Right now, go to the Steam store, and spend ten dollars on Fate of the World.
Why do we make games? Why do we play them? More complicated questions than I’m going to fully plumb in this piece, but I could not unreasonably define it this way – we play to learn, about ourselves, about our fellow humans, and about our world. By that measure, Fate of the World is perhaps the most successful game I have ever played.
The premise is simple. By 2020, climate issues have worsened to the extent that a global organization is formed to oversee the planet’s collective response. That organization is run by you.
Red Redemption studios partnered with top climate and political scientists, along with organizations like Oxfam to create perhaps the most complete, most accessible (and most depressing) model of where our planet is headed, and many of the proposed responses to those issues.
You’ll deal with water stress in Africa and the Middle East, the exploding toxicity of emissions in China, overpopulation and famine in India, and the ever-present spectre of war, in addition to the big ticket item on the table – rapidly rising emissions, global temperatures, rising sea levels, droughts and fires – the sort of global environmental crisis that many predict is all too likely.
So what are you going to do? I’ve tried dumping resources into technology, which is great, but the poorest parts of the world don’t have the infrastructure to support implementation of many of the potential future technologies we developed. I tried to institute a global emissions cap and trade system, but couldn’t afford to implement it in every region – while it succeeded for a time, eventually the more industrialized nations overturned the policy in protest. I’ve tried a mass conversion to renewables, and then watched as global financial markets collapsed in response to energy shortages. After that, all my funding dried up, and the collapse hastened. You need to balance the needs of the many with the fact that you’re dealing with multiple sovereign regions that will kick your little global NGO to the curb if you piss off the population too much with unpopular measures.
Let me be blunt: this game is hard. Even given some highly unlikely premises (“Hey, guess what, we’ve got unlimited fossil fuels after all!” or “As of today, the entire global population is united behind environmental causes!”) it’s still damn near impossible to get the whole mess under control. And while there’s a certain grim educational aspect to the choices you get to make and their unintended consequences, (Want to transition China’s transportation grid off of fossil fuels and over to electric? The manufacturing requirements will dramatically increase emissions over the short and medium term to do it!) the real fascinating lesson is what it showed me about myself.
The game has provisions for enacting black ops, and let us be clear: I firmly believe that even if these sort of measures are never enacted, they will necessarily be on the table for our leaders in the future. This includes regime change for governments that are opposed to regulation, covert sterilization programs to control exploding populations, or even release of targeted bio-weapons to reduce population. While I haven’t wanted to go down that path, I was pleased to see their inclusion.
What’s fascinated me about my response more than anything is what it showed me about my attitude toward the world. I was quick to institute a one-child policy in India, but not in the United States. I was willing to dump tons of money into the U.S. and Europe to fund research, but struggled to come up with funds to fight political unrest in Southeast Asia. I pretty much ignored Australia entirely. While I was happy to enact technological reforms in the industrialized world, I was hesitant to levy extra taxes on those regions to fund them. I was excited to spread 4th-gen nuclear power plant technology to the world, then found myself wishing I hadn’t, as rebels in northern Africa got their hands on weapons-grade nuclear material. I’m a huge proponent of nuclear energy, but coming face to face with even a fictionalized consequence of my political beliefs was a little bit humbling.
We’re in the throes of a reactionary mood swing in this country, and I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who will attack the entire premise of the game as unfounded. Even if you’re among them, I’d recommend this as a excellent strategy game. But for those that acknowledge that resource management, population, and environmental issues are likely to define our world for the next two centuries, I unreservedly suggest that you take a stab at saving the world. I haven’t had much success yet. Getting some practice in before we have to do it for real seems pretty smart to me.