers, the Aztec nation dominated the world and soon all trembled below my iron fist. Let me tell you, there is nothing quite as exhilarating as knowing you started your civilization from one little settler and grew it into the dominant world power. What a power rush!

Besides being a great game, Civilization was important to my life because it was THE GAME that got me into PC gaming. It was the first game that showed me games could be more in depth then simply running from point A to point B, killing the boss, and rescuing the princess. It demonstrated to me that games could present you with moral dilemmas causing you to have to think about the decisions you made in the game. There was no set path in this game, no linear story line. I created my own destiny. I wrote my own story. I forged my own civilization’s path through history. The world was my “sandbox”.

Civilization was also the game that convinced me to get a computer. It took months and months of asking my parents, but eventually, my dad bought me a Packard Bell 486-33MHz computer, with 4Mb of RAM, CD-ROM drive, 15” monitor, and of course, my own copy of Civilization. That was the beginning of my PC gaming life and it has been a great one ever since. Civilization paved the path for me to play other great games like Sim City, Command and Conquer, Wing Commander, Doom, Age of Empires, Warcraft, Starcraft, and X-Wing. I still save up the money every three or four years and build myself a new computer to play the newest generation of PC games. I have owned almost every console system that has ever come out, but in that same time, I have still put more money and more love into PC gaming then consoles.

I owe my entire computer gaming life to Civilization. It truly was the start of the affair.